Khövsgöl Horse Trekking

As with all non-horse riders, we were pretty confident about our ability to sit on a horse for long periods of time. Our five day trip was actually a compromise from what we had hoped would be a longer one. We left from Khatgal with Juliette and Thibault who had agreed to share with us all of their camping equipment and a 3-person tent (for the four of us). It took about one minute for us to realise intellectually and physically that we were all terrible terrible riders. After a few hours on the horses we were seriously wondering if we would last through five days of riding. Not to mention that comfort was the last consideration in the conception of the Mongolian horse saddle. Our father and son guides, Munkhsukh and Sukhbat found our pain amusing but must of also found us to be annoyingly incompetent. When Thibault got off his horse and refused to continue riding they laughed courteously but soon forced him back on his horse despite a sincere objection on his part. Juliette, Yann and I fared a little bit better on our wooden saddles but 13 year-old Sukhbat found it hilarious to get our horses running and listen to us yelp while trying ineffectively to slow down. Due to what I like to think were my superior riding skills (and not my physique), I got the nickname Mongol-Malie (Mongol for Mongolian horse-riding skills, Malie from the mispronunciation of Emilie), consequently, I tried to hide my discomfort to the best of my abilities (but I was really really uncomfortable pretty much the whole time). We cooked our own meals, mostly vegetarian, mostly terrible. We were dealing with the meager spice/salt supplies that we had purchased in Mörön. One evening Munkhsukh collected wild garlic and made fried garlic flat breads, this was by far our best meal. Once the four of us would go to bed, we discovered, our guides would secretly get up and cook their own second meal, including the meat that was absent in our dishes. Despite multiple groups of foreign tourists heading out from Khatgal, we did not run into anyone for the first few days of our trip. We were led through what seemed like difficult terrain, sometimes having to dismount from our horses as they sank into swampy ground. Yann impeccably timed an acute sickness for the second day of our trek. I tried to get us to stop for the day but I was overruled (including by Yann himself), although we did get a longer rest at an isolated ger camp. The two resident children observed Yann as he sprawled himself out in the sun (I'm sure the sight of a dopey tourists struggling on a trek was not an unusual sight). Yann silently and unenergetically plodded along and I kept looking back at him half-expecting that he would be on lying the ground, having fallen off his horse. Munkhsukh also seemed to be looking out for Yann and we set up camp that night, I suspect, a little bit earlier than we normally would have. Huge Munkhsukh and tiny Sukhbat were great travel companions. With little in the way of English skills they still laughed, joked and even sang with us and had no trouble telling us what to do. It was especially nice to watch them work so lovingly together. Munkhsukh seemed to be genuinely proud of his young son who, although a lot smaller, could speak better English, could figure out our cameras with greater ease and might face a far different future than his own. One afternoon Sukhbat happily showed us a huge scab on his elbow which he had earned falling of his horse in a Naadam race. We ate together and set up camp together every night, and on our last night they even invited us for the second dinner (which included dried yak meat). The five days included varied and impressive scenery and we saw much more than we could have by jeep or on foot (at least we liked to tell ourselves this, because traveling by jeep or on foot would have been far more comfortable). Despite our discomfort on our saddles, the days were getting easier and easier as we got used to riding. The terrain also became easier to navigate as it flattened out around Khövsgöl Lake where we spent our last two nights. On our fifth and last day of horse-trekking we got up early and, encouraged by our guides, traveled back to Khatgal at a fairly brisk pace. It turned out that we were racing back in order to get to the Khatgal Yak Festival on time. We were dropped off at at Munkhsukh's home where we were warmly welcomed by his wife and daughter. We were then rushed off to the festival, to finish our last day together as a trekking group.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Beautiful photos here! Looks like a painful yet worthwhile experience.