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      • City: Kanpur

      Prologue 1 This story started many years ago. 2012 in fact. As i was riding solo through Spiti i met another solo cyclist from Chennai, Prakash. We rode together for a bit and shared digs at Tabo Monastery, in the course of conversation he asked if i would be interested in accompanying him on a cycle ride through Mongolia. Not having any clue about anything, including whether Mongolia was a country, region or continent, i said yes. Fast forward a few years and here i was gearing up for the ride of my life (so far!)

      This is a picture from that fateful day in Spiti!

      Prologue as defined by the dictionary is –

      a preliminary discourse; a preface or introductory part of a discourse, poem, or novel.

      I shall now go ahead and murder the definition of this word, by having multiple prologues!

      Verbose as defined by the dictionary –

      characterized by the use of many or too many words; wordy:

      This is something that i suffer from and therefore will bore the reader into wanting to kill me!

      Now that the rules are set, it’s time to let the tale begin!

      Which brings us to Prologue 2 a week before departure. With just a week remaining for the start of the ride, i was in the worst possible situation. Truck loads of things to be done at work before leaving for a month left me with time for little else. Yet i had a lot else to be done! I had to shift house before i left, my flatmate for a year was moving to America and i had to move lock, stock and two smoking barrels! And to top it all i had to cycle every day to be in the best shape possible for the ride. And that is what became collateral damage. I finished my work in office, found a flat and shifted house a day before i flew and didn’t cycle for a fortnight before departure. The biggest difference in planning for a motorcycle and bicycle ride is that on a motorcycle, all you need to do is save money! On a cycle you need to make money and spend hours on the saddle in preparation!

      Prologue 3 the day of departure. Our flight was at midnight. On the morning of the 29th of July, my partner in crime Prakash landed in Delhi from Chennai. On his arrival we went through the checklist once again and found that there were plenty of things which i hadn’t bought. Yet! So after doing some last minute shopping we were set! Or so i thought, many days later in Mongolia i realized that bandaids and savlon were not part of the first aid kit which Prakash had packed. This infamous kit housed two crocins and one dependal i eventually found out! Just as i was losing my mind with all the running around, my father calls me up in the afternoon to say they were driving down from Kanpur to Delhi a distance of 500km one way just so that they could see me off at the airport. Then, i did lose it! I tried my best to convince my parents to take a U-turn and go back instead of spending 7 hours travelling by car just to see me for 5 minutes, but they were adamant. Insanity is hereditary they say, you get it from your children!

      After last minute packing and repacking to ensure we were within the airplane baggage limits we called for a cab to head to the airport. In the meantime my parents had entered city limits of Delhi and had got properly lost! I was hyperventilating (or simply being overdramatic!) by then. Our cab took its own sweet time to reach my house. As we were heading out for the airport, my flatmates decided to also come to the airport to see me off. But since the two of them were terribly broke, they had to run around to borrow money to take a cab! Such love needs to backed up by hard cash as well   I also got to know that my parents were almost at the airport and i would reach after them, a bit relieved i relaxed sitting in the cab. Note to self: Ola cabs are a bunch of crooks, don’t use them again! But relief was not going to come so easily, my parents took one wrong turn and headed out towards Gurgaon and a detour of about 10km while i had reached the airport followed by my flatmates. Once again tense, it was time to check my wrist to see that i hadn’t worn a watch and then check my phone to see the time. It was time to enter the airport and my parents just about made it to the airport with big smiles and a box of laddoos. After a short conversation and a couple of pictures rushed into the airport and weighed our luggage to realize that we had just scraped through the regulations by a couple of hundred grams. Yay, things were finally looking up. Reached the Air China counter to check-in and we were told that the flight was delayed by 4 hours! Nope, luck was still going down the drain. We spent our first night of adventure sleeping on the hard benches of T3. Our flight which was to leave at 1AM, left finally at 8! I would also like to thank my flatmates who took my parents to a hotel for the night, though they were half ready to drive straight back to Kanpur!

      At the airport (From L to R. Father, Flatmate posing with box of Laddoos, Mother, Grumpy Me and Prakash, ignore the photobombing firang!)

      Prologue 4. This is the story at the Beijing Airport. We reached the airport only to find that our connecting flight to Ulaan Baatar (UB, Capital and only city of Mongolia!) had already departed. I must have done something really horrible in life to deserve luck such as this. There had been a 48 hour thunderstorm in Beijing, which left countless flights delayed and cancelled. We reached Beijing at 8PM, and were told that the next flight to UB was the next morning, some of our co-passengers had worse luck, the next flight they could get was after 15 days! I was cursing my bad luck, when Prakash mentioned that most of his trips start of on a similar ‘adventurous’ note! So i started cursing his bad luck and accepted my fate calmly. Then we realized that we didn’t have any local currency and changing money at the Beijing airport was turning out to be freakishly expensive. Prakash’s credit card and my prepaid SIM card came to the rescue, with internet on our phones and food in our bellies, life seemed better. Till we had to spend another night on hard wooden airport benches. We had to stand in line to clear customs the previous day and again the next day, so our passports got stamped in China when he hadn’t seen anything other than the Great Walls of the China Airport!

      Prologue 5. Finally. Fina(insert appropriate expletive)ly, we were in Mongolia. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the world was alright again. Oh and on the flight a rather senior lady sitting next to me offered her airline meal to me, because i looked too thin! How was i supposed to tell her that i cycled many kilometres everyday to ensure that i looked ‘too thin’! At the airport our cab (better described as a beat up old van) was waiting to take us to our 5 star lodgings of a backpackers hostel! When we reached there we were showed to our room and were pleasantly surprised to see that it was a lovely room in fact. An hour later the lady who runs the place reached there who told us that we would have to vacate the room as it was booked by someone else and stay in the common dormitory. Our delayed flight from India had thrown our hostel bookings out the window! By then i was just pleading that our luck would turn. It only turned to Merde!

      If you are thinking this was the end of the Prologues, remember there was a reason why i shared the definition of Verbose as well! More prologues to follow!

        • City: Kanpur

        Prologue 6 After checking in to the hostel we headed to the bike store, where we had pre-booked our rides and had to go collect them. But before that we had more pressing issues. That of lunch! And this was the start of my gastronomic adventures and Prakash’s misadventures. He being vegetarian, had a tough time explaining that he wanted food without any meat, something that the Mongols had clearly never heard of! After lengthy explanations we found a Vegan restaurant where Prakash had something which he called food, to me it just looked like boiled orange and green stuff thrown on a plate. There was no way in the world, i could consume that poison! With relative ease we found food for me, the food is rather interesting. On your plate you will find 70% protein and 30% Carbs. Vitamins are of course for sissies! Massive mounds of meat with a small scoop of rice is the normal sized serving there. The cost of a meal is around 150 INR, though the portions are massive and even for someone with a large appetite like me, it was a struggle to finish it all in one go.

        We went to the bike store, checked out our bikes, saw that they were to our satisfaction and returned to the hostel, since we couldn’t store the bikes in the hostel we had to leave it in the bike shop. We were already behind schedule and were still in UB as our plans had gone haywire. The late flight from Delhi to Beijing was due to a 48 hour storm, 70 odd flights had got cancelled, so we were lucky that our flight didn’t get cancelled as well. In UB we took our racks and panniers and bells and whistles and loaded up our bikes, rode them a bit and were satisfied that it would get us across our planned journey. We had taken a couple of Lime Green Trek 3700s for this journey and the bikes were nicely tuned and were ready to roll. But we weren’t , as we had got delayed our plans had been thrown into disarray and we had to sit down with Joel and a mechanic of his from the bike store and reroute and replan our entire trip. Since we had to get back on schedule to catch our return flight. We ended up spending half the day sitting there planning and discussing the route to be taken it turned out to be 530pm. We figured out the best plan was to catch the 830pm train from UB to Erdenet and then cycle from there towards Khuvsgul. Since the train was at 830pm and it was already 6 in the evening, we decided to not rush things and catch the train the next day. There was no chance that we could take the train the same day. So we went to the railway station and booked tickets for the train the next day, which cost around 500INR and then we went to the luggage van to get some information about transporting our bikes by train. After all that running around we went back and had a lovely meal, we had some rather different food as well, bread with rice and cream and jam thrown together. It doesn’t sound very appetising but it was absolutely delicious. We also found a Dilli Darbar, where Prakash had vegetarian biryani and i had a bout of nausea seeing Delhi food following me all the way to Mongolia!

        It was a Sunday, but since we were on holiday, every day was a Sunday for us. We had to checkout of our hostel before noon. But we couldn’t carry all our bags with us, so we once again walked 4.5 km across UB from the hostel to the cycle shop where we picked up our bikes and rode them back into the city. A little disconcerting in the beginning having to ride on the right side of the road, which for us Indians is the wrong side of the road. From there we rode back to the hostel where we loaded our bags/ panniers on to our cycles and rode back to the cycle shop. The number of times we had visited the cycle shop was not funny. Those guys knew us by name by then. We hung around in the cycle shop putting together a few last minute things like batteries etc. and from there we picked up our bikes and headed to the railway station. Heavily laden bikes with each of us carrying around 20 kg of luggage. Our first goal was to find vegetarian food for Prakash and we googled for vegetarian restaurants and we found just 3 in the entire city! Two were too far and one was close to the railway station and we headed there. We searched and searched but couldn’t find it, finally we gave up and headed to the railway station and waited. But hunger calls so we went again to look for this elusive restaurant and this time we successfully found the restaurant. And we found that the restaurant was closed! So we went and bought some fruit for Prakash. His suffering with vegetarianism continued. The fruit was something like a plum overpriced, a little tart but edible. We then went and sat at the railways station, waiting for our train which was to come in at 830 PM, which was a bit confusing as the sun sets around 930-10PM! So even at 830 the sun is out and shining bright. In fact you can even miss the train, if you are looking for the sun to set before you catch your train! At the railway station we had our tickets already so we carried our bikes into the luggage van where we checked them in. We paid some 500 INR for the cycles and we got into the train for a lovely train journey from UB to Erdenet. The rake I assume was a Russian design and everything had been put together very thoughtfully. The luggage was secure below the seat, blankets, and pillows and towels was provided along with coffee and this was in the economy budget class that we had booked. I wonder what the first class must have had. As we exited UB, we realized how much of Mongolia we missed by staying those extra days in the city. As soon as we moved out, the land was beautiful, with the setting sun and the sky was a lovely purple. Everything was just pulling us towards getting back on the bikes and riding.

        This is the end of the Prologues or so we hope!

        UB. The city is far more developed than i had expected!

        The awesome food on the right, rice in the middle and some random vegetation for cattle on the right!

        Prakash posing in front of the Chinggis Khan Museum in UB.

        Our bikes

        Bon Bon Bakery had some awesome stuff to eat. Far better quality than the fancy bakeries that Delhi is filled with.

        At the cycle shop, loading up our luggage and ready to roll to the railway station!

        Loading our cycles onto the train to Erdenet

        The countryside from the train window

        The countryside from the train window


          • City: Kanpur

          The first day of riding. Finally we were rolling!

          We had travelled overnight by train from UB to Erdenet and we woke up the next morning as our train pulled into Erdenet. A small town, a really tiny town compared to Indian standards. It was 7 in the morning with a cool lovely breeze blowing. We got off the train and then got our bikes off the luggage rack without a problem, no paperwork, no greasing palms as we would have to do in India! Nothing except a simple thankyou shake of the hand and taking the bikes back. Very nice people here in every walk of life, from the government department to the people on the road to the shopkeepers, all very lovely people. We finally got our bikes on the road and packed them up and looked for breakfast in the railway station, but all that we got were a couple of bars of snickers. And after gobbling down the chocolates we started riding.

          It was not the perfect day for me to start riding as I had a slight fever and cold and I didn’t really want to start a big ride in such a condition. But since we didn’t have any option we rode. As we rode it became a little bit more difficult as the climbs started and the wind picked up, I couldn’t keep up with Prakash. My fever picked up, as my body was throbbing, my head was aching. I just wanted to sleep off on the side of the road. The worst was that i was getting depressed and lost confidence in my abilities. I thought it was a big mistake coming to Mongolia to cycle. I didn’t believe that i could possibly complete the ride, i felt that my preparation was inadequate and wished that i had ridden a couple of thousand kilometres more in Delhi! Fortunately Prakash would slow down and stop for me and egged me on and pushed me to complete the ride for the day. And with a lot of self doubt, we finally reached Bulgan.

          Bulgan was a nice little town that we had ridden into. We had been climbing the entire day, which was pretty tiring, what with the wind and the long never ending climbs. Fortunately the last 3km into Bulgan was downhill and that was like a Godsend, having to just coast in without pedalling even once right till the hotel. When we did reach the hotel the front looked rather bleak, with broken glass panes and torn curtains. Some kind soul told us that the hotel entrance was from the rear. Well that was weird, but we went around the back and it didn’t look any prettier! In fact it looked straight out of Hollywood murder movie set in Eastern Europe, one of those in which all the guests are tortured and killed inside the hotel! With those thoughts we entered and got a room pretty cheap (thanks in no small part to Prakash’s bargaining skills!), 1000INR for a double room. As we entered the room, I collapsed. I couldn’t keep myself awake any longer. It was probably the lack of water, we hadn’t carried enough water. We were carrying just 2 litres per person and I had consumed it all and my fever had taken its toll. I passed out for a couple of hours and woke up and tried eating dinner. Dinner was of the instant noodles variety, where you pour in hot water and wait. But one bite and i wanted to throw up, so i munched a few potato wafers and popped in a magic pill and immediately slept off. I passed out for the next 5 hours before I woke up drenched in sweat with the fever gone completely. Once the fever had passed I was fine. With the body in a better condition the spirit also found hope for a better day.

          A shepherd heading out towards his flock

          One of the passes we had to climb. The sight of it took the wind out of my sails!

          At the railway station

          The speed limit was 50kmph, we couldn’t go above 5kmph!

          The decrepit looking Hotel in Bulgan!


            • City: Kanpur

            We were scheduled to leave from Bulgan early morning. But with a horrible previous day for me an early morning start didn’t happen.

            We started the day with me doubting whether I was capable of riding. But after the initial few kilometres my legs came back to me. I felt much stronger without the fever and I could pedal with all the power in my legs. The roads were better, in a sense that there were no steep climbs! Just lovely rolling terrain. The roads would just go up and down without us having to put in too much effort.

            We covered the distance easily. We carried sufficient water unlike the previous day and didn’t have to worry about how much did we have to drink. We could consume as much as we wanted because we had 5 litres to spare in our panniers. We rode till a place called Uran Togo.

            UT is the first place where we found a Ger Camp to stay. We rode into the camp, knowing that we had to stay the night there irrespective of how expensive it was. Since we were not in a condition to continue. Continuing meant we would have had to ride an extra 30 km and we were in no condition to cover that distance. As we rode into the camp we asked the first person we met about a room and they didn’t answer. Since most people do not speak English. Then one little girl jumped onto a cycle and pedalled away furiously and two minutes later another girl returned on the same cycle. She knew a little English and thus was the point person in the camp, even though she was quite young. We bargained from 60000 tugrik to 30000 tugrik, the Mongolian currency. Our weapons for bargaining was that we were cyclists with no money and thus we should be given a discount and it worked! We got a nice little Mongolian tent which was cosy and the campsite was in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides with the cool breeze blowing.

            The campsite also had a basketball and volleyball court. And Prakash joined in for both the games. He played a round of basketball with some local youngsters and got in an extra spot of exercise. Why did he want to exercise after having ridden the entire day beats me! We did get real good food there though. And they went out of they way to prepare good vegetarian food for Prakash. Most places they would throw together whatever they could in the name of vegetarianism, but these people took an extra effort to make delicious food. I was overjoyed to see potatoes on my plate! After dinner we enjoyed the sun setting into the mountains.

            That day also made me realize the importance of getting out my raincoat and wearing it in time. Because in Mongolia the rain comes and goes in a blink of an eye leaving you soaking by the time you have got your raincoat in hand. We got a 10 minute shower and I got soaked, you can outrun a storm on a motorcycle but not on a bicycle!

            We also had a rather amusing incident where Prakash was trailing me by about half a kilometre, and a couple of 14 year olds on horseback rode up to him and threatened to slit his throat while flashing a big machete and then proceeded to rob him! Fortunately they only managed to get a couple of bars of snickers and an LED torch! Since these highway robbers were adolescents it made the entire incident rather amusing, at least for me 😀 . Probably for Prakash it was still rather unnerving!

            Discussing how to tackle the headwind!

            Blessed with a rainbow

            The camp cottages


            Coca Cola is everywhere!

            A milestone or kilometre pole!

            The ‘Ger’ where we stayed

            Prakash playing Volleyball with the girl who ran the place!

              • City: Kanpur

              The weather looked favourable as we left from Uran Togo, we attempted a 7AM departure, but the weather, food and people so lovely, we eventually left at 10. Talk about schedules! But we are on holiday, schedules were not relevant, having a good time was!

              We rode on towards the town of Murun. But Murun was too far away to cover in a day. We got nice rolling terrain that day, so it wasn’t too hard a ride and we made reasonably good time. By that i mean we averaged around 9 kilometres an hour   We got 3 good hours of cycling in before the wind picked up, which allowed us to cover reasonable number of kilometres. We stopped at a petrol pump with our cycles to buy fuel for our multi-fuel stove. People saw us standing with our pedal-powered bikes at the fuel station thinking we were mad. And I guess we are! Cyclists should get their fuel at a restaurant and not a petrol pump!

              This was the day when the terrain changed from the Steppes to the Mountains, we could see the change in terrain and feel the change in weather. It was getting more rugged, but the tarmac was butter smooth. A two lane highway, but the traffic was awesome. Cars would slow down and give way to us cyclists; a far cry from the treatment meted out to us in India, where every drives attempts to mow you down! No one even honked at the cyclist. A couple of times I got off the road to make way for a car, the car would slow down, give a gentle toot on the horn and wave out shouting their thanks. No one would ever overtake aggressively. A real pleasure to ride there.

              The Sun was harsh and we got a bit browned! Yes we already brown men got a little more browned! We at least do not share the terrible fate of westerners who get sunburnt. Finally (and in cycling terms that is almost a lifetime!) we passed the town of Hutag Undor. There was supposed to be a campsite there, but there wasn’t a camp in sight! We asked passersby and everyone pointed in different directions, so we were left none the wiser as to the locations of the camp. So we rode ahead for another 5 km till we came to the town of Hutag Undor. There we saw a big board which said, hotel with spa, gym and other blah blah facilities and all that other nice jazzy stuff that you get in fancy billboard hotels! Not something that we cyclists could afford. But since we had limited options we headed there and once again bargained to get a small discount.

              45000 tugrik for a double room that was more than what we had budgeted but well, you have to make do with what you get. We got a loaf of nice fresh bread and cherry jam and tried out some local berries. People were selling these berries on the road side. It was sour as hell and my brain tingled from tooth to toe! The women love it but we didn’t! We did get good food there though. A few people spoke English and so we got information for our ride ahead. But no one there had a clue of distances. A distance that we knew for sure on the map was 200km was pinned down as 400km by a cab driver! A distance of 60km was made 120. People I don’t think count distance in kilometres and they just travel in that vast land.

              We got chased by a small pack of dogs, fortunately unlike humans who speak different languages, dogs understood my Delhi abuses pretty well and tucked their tails between their legs and ran off whence they came from!

              A few pictures from that day…

              Breakfast at the camp

              All our meals came out of supermarkets like these

              Berries for dinner!

                • City: Kanpur

                After a long gap in the storytelling we return to the short overnight stay at Hutag Undor.

                The problem with Mongolia is the extremely long days, the sun rises too early and sets too late. I wanted to see the sunrise and woke up early, very early, inhumanly early to see the sun rise out from behind the hills. I waited for about 15 minutes as the sky turned crimson and then slept off at the penultimate moment, missing the much awaited sunrise!

                The ride for the day was a rather long one. A 100 km ride from Hutag Undor to Ikh Uul. 100km does not feel a lot when i ride it on my roadie in Delhi, but on an MTB in the rolling terrain, bogged down with 25kg of luggage, a century ride is light years away from sanity! Nonetheless we egged each other on, made good progress throughout the day. The difficult terrain notwithstanding. We even crossed a couple of mountain passes. Not Himalyan standard Passes, but reasonably high.

                Fortunately the weather in the morning was lovely, but as the day progressed the sun beat down on us. Not a whiff of breeze meant that we were running like steam engines. The heat being oppressive as if in a desert. The dryness of the air catching the throat, fortunately we had learnt our lesson on the first day and were carrying sufficient water. We stopped for lunch at a roadside hut, where we ordered without checking out the prices. It turned out to be the most expensive meal we had had in Mongolia till then, and the food wasn’t anything special either.

                On the way we met a Russian couple who had been driving down in a Land Cruiser from Siberia and had threaded many countries before entering Mongolia and would exit on the other side of Mongolia and back into Russia. They were driving all the way from Khuvsgul Lake to Ulaan Bataar in one day, a distance that we hoped to cover in 7 days on our cycles. At that moment i truly felt slow and wished i had my Pulsar with me to make things move a bit faster!

                We also met a friendly Mongolian shepherd who rode up to meet us on his very cool looking motorcycle. A real pocket rocket! He had given up riding a horse, and used this motorcycle instead to herd his sheep. He found it far more effective. There are a couple of pictures of this cool machine in this post!

                Finally after thousands of pedal strokes we hit the town of Ikh Uul. The entire town from a distance looked like an oversized ghetto. With not a sign of a place to stay. A guy on a motorcycle saw us wandering and wondering and rode up to us and told us to follow him. He then led us till the other end of the town, which was probably a couple of kilometres away to a ramshackle looking building. From the broken windows i could see a disco ball hanging in a dusty hall, which probably hadn’t seen a human being in it for a few years at least. It gave me the creeps. Fortunately that wasn’t our accommodation, else i would have done a Scooby Doo! We stayed in a dormitory in the attic of someone’s house who was kind enough to give us space to rest our tired bodies.

                In front of our room was a big tower, the tower was a bomb tower which was constructed during some time of war. Every time an air raid was expected, a siren would go off and the residents of the city would have to run from their houses and move towards shelter. Thankfully, the threat of war doesn’t exist anymore over there and the tower was defunct. Hopefully it will stay that way in the future as well. This little town was also the place where i met my biggest fear. The toilets were nothing but a hole in the ground, with two planks of wood covering it and a hole in the middle of it. You need to aim for the hole while ensuring that you didn’t fall into it yourself. I thought that was an exception of Ikh Uul. But as we meandered through Mongolia, we realized that it was going to be that ways for the rest of the trip!

                Punjab style mustard fields in Mongolia!

                The roads are incredible

                Disc brake bike works as new age sheepdog!

                Top of a pass

                A country filled with sheep

                Met this couple travelling across Russia and Central Asia

                  • City: Kanpur

                  Ikh Uul to Murun.

                  The day started off as we rode out of Ikh Uul. The town was a rather shabby looking town and we were staying in a place which can at best be described as a ghetto. Much like Mehrauli, the locality that i live in, in Delhi!!!

                  We left at 0730 since we had more than 100km to cover before we reached Murun. It was fortunate that we rode out early in the morning, as we avoided the headwinds. The route that day also had quite a bit of climbing to be done. Breakfast was a bit of leftover bread before we left, the carbs help the rider pedal away without feeling too hungry. We did stop on the way to have some rice and dal powder for lunch. The dal powder had been brought all the way from Chennai by Prakash, since he had anticipated not finding any vegetarian food in Mongolia. He practically survived on that concoction for a month, and to do that while enjoying something as physically strenuous as cycling is truly commendable. At the lunch point we met a middle aged Italian couple who had ridden down on a BMW 800GS all the way from Italy. The bike was a 1985 model, just proves how rugged those motorcycles were built. They had ridden down from Italy on that rattletrap, but the bike was as solid as could be. They were headed to the same place as us, Khuvsgul. But they would have reached on the very same day, while we still had a couple of more days to pedal! They offered us a lovely cup of black coffee, which was welcome after all the hard pedalling.

                  There I also tasted ‘chai’ for the first time. It is had with as much regularity as its namesake in India, but it is a salty, milky brownish liquid. The only good thing about it is that it is hot! We were happy to get the carbs that we required in our hungry bellies as about 30 km before Murun the climb to the last pass started, which was a long tough 12 km climb and we were already saddle sore. Eventually we reached Murun after climbing that pass. After which it was a continuous descent. In total we had ridden 120km from Ikh Uul to Murun. Which was stretching it a bit.

                  We reached Murun and headed for the guesthouse which had been recommended to us,  The Murun Guesthouse. Unfortunately this was also in the middle of a ghetto, but surprisingly there were a lot of western backpackers there, as it seemed to be quite a favourite for them. Surprising because the facilities were rather basic bordering on cheap. The only thing that worked well was WiFi! Nonetheless we managed to get a good night,s sleep. We also paid 3000 Tugrik or 100INR to take a shower there, as bathing comes at a cost. It wasn,t surprising though as in Uran Togo, we had to pay separately for shower facilities in a hotel room!

                  Murun appeared to be a more rough and tumble town compared to UB. This town looked like it was ready for a wild west gunfight at every corner! We met a guy from New Zealand, who had been backpacking alone, he told us that he worked as a farmhand in Australia and chucked his job to travel the world. He had only been using public transport and was having a good time at it. It is unimaginable in India that someone working on a farm could go travelling abroad. That is the difference between living in a developed country. There Prakash even got a special vegetarian meal! Homemade pasta with beef was my meal, perfect for a hungry cyclist like me.

                  We ended the meal with dahi shakkar. We had managed to buy yogurt in the market and enjoyed our Indian dessert in the middle of nowhere!

                    • City: Kanpur

                    We left from Murun for Khuvsgul. But Murun to Khuvsgul was about 120km and with a lot of climbs. After two consecutive days of riding fully loaded centuries, we were not inclined to take another 100km of inclinations! Prakash was also not feeling too well, so we rode 60km.

                    We left from Murun pretty late, a relaxed breakfast, and a late start ensured we were the last tourists to leave the guesthouse. It was another day of climbing, with just a couple of descents. I was already saddle sore, just wanting to get out of the saddle and push my bike uphill. Eventually at the last climb we got off our bikes and pushed uphill. It was a good idea as it exercised a different set of muscles. As we reached the top, we saw a mini market on the side of the road and we stopped there looking for accommodation.

                    The old lady in the store didn’t speak a word of English, but we successfully managed to communicate our need for lodging. The place we got was basically the attic above the store, but that was a good thing, as we got all the water, chips, chocolates and other things we needed from there. We then somehow explained to the lady in the store to cook rice for us, so we gave her India Gate basmati rice we had been carrying from Delhi and she cooked us a fine meal. Prakash added his spices to the rice while I dunked in a tin of sardines!

                    We had a wonderful evening, as the place was calm, peaceful and the perfect setting to unwind and relax. It was actually in the middle of nowhere. The sun was setting in the back of the compound behind the hills. It was a beautiful sunset at 9 in the night! A little girl who stayed there, sat and chilled with us and sketched us the scenery of the place in Prakash’s sketch pad. It was so good that he gave her the sketch book to keep and she was very happy. As we were about to retire to bed, she landed up again at our doorstep asking us to go with her somewhere. It was almost pitch dark and we followed her out, not knowing what we were in for. At 11 PM we came to know that we were the deputed cow herders for the day! We then went running around in the ink black night chasing black cows that were twice our size. Finally after much jostling for position, we got the cows home and put the calves in a pen, before letting the rest go roam free for the night. So now I am officially a cowboy!

                    And then it was our turn to head out into the emptiness…


                    The kids who later on took us midnight cow herding!


                      • City: Kanpur

                      The next day we left from Alag Erdeen, halfway between Murun and Khuvsgul Lake. We had had a lovely evening the previous day at Alag but it was time to move on from there to the lake. 60 odd km of riding awaited us.

                      It wasn’t too bad a ride. We had just encountered one pass, at the top of the pass there were little children selling berries, fish pickle and an assortment of other local sweets. The sweets were made of sour milk and dried in the sun. One needed to develop a taste for it, not really everyone’s cup of tea!

                      From the descent of that pass we entered the national park and had lunch at Hatgal. After 35 km of riding we entered the Khuvsgul National Park, we paid about 3000 tugrik each. That was not too much just about 100 rupees. We continued along the tarmac road only to find that the tarmac road was a deadend. We as always followed the road, but in Mongolia that rule doesn’t apply, you have to make your own road! So we backtracked 3 km where we got onto a mud path towards the road which led to the campsite on the Khuvsgul Lake.

                      But there was no road, it was a dirt track which started from the Hatgal airport and from there it is 30 km to the lake. It climbs up a steep pass on dirt and then descends even more steeply down to the lake. Unfortunately, my bike was overloaded and my brakes very weak, so i was slipping and sliding all the way to the bottom of the hill!

                      The main track was so bumpy that it made more sense to get off the main track and make our own tracks in the grass! Our food got digested riding through those bumps! This was our first time off tarmac and we were happy to see that the panniers, racks and all our luggage held firm through all those bumps, so that was good news indeed. The cycle was sliding around as we descended the steep pass.

                      We finally found a Ger Resort, and found out that they were charging 80000 Tugrik per person per day. Way out of our budget and common sense! We then went ahead and checked out another couple of places with showers and toilets, but all these were more or less the same price. So we came back and went to a simple Ger where we hired it for 25000 tugrik for the both of us. For the loo we had to go into the woods and we had the entire lake in front of us to go take a dip in! The lake in question was massive and gorgeous. We could only see a small part of the lake as it is humongous in size. If one doesn’t know, one could mistake it for the sea! From the western shore you can see the eastern shore of the lake, but from the south, the northern tip of the lake is FAR away.

                      Our Ger was bang on the lakeside. So we would open our camp door and see the sun rising out of the lake which was a sight to behold. The winds were so strong, that on a few occasions, I wasn’t pedalling uphill, but was just getting drafted uphill!

                      We also met a couple of cyclists who were going in the opposite direction. There were much fitter than us and were also carrying far less luggage. Seasoned cyclists they were, it was good to see them. The evening again saw us sitting at the side of the lake watching the cattle pass us by. There I saw the biggest bull I have ever seen. It was massive and it was also amusing that an animal that could easily trample me to death with its hooves, ran away because I waved my arm while trying to swat a fly! It is sad to see an animal that majestic domesticated and trained to fear humans.

                      A bit about the magnificent Khuvsgul Lake

                      A little kid posing with our cycles at one of the earlier passes. You can glimpse the road snaking away in the background

                      The beautiful and rather tasty animal!

                      Pitstop enroute Khuvsgul Lake

                      A bunch of tourists on horses taking a round near the lake!

                      The much better prepared cyclists we met on the way. They were Swiss if i remember correctly

                      Food! This was something like a samosa/ batura stuffed with beef! Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious.

                      That is fried fish and dumplings. I ate all that is in this plate and the plate above alone in one go. That’s how hungry a cyclist gets!

                        • City: Kanpur

                        The next day at Khuvsgul Lake we took a break, and did absolutely nothing! We woke up late and had some more beef samosa for breakfast.

                        After breakfast I truly vacationed; rolled out my sleeping mat in the sun and grabbing a couple of hours of shut eye in the warmth of the sun with the cool breeze making me happy. The Mongolian summer afternoon was just like our winter afternoon’s in North India! The locals saw me sleeping in the sun and thought I was mad to enjoy the sun. They all run for the shade. I probably am a madman and therefore did enjoy the sun. After that nice long rest we walked down the lake shore.

                        A good 5-6km walk we had, we saw a few people we recognised from UB, checked out a few more camps, one which was built with an Egyptian theme! We went to the only shop there to buy bread, unfortunately couldn’t get any. We then trudged back to camp hungry as ever, the couple running the campsite gave us fresh cream which was the thickest cream I have ever seen or eaten. Since we were unable to buy bread, we sandwiched the cream between two biscuits and for once had real cream biscuits and not the rubbish that you get to buy in the indian market (which is more like powder stuffed between two biscuits)!

                        Dinner consisted of dumplings which were stuffed with meat and cooked in front of me. The simplest recipe you could imagine. Mutton was cut with a lot of fat, some onion, salt, a local spice and stuffed inside dough which had been set aside with yeast. And this was all put in a steamer for 15 minutes. We then ate it hot straight off the fire. It was succulent as the bread had absorbed the juices of the meat, making my mouth water just at the thought of it!

                        In the 15 minutes while the dumplings were getting steamed, Jaga, the chef and guy who ran the camp took me to see how they slaughter the sheep. Which was very different from what I have ever seen before. Instead of slitting the throat of the animal, they just make an incision in the animal’s abdomen, slip their hand in and pull out the heart. The End!

                        After that the animal is cleaned, the blood is taken out and kept in a bowl to be cooked and pretty much every part of the animal is stored for consumption with almost nothing going to waste. As the meat was being washed to be stored and cooked, the heart of the sheep was cut, put on a skewer placed in the fire for 5 minutes and served hot! Not everyone would be comfortable eating an animal which they saw just 10 minutes ago alive and kicking! That sight though was pretty much the highlight of the day for me!

                        A wonderful day of rest and relaxation for our weary bottoms came to an end on the banks of the Khuvsgul Lake.

                        The animal being cut up…

                        Done and hung

                        And ready to eat

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