Sunday, June 14: near Bulgan, Mongolia
7:50 We’re up, tents down, breakfast served, dishes washed, and on the road. It’s 7:50 on a Sunday morning. What’s wrong with this picture?
11:45 We check out several restaurants in search of lunch but each is closed or unprepared for 18 guests.
12:30 We hit pay dirt on our third stop. This place is open and it has a karaoke room. Bayaraa and I check out the karaoke room but it’s probably the family’s living room, with several worn vinyl sofas and an old wheelchair by the window. We didn’t come here for karaoke so that’s okay. Lunch is ordered and we amuse ourselves by reading a laminated card that is left on each table. It’s the story of the Three Little Pigs in Mongolian. The dumpling soup with mutton is steaming hot and very good.
13:30 We’re making good time on the highway when I hear a sharp squeal. It’s not clear but we may have hit a goat. After about 100 km we head off-road for a 40 km drive to the Amarbayasgalant Monastery.
14:50. We arrive at the Amarbayasgalant Monastery in the Iven Valley near the Selenge River, at the foot of Mount Büren-Khan.
15:00 The monastery is somewhat run-down and lonely looking for a working monastary but we have the place to ourselves until a group of Japanese men show up. They’re geologists on a tour of Mongolia. I speak to one who has previously worked for Rio Tinto, the giant Canadian mining company that is developing the nearby Oyu Tolgoi mine. According to Wikipedia, Rio Tinto’s OyuTolgoi mine is the “largest financial undertaking in Mongoia’s history and is expected upon completion to account for more than 30% of the country’s gross domestic product. Copper production is expected to reach 450,000 tonnes annually. The estimated cost of bringing the Oyu Tolgoi mine into production is US$4.6 billion.” … Mining is big business in Mongolia and good or bad, Canadians are heavily involved. … I ask one of the Japanese geologists what he knows about Jim Doak, the Bay Street financier who was recently found dead in a hotel room in Mongolia. Doak was in Mongolia to settle a dispute with the government over the ownership and development of a uranium mine. An international arbitration tribunal had recently awarded his TSX-listed company, Khan Resources, damages to the tune of $103 million. The Japanese were very familiar with the story but would offer no opinion. Hmm.
17:58 Were back on the truck and it looks like we’ll be eating dust for about 90 minutes as we retrace our route back to the paved road. We pass one substantial brush fire along the way. The smoke seems to settle the dust.
19:00 Neill is driving and another motorist starts honking. He apparently feels that he has been cut off, although I so no evidence of this and both Neill and Rachel are excellent drivers. The honking attracts a police officer who wants to see the truck’s papers. This takes the better part of an hour even though everything was in order. No bribes were solicited or offered.
20:05 We check into the Hotel Darkhan in the Soviet-built city of Darkhan. The shower is wonky but the water is warm and there’s plenty of it, even if you do have to crouch under a tap that’s mounted on the bathroom wall, above 4’ off the floor. Darkhan was built in the early 1960s with financial assistance from the Soviet Union. It was conceived as a manufacturing city. About 86% of the residents live in Soviet-style apartment buildings while the rest live in yurts on the edge of town.
20:40 I’m waiting for the group in the hotel lobby and have access to the free wi-fi. I notice on Wikipedia that Darkhan’s average temperature in January is -30.6. I’m quite happy to be here in June.
21:00 We walk to a Korean BBQ joint and order beers and spicy BBQ. After a dusty day in the roof seats, a few cans of ice cold Chinggis go down rather well.
23:15 Bars around here close at midnight if not earlier. The music is shut off soon after we order a round and the staff start turning over the unused tables well before 11:30. We take the hint and head back to the hotel well before midnight.