We spent the fourth day (previous post) — of our road trip across Central Mongolia — living the simple life with a family of nomads in Orkhon Valley. In the evening, we drove toward Orkhon Waterfalls — also known as Ulan Tsutgalaan Falls. It was a sunny day and we had plenty of sunshine right through the evening. The sky was coloured blue and scattered with drifting powder puff clouds. Below, livestock covered almost every viable inch of green.
The first view.
It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the mouth of the waterfalls. Honestly, I was taken by surprise when we reached the outer periphery of the ginormous crater. The waterfalls and the crater looked spectacular.
Trying to descend through a narrow trail.
Basil spotted few travellers at the basin below. Boggi, our guide, briefed us about two entry points to the base. The first was a little tricky because it was a narrow cavity and would involve some serious rock-hugging. It was a shorter way down though. She sent Saikna to figure the route and we followed thereafter. Now, because of the rain, the path was blocked by rocks closer to the base. So, after struggling halfway down, she thought it would be better if we took the other route. My knee was still a little sore with our adventure in the forest. On my way up, I had to bend it completely, and that caused more discomfort in my knee.
Taking the longer route…
The crater is believed to be formed by volcanic activity and earthquakes occurring about 20,000 years ago. It’s not very hard to imagine the magnitude of the volcanic activity, if you take a look at the diameter of the crater and the distance (from the crater) at which volcanic rocks can be found across the valley.
Developing cold feet.
Boggi found another route to the crater below. Unfortunately, by now, I wasn’t so confident of going down the trail. Perhaps, I lost my confidence, or the fear of getting lost in the forest (on the previous day) had dampened my spirit of exploration. It’s crushing when you let fear win and your body refuses to budge. So, I sat at the edge of the crater, and saw Basil and Boggi disappear beyond a pile of volcanic rocks.
Missing the treasures below.
From above, I could see a parallel ecosystem exist in the cavity of the crater. Basil’s pictures show how beautiful this isolated natural world was. The vegetation was markedly different from the lush greenery outside. Towering trees and shrubs grew in the rocky confines of the volcanic crater.
The river, formed out of the waterfall, gushed through the length of the crater. It must be responsible for the diversity of vegetation inside.
Water plunges from a height of 16 m (52.49 ft) into the basin below. At 16 m, the crater might not seem very intimidating. But if you’re easily challenged by heights, the magnitude and the vastness of the setting can make you a little giddy. The depth of the cavity didn’t stop tourists from taking shots at the outer rim of the crater.
The route to the outside.
Boggi chose to come up from the route that we had tried to descend from. I’m so glad I sat this one out.
On the other side…
While Boggi, Basil, and Saikna enjoyed the views below; I thought of circumscribing the periphery of the crater. I don’t think it was a very difficult walk, but had they chosen to come out before I finished my ambitious walk, there would be no way to contact them. So, I wandered nearby and waited for them instead.
Redefining reality TV.
Saikna was the first to appear from the rocky trail. We walked towards one of the benches and waited for the others to come out. We observed the waterfall in silence. The view between the logs of wood resembled a ginormous TV screen. Boggi and Basil climbed out of the rocky trail and quickly joined us.
I didn’t feel like leaving this location. It was beautiful, serene, and peaceful. And it also had the cutest little lamb staring at me.
I was famished by the time we reached our homestay. I was a little nervous about dinner though. It was time for a traditional Mongolian barbeque. Now, the nomad’s wife had enquired if I could eat the veggies from the meat preparation. I didn’t want to increase her work and I agreed. But when I saw the chunks of meat (either lamb or mutton) being prepared with bones; I was wary of my dinner.
It was interesting to see the whole family work together in preparing our meal. You can see the youngest kid (toy car in hand) adding something too. During mealtime, my fears had come true. I found it hard to look at the meat and I only ate the baked dumpling. Boggi and Saikna offered me potatoes, but it was too overwhelming for me. And for the first time, in the history of our travel journey, I did something I never had before. I walked out of the ger before the others had finished their meal. Fortunately, our hosts weren’t eating with us. It’s hard to explain my situation with meat and I guess, the ruggedness of the trip was finally getting to me.
Around Orkhon Valley.
Basil joined me after they finished their meal. We walked around the gers and took in the fleeting sights of the evening. Images of clouds were reflected from the surface of the rivulet and animals were walked back to their resting spots. The water was freezing and quickly slipped through my fingers. Soon it would all fade away…
The Amazing Milky Way
There’s little you can do when the sun sets in Orkhon Valley. The kids rushed inside to get their daily dose of evening television before their meal. We took refuge inside our ger. Basil had mastered the art of heating firewood and we had a good supply of wood for the night. Boggi stopped by to see if we needed anything and gave us some supplies for the night. Daylight quickly faded and soon the valley was plunged in darkness.
Later that night, we wore our jackets to face the cold air outside. When darkness fills the valley, the night sky lights up with a million stars. We had seen the Milky Way on every night before. And no matter how much we saw it, we still couldn’t believe how beautiful it was, and how lucky we were to see it again. As I shivered in the cold, Basil struggled with his camera settings. This is what we should be seeing every night. It’s strange how comforting our night sky looks with just the moon and a star or two. I wondered: how different we’d be if we could see this spectacle every night?