Travel Through Mongolia on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter Forwood

Mongolia on a Harley (31/5/05 - 17/6/05)
Distance 2176 km (423134 km to 425310 km)

This is part of the tenth section of my around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Russia
 

31/5/05 My introduction to Mongolia was not quite so pleasant. Being asked a $US 1.00 for a form, the request which I ignored. The same man insisting on me buying insurance, also ignored, stating I had a world-wide policy. Processing again about an hour, customs generally helpful, no special paperwork for the motorcycle, details just entered in a book, my registration papers the only document needed. Changed money at the bank in the immigration building and was away. Ger (yurt), the canvas and felt round nomadic houses, were seen immediately on crossing the border. The rolling hills past their spring prime and now having a tinge of brown on hilltops and in dryer areas giving a lovely softness to the scenery.Local festival, preparing for the horse race Mongols on foot and horse back, also in cars, were watching herds of sheep, goats and cattle. I camped near a small river just 70 km. There are no fences in the country, about the same size as Queensland, Australia, mostly no one owns the land, so you can camp anywhere, as the Mongols do, being nomadic.

1/6/05 I had planned to get to Ulaan Baatar, but there never is really a plan. There was so much to see and photograph throughout the day I only rode 170 km and camped again. A windless, blue sky day, with hardly a noise but nature. A mob of horses cantered along the roadside while a lady waited to sell her container of milk to a passing truck. The town of Bayangol was celebrating children's day with its version of the Naadam Festival. About 500 horses and riders of all ages came in from the surrounding country side to encourage the primary school aged boys riding the main event. Families grouped together, their best young horse with their best rider escorted to the starting line. A long race, we only saw the last kilometres but the boys and horses were well spent when they arrived at the finishing line. Many riding bareback, others with saddles, at home on a horse, an extension of their own body. After the race, tired participant being helped off his horse It was a mixed bunch of traditionally and modern dressed, women were almost absent, only a couple riding and none racing. I was the only foreigner, was well received, people asking to be photographed on their horses, looking at the motorcycle, but no one spoke English enough for a conversation. I moved on mid afternoon, stopping again to watch the herd movements around a group of ger, women cutting firewood, men tending the animals. About 100 km from Ulaan Baatar a road up into the mountains for 8 km had me passing more than a dozen ger, a lush mountain valley of rich meadows and pine covered hills. Camped on a hillock with no mechanical noises through the night.

2/6/05 Ulaan Baatar is not a pleasant city to approach from the magnificent countryside. Smoke stacks, loud traffic congestion, tooting horns, bad potholed bumpy road and open man holes all detract from it. It is the tourist season here, by train or flight this is their first destination. I am in a full six bed dormitory in the city centre. Old apartments converted to backpacker accommodation. Secure parking on site allows me to oscillate valuable items to the bike by day and room at night.View across the steppe of a gur and stock Dormitory, my least preferred type of accommodation, still I was pleased that the motorcycle had made it and the parts (hopefully to fix it) were now on their way here. I was at the helpful Kazakhstan Embassy in the afternoon, a 30 day, fixed date visa, issued a maximum of 30 days prior to entry date, would cost $US 70.00 and take five working days to process. I deferred applying till after repairs to the motorcycle. Wandered the city as the occasional dust storm blew through.

3/6/05 The city is booming with new construction, almost every second building is being renovated or modified in some way. Prices here are much cheaper than Russia, more reminiscent of South East Asia except perhaps for accommodation. Local meals less than a dollar and coffee 20 cents. The high rate of unemployment and free enterprise create small street businesses. People carry telephones in the streets, selling calls, a man sits at a set of bathroom scales for people to weigh themselves for a small charge. I visited the Mongolian History Museum, bought a road map and wandered the town. Many people still live in a ger, in the city, and I was invited into one to have a look. Dirt floor with pieces of vinyl, basic furniture and stove in the centre,Top, collapsed cam follower worn flat after 3400 km of not turning compared with the lower one that was still working a couple of beds, simple but comfortable living.

4/6/05 The motorcycle parts had been sent to Scott, an American living in Ulaan Baatar who had contacted me some time ago after reading my web page. He had generously offered a place to work on the motorcycle at his residence. The parts were here, four days DHL from Australia and I spent the afternoon trying to dismantle the engine, never having worked on it before myself. By 7 pm I had come to an impasse, there were two sockets I needed but don't carry plus a bearing puller. I had the engine apart enough to determine the problem was in the cam area, most likely a failure of one of the cam followers, which I can't yet remove. The damage appears to be localized or perhaps I am a bit premature in hoping. Scott offered to ask around his friends for the required tools and I start again tomorrow morning.

5/6/05 A metric equivalent wrench undid the larger bolt while a dremel tool ground a 6 sided 1/4 inch socket into the required 12 sided socket. The maintenance man at the USA Embassy devised a bearing puller from a concrete wall plug that expands when tightened along a bolt, so that by after lunch I could confirm that a cam follower in the engine had stopped rotating.Waiting in the streets of Ulaan Baatar selling phone calls A lip on its edge had formed, broken off and was the crunching noise I heard 3400 km ago. Since then it appears the cam follower was just rubbing its way around the cam and not rolling. It had worn down the cam lobe a couple of millimetres and flattened the roller. There seemed to be no secondary damage in the area. New parts were inserted and the cam area finished by 7 pm. The mental and physical effort of bending up and down to get tools and work on the bike on the ground had me exhausted. 

6/6/05 I have been working in an open garage area under  apartments and while the area is clean it is still difficult, without a parts wash, to keep everything clean and dirt out of the engine. Put the push rods, rocker covers, exhaust, footboard, petrol tank and other removed parts back together and it started and ran smoothly, without the knocking noise. It only remains for time and a few thousand kilometres to see if the repair has been a total success. I also managed a good look over the motorcycle whilst it was stripped and fixed a few minor items like new fuel hose, brake pads and repaired the drive belt guard that had worn out with the dirt roads. A more relaxed evening than I have had in a few days.Inside a ger, round felt house, in Ulaan Baatar

7/6/05 Applied for the Kazakhstan visa, ready in five working days, otherwise had a relaxed day talking with people in the dormitory. A varied group, arriving either by train or plane, some doing a tour, others more adventurous travelling independently. Four Belgian bikers rocked in on their BMW's having ridden across Russia to ride Mongolian dirt.

8/6/05 Mongolia must be the largest country in the world with only 2000 km of asphalt roads, and that of dubious quality. I headed west with the engine purring quietly, 360 km, changing the engine oil along the way and meeting a Dutch couple travelling in a 1970 Ural motorcycle with sidecar. They bought it in Ulaan Baatar for a two month trip around the country. At one stop, after the locals had admired my motorcycle for sufficient time I asked to see inside their ger. I was welcomed, poured a bowl of weak milk tea and offered a seat on the visitors side of the tent. Many of the wealthier herders have solar panels for a television and satellite dish. Whilst they use horses or motorcycles daily a car is often available between a group of ger. Again the floor was vinyl, laid directly on the dirt, a couple of beds and stove.Merging and diverging tracks across the steppe, a common road type The supporting structures nicely and brightly painted. Khorkhorin, where I camped, was Genghis Khan's capital from 1220 to 1236. The capital of the largest empire the world has ever known stretching from west of Moscow to include Baghdad, Pakistan, China and all of inhabited Russia. There is nothing here to show for it today. A smallish town supporting the local nomads and tourists.

9/6/05 Khorkhorin also has Mongolia's oldest Buddhist monastery built in the late 16 th century but almost entirely destroyed by Stalin's purges. Buddhist monks are returning to the area, the monastery being slowly restored or rebuilt and tourism is giving a helping hand with entrance fees and camera fees. A group of eight French motorcyclists rolled in just as I was leaving the temple complex. They are here on an eight day, rental motocross bike tour, fully escorted, again leaving paved Europe for Mongolian dirt roads. I headed further west. There are few loop options in touring Mongolia and I will probably have to return along the same road, if it can be called that. Some sections had been constructed, others broke up into many diverging tracks when one became too bumpy another was started.Milking the crossbred yak and western style cattle This has rapidly scarred the landscape and with increasing vehicle use will get worse unless roads are properly constructed. Passed through the town of Tsetserleg, and feeling like riding pressed on another 100 km to camp amongst pine trees well away from the road. This place easily passes my remoteness indicator of having no mechanical noise for over an hour as all that could be heard were wind and birds as I watched horses and yak graze the other side of the valley.

10/6/05 It's a lovely ideal having a land with no fences but with increasing human pressure wanting more grazing animals slowly the horse and cow will give way to the closer grazing sheep and eventually overgrazing by goats. With no land ownership the pasture will not be rested, nor soil erosion and water managed, and could end up like the situation of nomads in the Middle East and across North Africa and its desertification. Just 80 km of rough dirt to White Lake (Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur), where a volcanic eruption dammed a river to form this lake nestled amongst snow capped peaks with yak and goat farmers grazing its shores. I watched the evening milking of the cross yak, cattle, where the calves had been penned up all day and the yak were hobbled and milked in the fields.Herders with their long lassoo pole moving stock to better pastures Was invited into a ger for milk curd, tasting like natural yoghurt, and fried doe balls. These are poorer nomads, no luxuries of TV, the toilet a walk in the surrounding fields, water drawn from the lake, a bathhouse nowhere to be seen, they move their ger by yak drawn carts. I offered two chocolate bars as a return gift and rode up a valley overlooking the lake to camp.

11/6/05 It rained on and off all night. A lull followed by violent wind, heavy rain, and gone, to be repeated some time later. It had been the same yesterday when I was replacing a broken engine mount bolt. Hot in the sun, to be hit by gusty cold winds, pack up the tools, huddle in the lee of the motorcycle in hail or heavy rain, to hot sun again a few minutes later. The process repeated three times in the hour the repair took. Mongolia is one of the highest countries, averaging over 1500 metres, where I am is almost 2000 metres, the mornings are frosty, the herders only now moving to the highlands for summer grazing. This was as far as I was heading west and turned back towards Ulaan Baatar. It was a cold, greyer day without rain or sunshine and my mood mirrored the day.Constructing a basic ger on the outskirts of Tsetserleg The policeman attending the boom gate into Tsetserleg was arrogantly asserting his authority and got short shift from me as did the person in the market who went to work the bikes throttle while the engine was running. Both received my verbal abuse. The country people can be so friendly, polite and helpful, city people and people in authority so rude and arrogant. I rode the 300 km back to Kharkhorin and camped in the same place as before. The three month school holidays started this week and the roads are busy ferrying children back from the capital to their family ger. Families are also on the move, trucks packed with all belongings moving to summer grazing. I watched as a family erected their home, all helping, just a couple of hours. I also managed a break where a herd of horses was being milked and the foals were being branded.

12/6/05 Today's motorcycle problem was a crack in the exhaust pipe. The pipe had lasted 200,000 km but I wondered how many other components making up the motorcycle would eventually fatigue with age and hard miles. Today it clocked over 400,000 km since starting the trip over nine years ago. The small welding shop in Kharkhorin the opposite experience to the one I had in Russia.Milking mares The welder extremely particular with his work, filling and grinding any imperfections and ensuring the weld was strong. A pleasant hour spent with him and his wife was shattered by the policeman at the check point leaving town. The money gleam in his eye was apparent before he asked for my paperwork and of course I was missing some dubious stamp necessary for my continuance. A stamp not needed by the other police checks that had let me pass. After a polite banter and his refusal to let me pass we were at an impasse. In a rash moment I simply snatched from his hands my passport and motorcycle papers and walked from his booth, got on the motorcycle and rode around the boom gate, to his calling for me to return. Ten minutes down the road I was overtaken by a private vehicle with the same policeman blowing his whistle and waving his baton at me out of the rear window. With what I saw as little option I overtook the vehicle and sped away, not to see them again. It appeared that either my paperwork was indeed incorrect or to save face with the onlookers at the check post the policeman had appropriated the next available vehicle to pursue me. There being no further police check posts till Ulaan Baatar, 400 km away, I spent a few hours concerned he may have phoned ahead regarding the incident.White Lake I made myself obvious to the police on entering the city but was not approached by them. During the ride the wind had swept blustering and ferociously across the plains ahead of an approaching storm which had me in rain the last 100 km. A hot shower after five days was great. 

13/6/05 Concerned at the over enthusiastic police officer yesterday had me at the police station today to double check my paperwork. Colonel Badarch ph 99119510 is a good contact for any police related problems. He speaks excellent English and is helpful. After some research he discovered I needed to register with the traffic police within 72 hours of entering Mongolia if I wished to use my vehicle in the country. Traffic police is situated in the south eastern corner of the city at the intersection of Teeverchidiin Gudany and Marksyn Organ Chaloo. Officer Jargal processed my permit in ten minutes at no cost. He required a passport photo, registration or ownership papers and my drivers license. There was no mention of my late registration but I was advised this document would be required to drive around the country and to leave at the border. I also collected my Kazakhstan visa, ready as promised, caught up on internet, washing etc.Town of Tsetserleg

14/6/05 Until recently no one could buy land in Mongolia, however people can now apply for a couple of hectares each if they can fence off that area. Most lots are around towns, in town or along roads. Unfortunately the ruling has had a few effects. A previously unfenced country is becoming fenced, with timber offcuts, giving some areas an unpleasant look as well as felling trees. Basically relaxed around the dormitory, the last chance I will likely meet travellers for a while. 

15/6/05 Packed and left. A short visit to Zuunmod to the south then a decision to camp at the same place as when I first arrived in Mongolia. Eight km along a track at the 100 km mark from Ulaan Baatar towards the border. A grassy valley between rocky tree covered mountains. It has been raining off and on most of the last two weeks and the grass here has shown the effects being a good 150 mm taller despite being grazed. Also the number of ger in the valley has doubled.

16/6/05 Locals as well as a couple of local tourists wandered past my camp,Branding last years foals stopping to chat, practice their English. One brought me some milk curd from the nearby dairy. We had a cup of tea, went for a walk and I was in and out of the tent each time a thunderstorm passed. I decided to stay another night, living on bread and jam as I hadn't provisioned for two nights. The engine had sounded knocking in the bottom end on my arrival here but on investigation inside the primary drive area it turned out to be two loose screws holding the primary chain adjuster bracket. They have never been removed and I was surprised that they had come loose, the first time. One was half undone and would have caused considerable damage had it come completely out into the chain and sprocket area.

17/6/05 The rain had the black soil slippery for my 6.30 am departure and the bike went down twice before I headed across country, the wet grass better traction than the track. Three hours to the border where a line of about 30 local vehicles waited to cross into Russia. Most travel regularly, smuggling small items in each direction. A couple of people were wrapping themselves in silk cloth, sticky taped to their bodies, looking a bit like the fat man, they hoped to remain in their vehicle and not be noticed. I was moved to the front of the line, again asked for a $US 1.00 for a form I didn't need and was processed efficiently, not being asked anywhere for the temporary permit I had obtained to ride in Mongolia. It seems like only the one policeman and the issuing officer know of its requirement. 
 

Move with me to Russia
 

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