The Ride to Daasa’s

We rode away from the river we had camped by last night and followed a sandy track that led into the town of Bayan-Knurr, occasionally steering the horses off the track onto its sides to let a motorbike pass.  We turned off the road before reaching the town and rode with our backs to it.  ″Hey Tim!”  I called.  ″I wished we could have visited Bayan-Knurr.  We could have gone to the shops and got food.”  I said dreamily.  That morning we had to ration breakfast to two pieces of tsanni-boov as we were running low.  I turned to Tim saying, ″Mmmmmm, can you imagine how nice a Twix would taste right now?”  Tim smiled and kept riding across the pathless, shrubby ground we were using as a path to reach the lake named Sagaan Knurr.

We rode cross country not passing any people or Gers, eventually coming to a large patch of grass-less and shrub-less earth.  There were signs that a salt lake was sometimes in residence but the water had dried up and all we could see was the residue.  A large bull was herding nearby and I shouted to Tim.  ″Can you see that bull?”  ″Don’t worry.”  He said too late as I was already worried.  The bull changed direction, stood still staring at us and I stared back.  Tim led us along the outskirts of the dried up lake towards a black road and the bull went back to charging at goats and sheep.

We reached and crossed the black road and headed up a very steep, rocky hill, expecting to find the lake at the top.  Half way up was a herder on horseback, watching his goats and sheep.  We waved, shouted “Hi” and continued riding up the hill.  Finally, we reached the top but there was no sign of the lake.  We dismounted, hobbled the horses and while Tim stood with them I walked over the lip of the hill hoping to find the lake.  ″Tim.  It isn’t here.”  I reported back.  ″We must have got lost somewhere.”  Tim said and picked the GPS up from where it was hanging around his neck, tied onto a piece of green paracord.  I took the paper map out and examined it.  We laughed out loud.  ″We have gone passed it.  It is below us and we have ridden too far.”  We looked around about us and saw, by the side of the black road we had crossed earlier, the lake, shimmering as the sun beat down on its surface.

The horses were being driven mad by the flies, which were buzzing around us in vast quantities.  All the horses spooked and I struggled to hold my two and had to engage my core muscles to stop me letting go.  I grabbed the bridle tightly close to both my horses’ bits and held on telling myself, ″Don’t let go.  Don’t let go.”  I managed to keep them both tight and together thus preventing any space that would have allowed them to buck or run.  Tim brought Shar under control but was exhausted in the hot sun, having had no food for hours and very little water.  Tim let go of Goat who stopped close by.  Shar exploded again and tried to gallop off to get away from the flies.  Tim stood his ground and moved Shar round in a circle until Shar had exhausted his energy and stopped.  Tim and I were stressed, angry, hot, sweaty and being bitten to death.  The flies were, under any other circumstances, quite amazing.  There were yellow bodied flies, green bodied ones, large specimens, medium sized ones, small ones and mosquitoes.  Some bit at random, favouring neither human or horse, instead just biting the first piece of flesh their teeth came into contact with, and other, smaller varieties generally annoyed one by buzzing around the eyes and mouth trying to get at any moisture in an attempt to survive the parched, arid atmosphere.  The mosquitoes launched themselves at us all in large groups and bit, and bit and bit.  ″We have to get off this hill.”  Tim desperately pleaded with me.  ″I agree.  Are your horses okay to go?”  I asked.  ″I think so.”  He sighed.  We re-mounted and rode the horses back down the hill we had ridden up, changing course slightly to reach the lake where we hoped to spend at least one night.  Our ride took us down over scrubby ground.  The horses would not settle and the atmosphere felt unusual; a little creepy. We soon realised we were riding though a cemetery.  There were stone memorials left for the remembrance of the dead.  We navigated ourselves away from the graves and tried to move quickly off this hill as Mongolians use sacred land for the burial of their loved ones and we did not wish to be disrespectful.

We reached Saggan Nurr, the white lake, by early evening.  The path off the main track to the lake’s shore was infested with large, yellow mosquitoes.  ″I have bites on my bites.”  I moaned to Tim.  ″I will never, ever again complain about a few bites.”  He replied, and upon reaching Thailand months later neither of us did complain about a few mosquito bites.  Mongol Morris and Goat seemed to be suffering the brunt of the mosquitoe attacks.  Both had lumps over their bodies and Goat’s right eye was swollen almost shut where he had been bitten.  Tim and I rationalised that we could deal mentally with the insects but the horses would not know why they were being asked to stay in the situation and with that thought in mind we used our insect repellent on them instead of on our own skin.

We rode as close to the water’s edge as was possible, dismounted, hobbled and unloaded the pack horses.  The actual lake was some distance away and Tim went first, wading through tall reeds, that swallowed him the further he went towards the water.  I started to unpack our loads and unravel the tent ready to pitch it.  I was so tried, so hot and dehydrated that I refused to see the obvious problems with this site and kept the flame of hope alive in my mind that we would be stopping for a night here.  Tim returned saying, ″It is impossible to reach the water.  We will have to re-load the horses and move on.” ″Are you sure?” I questioned him.  ″Yes.”  ″I want to try.  Do you mind?” I asked, ″Go ahead.  Good luck.”  Tim said.  I attempted to wade through the head height reeds and soon they absorbed me.  What Tim had not mentioned was the boggy, marshy edges that came to meet one.  The reeds by now were higher than me and I could not see anything in front.  The boggy ground grew deeper and the muddy water was too high for me to continue safely.  The flies and mosquitoes had doubled in numbers and I was now accompanied in all directions by thick, black, swarming clouds of insects that bit and whined constantly.  I stood on tip toes and could see the shore still far away, so far away that the flame of hope extinguished.  I heard the muffled hum of a motorbike.  I stood again on my toes and could see a bike driving past where Tim and the horses were, on the dusty track just above them.  I waved and shouted.  ″Tim!  Tim! There’s a bike coming!  Stop them!  Ask for water!”  Tim did nothing, the bike passed and I quietly but determinedly raged internally; that could have been our last chance to get water tonight.  The thought of having to repack and ride again crushed my spirit.  My diary says, ″Today was a shit day.”  and it was.  I returned, hopeless, tired, muddy and with wet feet, to Tim and the horses having not been successful at getting us water.  Tim shouted at me.  ″Why did you start unpacking! We might have to move on again.”  I slumped down to the ground against a rock and sighed.  ″I know, I know.”  I said.  Tim attempted one further mission to the lake’s shore but was unsuccessful and when he returned he said.  ″Come on, let’s get packed up, loaded and find somewhere to stay near a well.”  ″We have about two hours of light left.”  I reasoned, neither of us much energised by this spoken thought.

We rode the horses away from the lake but the flies and mosquitoes continued to bite and sting.  The horses were extremely irritated by these insects that clung to their sides in large clusters and it was hard work motivating them all to move forward not backwards, sideways or diagonally.  We finally left the worst of the insects and found a compacted road.  We followed it to the base of a small hill with a single Ger on top.  ″Come on,” I rallied Tim, ″Let’s ask there if we can stay the night and if they have any water.” We rode up the hill and approached the Ger.  Tim called out, ″Hold the dogs!”  A child, maybe ten years old, came outside and stood by the Ger door.  ″Is your father here?”  Tim asked him.  The lad said nothing and re-entered the Ger.  Soon after four dogs appeared and chased us away, barking and snapping at the horses’ legs and at our feet that dangled low in the stirrup irons.  I turned my head, surprised by this unfriendly act and saw a paunchy man wearing an old, ripped, white t-shirt, turned grey with age and black trousers stumble out of the Ger.  He stared after us, making no attempt to call off his dogs. One tenacious beast would not give up its chase and continued after us, yapping and jumping up at us and our horses.  Tim and I kicked the horses on and shouted at the dog.  A bike, I recognised from being parked outside the Ger, now mounted by its driver, raced ahead of us towards a small wooden hut on our right that we were going to try next.  I said to Tim, ″Do you think we have entered unfriendly territory?” ″I don’t know.  I hope not.”  He replied.  ″That’s two houses down, three more to go.”  I said, referring to the three Gers we could see on the horizon.

The day was getting late and the sun had begun to set.  The sky-line was ablaze with all the wonderful colours a sunset sometimes offers; red, orange, yellow.  It was a beautiful sight and was a small nourishment to our fading motivation.  The ground was bare, with sparse pasture of a poor quality.  Weaving across the land were small streams of dirty, polluted water.  We took the horses to the edges of random streams but each time they sniffed the water, tried to force themselves to drink it but could not.  We push on to a lone Ger, the nearest to us out of the three visible.  Mongol Morris, tired, thirsty and old, walked slowly.  I murmured to him, ″I could crawl faster than you walk.”  But I did not really mind as I sympathised with him, feeling exhausted too.  I briefly tested a technique I had been taught in Australia to get a horse walking faster.  I kicked with my right leg then my left, alternating to mimic a faster walk pattern.  It worked and Mongol Morris sped up with Captain James trailing along but I soon become tired and cross with the effort and when the kicking stopped, Mongol Morris slowed down.

Tim was by now fast fading into the sunset and he reached the Ger first.  A large, strong-looking man shouted at Tim.  ″Stop!  Do not move!  Stay where you are!”.  This dominate male was inside a handmade, wooden corral with 15 horses, a young lad and a woman. Tim drew closer and could see that the woman was milking a mare. He brought his horses to a standstill and shouted.  “Can we put our tent up next to your Ger?”  ″No problem.”  Came the reply.  I had now caught up and both of us began our normal routine of dismounting, hobbling and unloading Shar and Captain James.

The family’s Ger was on a large patch of bare, dry, hard, light brown earth carpeted with goat and sheep shit.  The non-fragrant smell of the animals predominated the air and Tim and I turned our noses up.  The grazing at this camp-site was not great for the horses and we could see no obvious sign of water nearby.  The man who had shouted earlier walked over to us.  He was in his early forties, stocky with large muscular forearms.  He was wearing a blue del with an orange sash, worn low on the hips as is traditional for Mongolian men.  The del was well worn, dusty and spotted with animal hair of one kind or another.

″Hello.”  Tim said.
″Hello.”  The slightly intimating man replied.
″We’re from England.  We are riding to Khovsgol.”  Tim offered.  The man smiled and said nothing.
″Can we put our tent up here?”  I asked, unaware that Tim had already asked.
″Yes.  Put it there.”  The man pointed to a spot of bare earth right beside his home.
″Okay.”  We said.  ″We have no water.  Can you help us?”
″No problem.”  He replied.
″My name is Tim and this my wife Sam.”
″Sam, like the Mongolian word.”  I said, miming the action of using a comb.  My name meaning comb in Mongolian.
The man smiled and the two young men who had joined him laughed.
″I am Daasa.”  He proudly told us.
″Are these your sons?” I asked, pointing to the two young men.  He nodded.

The young lads, one in his mid-teens and the other his early twenties stripped our horses of all their tack, roughly throwing our saddles onto the dirt floor.  ″Wait!”  I cried as they went to take Mongol Morris’ saddle off.  ″He has a bad back.  Leave the saddle for later when the flies are gone.”  The men all turned to look at me and then resumed their task of throwing our things around.  ″Put your tent there.”  Daasa pointed again to the patch of earth next door to his home.  We set up our tent and Tim asked Daasa, ″Where can we put the horses for tonight?” Daasa beckoned Tim to follow him.  We removed Mongol Morris’s saddle, now the flies had abated in the cool of the late evening, and followed with all four horses in tow.  He lead us to a patch of scrubby land covered with the potent smelling plant Wormwood, some distance away from our tent and Tim set up two tethers, walking the distance between each one to ensure the horses’ ropes would not get tangled up.  We put Captain James and Shar on the ground tethers and left the already hobbled Mongol Morris and Goat nearby.

We walked back to our tent-tipi and ducked inside, Daasa followed and sat down.  We had placed the four saddles inside the tent on the left and Daasa picked them up, studying each one.  He told us.  ″You are tired.  You should rest tomorrow.  You can stay here.”  Tim and I smiled but felt too tired and dazed to make a decision one way or the other.  We followed Daasa when he left the tent and while he went off to tend to some of his animals we entered the family’s Ger.  Lying on the bed pushed up against the left hand side of the Ger wall was a lady in her early forties who was Daasa’s wife.

″Sorry.”  I said to her, after sitting down on a low, three legged, wooden stool, close to the wood burning stove in the center of the Ger. ″You are sick.”
″No, not sick.”  She replied, lifting her head from the pillow.  ″Tired.  I am very tired.”  She smiled at us.
″Okay.”  I said awkwardly.
″Get some food and some tea for our guests.”  She instructed the young girl who I found out later was her daughter-in-law.
The young woman lifted a cloth to reveal a wooden shelf by the Ger entrance and sitting on it were bowls, plates and bags of biscuits.  ″Do you want hot or cold tea?” She asked.
″Cold tea is fine.”  I said.  She poured us a bowl of tea from a large metal teapot, brewed earlier that day and left to cool, and handed us a bowl each.  ″Thank you.”  We both said.  We drank the tea and ate some biscuits that were placed in front of us on a wooden table and left the Ger.

Daasa was riding his horse and in front of him was a large herd of goats and sheep he had driven in for the night.  Daasa and his sons were herding the animals into the corral they had had the horses in when we arrived.  The two sons; 15 years old and twenty years old were wearing black trousers, t-shirts and the same black, Russian riding boots that most Mongolian countryside men wear.  The youngest son was slim and looked younger than his years and the eldest son was developing the thickset, strong look his dad had perfected.  The young woman in her late teens who had served us tea, followed us outside the Ger and trailing behind her was a very cute, chubby, baby boy.

″Is this your son?” I asked her.
″Yes.”
″How old is he?”
″18 months.”
″Oh!”  I exclaimed, ″he is so young.”
She smiled and followed the toddling toddler with her eyes.  ″What is his name?”  I asked.
″Chuluun.”  She said.

Chuluun was excited to receive visitors and walked about, unsteadily on his feet, occasionally tipping backwards and sitting with a thump on the dirt.  He would look around, catch someone’s eye and smile a huge grin.  He wandered in and out of our tent, regularly appearing with handfuls of boiled sweets that had to be wrestled from him.  It was clear that all adored him and we quickly grew to feel the same.

With the horses unpacked, tethered and the tent set up Tim and I retired to cook dinner and sleep after our hard day.  Our hands, legs and faces were slightly swollen, red and had raised bumps where the giant, yellow mosquitoes had feasted on us earlier that day.  I had a jar of nappy rash cream for minor irritations we or the horses might get and we liberally smothered this on top of the bites to cool them and prevent us itching.  Daasa appeared in the tent door and sat on one of our beds, that I had blown up earlier.  He gave a large hunk of dried beef to Tim.

″Here,” he said.  ″Have this for your dinner.”
His youngest son had followed in him to the tent and also sat down. ″You need to cook it.”  The son said.  ″Maybe for 5 minutes.”
″Thank you.”  Tim replied.
″You look tired.”  Daasa stared hard at us both.  ″You must rest here tomorrow.”
″Maybe.”  We both muttered, not sure if we could trust this family despite their initial friendliness towards us.

Father and son left us to cook and sleep and putting the dried beef to one side we made our regular meal of spaghetti and a packet of Indian, freeze dried dahl.  ″The GPS is dead.”  Tim said. ″We need a day to charge the batteries.”  He picked up the blue, solar panel charger we had purchased before leaving England.  ″Why don’t we rest here tomorrow then?”  I asked. ″Okay.”  Tim wearily agreed and we cleaned up our dinner things, piling them high into the middle of the tent.  We set the alarm for one and a half hours time and still wearing our dirty clothes we climbed into our sleeping bags and slept.

Hello!

With our luggage packed and horses saddled and loaded, we left Batdorj’s house at 11 am and travelled along the road we had followed yesterday towards the border with Bulgan Aimag. The surrounding countryside changed quickly, the flat, grassy earth merged into gentle sand dunes that grew into miniature sandy hills. We rode up, over and down each one. The grass became abundant and growing out of the ground were small, dark green, thorny shrubs. A few trees attempted to form a forest but were so sparse they gave a thin impression of one. It was funny to see trees. I had not noticed their absence until they were back as part of the landscape. Gers in clumps of two and four sat on top of each of the surrounding hills. We rode up, over, down repeating this pattern for a couple of hours. We saw no-one, no people milling about outside the Gers, not even a dog. The sandy track we were following split and one path went high and the other low. Tim took the high ground, I continued along the lower path. We were able to ride beside each other if I kicked Mongol Morris steadily on and Tim held Goat steadily back. The sun sat high above us, sending its blazing, scorching rays down.

We reached a point where we had to descend off the path down into a valley to keep to our route. Tim stopped his horses, turned to me and said, ″See that collection of Gers to our left?” I turned my head left and acknowledged the Gers, ″Yep, I see them.” Tim continued, ″We need to head towards them.” ″Shall we have a rest first?” I asked. Tim blew a frustrated breathe of air knowing that before a rest came a few minutes of struggle during which we had to convince the horses to accept the hobbles. ″Okay.” He sighed, giving in, feeling too tired and hot to argue. We dismounted and hobbled the horses, an activity that led to Captain James head butting me, producing an outburst of swearing and a threat that would unlikely be fulfilled. ″If you do that again I will head butt you!” Mongol Morris stepped on my left foot then twisted his hoof crushing the protective covering of my riding boot down into the delicate bones of my foot. I cried out in pain, ″Ow! I hate these horses!” I turned to my horses, ″I hate you sometimes!” I shouted. Tim slumped down onto the sand and against a clump of wiry grass having hobbled and tied his horses together. The sun was baking everything below it and the flies swarmed around us. The horses were agitated, standing under the glare of the afternoon sun but they eventually stopped shuffling around and trying to lower their heads to eat and stood, nose to tail, fly swatting for their partner, busily nodding their heads all the while to stop the flies heading up into their nostrils.

We rested high up on a sand dune looking down the valley along our chosen route. The clump of Gers we were to head towards was like a tiny village. The sun was too hot for us to sit for long. The rest provided respite to the muscles used when riding. When riding for long periods of time, no matter how comfortable the saddle and our riding saddles were remarkably comfortable, ones posterior became numb but not in pleasant no feeling type of way, more like a pins and needles, can’t get comfortable, restless type of way. There was no shade to hide from the sun and after less than ten minutes the rest stopped being nice, becoming instead a sun-trap. The slight breeze one sometimes felt when riding had gone and all we had were flies and sun, flies and sun. I stood up and removed my water bottle from the saddlebag I repaired after Captain James’ assault on it the evening we reached Boronbay’s home. I squeezed the sides of the plastic bottle, squirting water into my dry mouth. The bottle had an inbuilt filter, which meant one could (and we later did) drink from puddles or water sources contaminated by animals. The nozzle only allowed one to drink small amounts at any one time and when one was thirsty all one wanted to do was to drink glass after glass of cool, refreshing water. On occasion we both threw caution to the wind and removed the top of the bottle and drank greedily. I often choked on these occasions, my throat being so dry that the gush of water I poured down would cause me to splutter. Tim would always laugh, saying ″What is wrong with you?″ as I coughed and spluttered.

Tim and I remounted and continued to ride northwest. We steered the horses down the large sand dune we had sat upon and rode over scrubby, sandy land towards the small collection of Gers. We turned slightly north to avoid riding up to the Gers and then steered back onto our constant northwest course. The track we were following led us up and out of this valley sparsely populated by humans, plants and animals. The new sandy track took us high up above the valley behind us and for half an hour we walked, slowly, baked by the sun and mildly irritated by the flies. Soon we were able to look down to our left and a beautiful, lush, green valley appeared, teeming with life; cows, horses goats, sheep, an occasional dog lying against the cool fabric of a Ger and people, all busy with various tasks. This valley was low beneath us, framed by steep cliffs. A river ran through the middle along the valley floor and was the lifeblood to all. There were more Gers lined up along the river bank than we had seen yet. I turned to Tim, ″Look at all this life. It’s a little oasis along the river. It’s exciting isn’t it?” Tim replied, ″Yes, in the middle of all this desert it’s luxurious. Let’s head down to the water and see if the horses will drink from the river.” We winded down and along our path, descending into the verdant valley.

As we reached the bottom we stopped briefly to chat to a man on a motorbike. ″Hi,” I said, ″We are English people. We’re from England.” Tim rolled his eyes and said to me, ″You don’t have to say both of those sentences.” I smiled and shrugged to show I had listened carefully to his feedback.
The motorbike man asked us. ″Where have you come from?”
Tim answered, ″Mongol Else, Tov Aimag.”
The man nodded and looked impressed. ″Where are you going to?”
″Khovsgol.” I said.
The man smiled and shook his head as if to say ″No you’re not.” Instead he said, ″Where are you going now?”
″We will camp near Bayan-Knurr.” Tim replied.

The man smiled, waved, started his bike’s engine up and roared off back the way we had just ridden. We continued to ride along a clearly defined, well worn track following the river that snaked through this opulent valley. I waved at and shouted ″Saim banuu?” to a young, male teenager riding on a brown and white gelding. He halted his horse and stared, open mouthed, saying nothing. ″How rude!” I commented to Tim, who smiled at me and continued to lead the way forward with Goat and Shar.

We reached a point where the river widened and it had shallow sides, easily accessible for the horses should they wish to drink. Tim suggested, ″Let’s stop here, have a rest and give the horses a chance to drink.” ″Did Goat drink anything this morning?” I asked, knowing that Goat often let his fear of the unknown rule over his need to drink, eat or rest. ″Not much.” Tim said. We dismounted, hobbled the horses and because I had knee length, waterproof boots on, Tim nominated me to take the horses to water. ″Take two at a time. It will be quicker.” Tim said. ″I don’t think so.” I said shooting Tim a look of disbelief. I took first Mongol Morris who sniffed the water, moved the surface with his soft, velvet nose and took two slurps before meandering up the riverbed slurping as he went, dragging me into deeper water revealing my waterproof riding boots to be anything but. Next to drink was Captain James who did the same thing; sniffed, splashed then slurped at the river water. Tim was becoming irritated at the riverbank. ″Hurry up! The horses are all trying to follow Captain James.” Against my better judgement I allowed Tim to talk me into taking both Shar and Goat to the river once Captain James had finished. Initially neither drank, instead splashing and sniffing, walking up the river then down the river and not necessarily together. I allowed my arms to move separately of one another and eventually both horses took some water.

I returned Tim’s horses to him and suggested a break. ″Shall we have a 5 minute sit down?” ″No.” Came the definite reply, ″It’s too much hassle.” A second man on a motorbike appeared, wearing a blue, light cotton breezy-looking shirt and the obligatory countryside Mongolian man’s black, Russian riding boots.

″Hello.” Tim said.
″Hello.” He said back and then turned to me, ″Hello!” With a tone not unlike Lesley Phillips, ″You are very cute!”
Not quite catching what he said at first I replied, ″Hello.”
Tim smiled and in English said, ″He just called you cute.”
I turned the words the Mongolian new arrival had said over in my head and blushed. ″Oh, err, thank you.” The man held his hand out to me and shook it whilst giving me a, ″Well, what do you say you and I head over to that there hill?” kind of look. I smiled awkwardly and looked at Tim pleading for help. Tim continued the conversation. ″We are from England. We have ridden from Mongol Else in Tov Aimag and are riding to Khovsgl.”
″Really!” The man exclaimed. ″Where will you stay tonight?”
Tim replied, ″Not sure. Near Bayan-Knurr maybe.”
″You both speak good Mongolian.” He complimented us.
″Thank you.” We both said.
″Are these Mongolian horses?”
″Yes. They are desert horses.”
″How much did you pay for one horses?”
″$200.” We lied.
He smiled approvingly. ″Where are the saddles from?”
″The riding saddles are from England and the luggage saddles are from America.”
″Really!” He exclaimed again. ″Are you tired?”
″A little bit.” We both replied.
″How old are you?” He asked me first.
″35” I lied, ″My husband is 38.” I said truthfully.
″Do you have children?”
″No we have no children. Do you have children?
″Yes, I have two children. One boy and one girl.”
″How old are you and how old is your wife?” I asked hoping these reminders of his family obligations would stop him eyeing me up.
″I am 36 years old and my wife is 26 years old.”
″Your wife is young. That’s good.” I said. It didn’t do much good and he continued to smile and stare at me.
In English I said to Tim, smiling all the time. ″He seems friendly but I don’t trust him.”
″Me neither.” Tim replied through a fake smile.
″Where have you been?” My admirer asked.
Thankfully this was a genuine Mongolian countryside question rather than the poor English chat-up line that ends, ″…all my life?” Tim answered the man and told me to get the map out.

I walked to Mongol Morris and removed our paper map from one of the saddle bags. I opened the map and the three of us squatted on the ground in front of it and discussed our route and places the man recognised. ″There is where my family lives.” He pointed, ″And there is where my friend lives.” After twenty minutes we decided to leave. The man insisted on helping first Tim by removing Shar’s hobbles and handing him to Tim when he was seated on Goat and then his full attention returned to me. ″I will help you” He shoulder barged me out of the way as I attempted to remove Captain James’ hobbles. I moved round to Mongol Morris’s left side and placed my left foot in the stirrup iron. Our friend helped me up onto my horse but did it using a most unusual technique – he grabbed my right buttock with his hand, squeezed it and pushed me up and into the saddle. With Tim already mounted it was up to me to deliver some form of justice. I shouted at the man, telling him, ″You are a bad person! Very bad! Did you see what he just did?” I called to Tim. ″No, what happened?” He asked. ″He just grabbed my bum.” ″Oi!” Tim scowled at the man, ″What do you think you are doing?” The man smiled, having had his wicked way and held his hand out to me. ″Only joking.” He grimaced, turning to Tim and saying, ″No harm. I was only joking.” We both shook our heads and rode off, hoping to see no more of this person.

We forged ahead, following the river along the valley floor looking for a well so we could set up camp for the night. We found one and asked a nearby man, ″Is that well water clean?” ″No” he replied, ″It is okay for your horses but will hurt your stomachs.” We kept moving along the valley floor, continuing to let the winding river guide us. Eventually we left the river and the valley flattened out, the landscape became broken and marshy. We rode on past the little oasis because the GPS said we would find a well nearby. There was a type of stinging nettle all around us and the horses appeared to dislike this new plant and spooked. Tim and I kept control of them but the atmosphere changed becoming tense. We continued to move northwest. On our left hand-side was a large enclosed space that appeared to be a mini-vegetable farm. The rectangular enclosure was fenced in all around and at one end were three small huts and a large tower we assumed was a water tower. There was no-one working and it looked empty but maintained. The town of Bayan Knurr was in the distance on our right hand-side. It was still far away enough that everything looked small like a Lego town. We hoped to find a well without approaching the town, partly because it was a couple of hours riding away and we were tired and partly because camping near a town could cause problems for us. We noticed three Gers, spaced out along the horizon, maybe twenty or thirty minutes ride away.

″Shall we head to the closest one and see if we can camp near them?” Tim asked me.
“Okay.” I replied and we approached said Ger.
A small, young child in grey ripped trousers and a t-shirt with holes in stood outside the Ger. ″Hold the dogs!” Tim shouted but no dogs came running and barking.
We stayed sitting on top of our horses. ″Hello.” I said to the child. ″Is your father here?” The child turned around, saying nothing and headed inside the Ger.
Shortly after a man appeared and waved at us, ″Hello. It’s me! It’s me!”
It was him, our bum grabbing friend. I fixed a fake smile on my lips and said to Tim in English, ″It’s that bloody man again.”
Tim squinted and a look of recognition spread over his face. ″Oh no.” He groaned. ″Let’s go.”
Our friend walked towards us with his young, attractive, heavily pregnant wife walking behind him, supporting a small child on her right hip. ″Theses are my friends.” He told his wife. ″They are from England.”
She smiled at us both as we waved to her. “Hello.”
″Why have you come to my home?” He asked.
″We are looking for a well.” Tim replied. ″Do you know where the well is?”

We got no sense out of the man as to the well’s location and after ten minutes of trying we left, turning the horses around and riding back the way we had come. He followed soon after we had left, also on horseback leading a young, grey gelding. He rode fast, cantering up behind us and this spooked our horses. I shouted out to him, ″Be careful!” ″You be careful!” He shouted crossly back at me. ″Hold your horses tight.” I tutted to myself and the guy eventually rode away from us. ″Hey Tim, I hope we don’t see him again.” ″Yes, indeed. Let’s hope he doesn’t want to visit us in the night.” We decided to ride back the way we had come, to the end of the valley where the river drained into marsh. We figured that we could use the water from the end of the river to sustain us and the horses for one night. We rode over the sandy soil, our horses watching where they placed their feet as the land was uneven with scrubby tufts of grass. We reached the river end and noticed a dark blue, ridge tent erected. “Let’s stop here.” I asked Tim, tired and weary of the day’s ride. “We can filter this water for us and the horses should drink from the river.” “Okay.” He replied. “This looks like a nice space and there are at least other people camping here.” We stopped near to the tent, dismounted and hobbled all the horses, as always tying the reins and lead ropes back to the saddles to prevent the horses eating and thereby walking away from camp. We unloaded Captain James and Shar to rest their backs and while I sat, leaning against a muddy, cream, canvas parcel, Tim walked up a slight slope to a Ger pitched where the land flattened. He asked the man of the Ger if we could stay for one night and was told it would be okay.

Our fellow campers emerged from their tent and walked over to us. “Hello.” Said the overweight, fifty year old woman with dark, short hair.
″Hello.” We replied, noticing she was wearing a white t-shirt and dark blue slacks; city clothes.
Tim continued, ″We’re from England.”
”We’re English people.” I chipped in, then explained where we had come from that day.
″Are these your horses?” She asked, looking over to where the four had been left to stand while we set up camp.
″Yes. They are Mongolian horses.” I said.
Tim, thinking the older man with short, brown hair, a blue sweater and dark tracksuit bottoms, who had approached with the woman, might be a family member of the Ger he had approached earlier, asked him, ″Is it okay if we camp here for one night?”
The man nodded and the woman smiled and said, ″Yes, of course.”
″Where are you from?” I asked her.
″We live in Dashinjillin about 30 kilometers from here.” The woman explained.
″Is this your family?” Tim asked, pointing to the Ger situated up the gradual slope.
The woman laughed, ″No, we are on holiday.”
″Is this your husband?” I asked pointing to the man.
″Yes.” She replied. ″Is this yours?” She pointed to Tim and I nodded and both of us laughed.

The woman and her quiet husband helped us erect our tent and when it stood tall the woman guided me to her own temporary home. ″You must be tired.” She said. ″I am.” I replied. She directed me to a low camping chair inside her tent and handed me a copper coloured bowl, filled with water. ″This is safe, clean water.” She told me. I drank, grateful to be able to taste more than a tiny squirt of the cool water. ″Do you have drinking water?” She asked. ″No, but we can get it from the river.” ″It is okay for your horses but not safe for you.” She told me and not knowing how to explain about our water-filter without showing her I merely nodded. ″Have this.” She waved her hand over to a ten litre water container. ″We are leaving tomorrow and will not need it.” ″Thank you. Thank you very much.” I said. She took the copper bowl from me and refilled it with water, giving it back to me with a handful of boiled sweets and some mouldy tsanii boov. I felt a pang of guilt that I was sitting, resting whilst Tim was working in the hot, dusty, dry sun, but it passed.

After leaving the camping couple’s tent, I gave the horses a brush and a back massage. Captain James stretched out his neck and wiggled his lips in enjoyment. Captain James was looking sleek, glossy and fantastic, the good pasture we had found so far had clearly invigorated him. Tim wondered aloud, ″Sam. Do you think you should continue brushing CJ? He is looking rather fab. these days and I worry that he might get stolen.″ I laughed and said, ″Maybe we should tether him close to the tent at night.” ″Good idea.” Tim replied and that night and for a few after we tethered him near to the tent. All the horses had improved in condition, even Mongol Morris had put on some weight, but Captain James positively shined. Mongol Morris still had a lump on his back but it had not gotten worse. This night I gently massaged the area around it and the old horse stood still letting me rub his back, not shrinking from pain which was a small relief but the lump still gave us cause for concern.

That night we had eleven people in our tent. The camping woman led the party and brought the women of the nearby Ger to us who in turn brought us a large, glass jar of sweet yogurt that they insisted we ate there and then. ″Is it tasty?” They asked. ″Yes, very nice.” We replied to everyone’s delight.

The rest of the group was made up of two men who were driving past in their white van. ″What’s happening?” They shouted out, pulling up to the side of our tent-tipi. ″A party!” The camping woman said. ″Do you want to come in?” ″Okay.” The truck got parked and the two men entered our tent. We exchanged greetings and the men, excited by this new adventure, picked up and examined our saddles, asking lots of questions; ″Where are these from?”, ″How much did they cost?”, ″Are they comfortable?”, ″Are they safe?” We replied to each question in turn until the men’s curiosity was satisfied. Three young children had come along with the Ger women and although they said nothing they watched the proceedings with wide opened eyes. I offered them regular fixes of boiled sweets and they chewed and stared.

Eventually the party disbanded and Tim and I got some peace and quiet. We ate dinner and prepared for sleep. On my watch I could not find Goat. The night was dark and I had to leave the tent and walk about in the early hours of the morning, rolling my torch light first to the left then to the right. I walked around searching but could not see the brown and white gelding. I thought about waking Tim up to ask for help but knew he would be cross if I had not been thorough. I continued until I saw the familiar outline of a horse kneeling on its front legs, nibbling at the grass. ″Goat!” I exclaimed to myself. I walked over to him, removed the hobbles and led him back close to camp. I turned myself in and slept until the next alarm two hours later. Morning finally arrived and we packed up along with the camping couple, who were returning home that day. I could not help but feel a pang of jealously when I looked over to their camp. They had a four wheel drive and would be returning to a static house, all things known rather than forging ahead into the unknown like us. The plan today was to ride to Bayan-Knurr, a lake we would reach by riding northwest and crossing a black road. We were eager to camp by a lake and talked about how we would have a full body wash and I became animated talking to Tim about how I could wash my hair, which had by now become lank, greasy and stuck to my head like someone had coloured in my scalp with a dark brown felt-tip. We contemplated having a rest day and enjoying the peace and quiet and convenience of the lake.