We are in Mongolia!

We crossed from Russia into Mongolia (at the Tashanta Tsagaannur border) on Monday 2004-07-05. When we set off from the UK this border crossing was not open to foreign (i.e. non-CIS) vehicles, nevertheless we hoped to cross there and Peter obtained a letter from the Mongolian embassy in London asking them to let us cross.

However during our journey the border was officially opened:

In an effort to promote tourism, the Government of Mongolia has advised us that foreigners may now enter Mongolia by automobile or motorcycle at four additional land border crossings. The affected border crossings include: Tsagaan Nuur in Bayan Ulgii province, Altanbulag in Selenge province, Ereen Tsav in Dornod province and Zamiin Uud in Dornogobi province. These permanent highway checkpoints are open five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This was excellent news and we headed down the 500km road from Barnaul to the border full of confidence. We had read that we needed permission to travel beyond Gorno Altajsk and this had to be obtained at the Malitsia Office. We went, we looked, we found, we asked. They said "not here go to Aktas". So we went to the Malitsia at Aktas. They said "give us your passports and wait outside" After two hours they gave us our passports back and said go to Tasanta (the border). So we did.

Although we had read that the M52 beyond Gorno Altajsk was scenic we were not prepared for the breathtaking views, wonderful wild flowers, the birds and the magnificent....

Flowers In The Southern Altai

The M52 going south east from the City of Barnaul, Siberia, towards the Mongolian border provided a plethora of camera opportunities. Following the Katun river we travelled through countryside popular with Russians for camping, outdoor sports and dacha owning. The hills and meadows are verdant green and birch forests abound. Words such as idyllic, picturesque, and peaceful spring to mind, with few people around in such a sparse population to enjoy it. Mind you, in winter it's a different story when everything is covered in deep snow.

But we are here in July. We passed colourful meadows and river banks with Viper's Bugloss and orange Globe Flowers (bottom left) coating the banks beside the road. As we progressed higher, the meadow flowers were replaced by alpine varieties and it became the turn of Alpine Asters (top left) and, as a surprise to us, Edelweiss (top right) in prolific numbers. We also saw many butterflies (on Knapweed, bottom right).

The region is a delightful paradise to those who study wild flowers, and even those who are not enthusiasts of flora cannot fail to be moved by its beauty.

For the twitchers reading this website, we have seen Demoiselle Cranes, Golden Eagles, both Red and Black Kites, Griffin Vultures and other raptors perched fearlessly on telegraph poles or soaring above.

Olwyn and John.

We were at the Russian side of the border at 08:00 on Monday morning. The border opened at 09:00. We were able to drive in at 09:40. A passing customs office pointed out that it was forbidden to take more than 40 litres of diesel (in Jerry cans) out of Russia, but it didn't matter because we would have to turn back anyway!

The Russian border process was very slow (two hours) but reasonably well organised (in a collection of brand new pre-fabricated buildings). There was a slight delay when the Russians were unable to find Pat's Mongolian visa (Americans do no need one).

The Mongolian border was closed for lunch when we arrived. It opens at 13:00. Everybody was friendly and both the immigration and customs forms were in Mongolian and English! The staff even had multilingual phrase books: "Please may I ask you"...."your family name". But everything took forever. Our names have to be transcribed into phonetic Mongolian, several times, all our dates have to be converted into (the rational) Mongolian format (i.e. 15-Jan-48 into 2004-01-15). The vehicles have to be searched several times. The Mongolians had to accept that "Fiat" as well as "Mercedes" is a vehicle manufacture. But by 18:00 it was looking good. We were lined up ready to go, they even said good-by. Then...

It emerged that whilst the border was open to foreign vehicles, you had to get special permission from Ulaan Baatar first! You can not just turn up (at this stage we discovered we were only the second group of foreign vehicles to attempt the border, the first group were two motorcyclists, a cameraman, three 4x4 support vehicles, a Mongolian and Russian fixer and a lot of money! See here for how to buy the book, DVD and CD!) We had to return to Russia.

Phone calls were made to Ulaan Baatar to no avail. Then our letter from the Mongolian embassy in London was produced (and translated into Mongolian by somebody working on building the new Mongolian border post to match the Russian one). We were to be allowed in, but only after yet another search that even involved removing parts of Imp's roof-lights. (Thanks for the letter Peter!). We wild camped in Mongolia at 19:30.

The view from Mog's roof.Before we entered Mongolia we were told that the roads were impassable to campervans and that there was no diesel. On our first full days driving we have covered 120km all on dirt roads, changed money in Olgii and filled up with fuel. So far the only significant road problem we have had was one hill that was so steep that OJ, with front wheel drive, could not get the traction he needed to get up it unaided. Navigation has been a problem mostly because there are far too many tracks and very few signs. A GPS is very reassuring. At the end of this trip we will make our GPS tracks available along with detailed information on road conditions.

We are currently parked 25km passed Olgii on flat plain surrounded by hills and the odd Ger. The photograph is the current view from Mog's roof.

It looks like we have missed the French Silkroute group heading west by the northern route. They will be at the border on about the 2004-07-09. We will have to drink our wine on our own.

Stephen Stewart.

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