On the south side of Mörön, we leave the last asphalt behind, and we drive through wild, varied, and always rugged landscapes, through valleys and over mountain passes: our first real experience of driving in Mongolia. There is no real road: there are tracks on the ground, and our skilled driver follows them. Whenever there is a fork in the road, he does not hesitate, but picks a track, and follows. When we get high up, we drive through landscape with a delicate layer of snow. Sometimes, there are trees and small forests, but we also drive through valleys without a single sign of vegetation. We drive past lone gers, where a small family of nomads live - they wave at us, and continue their isolated lives. Apart from the occasional nomad on a motorbike, there is no other traffic. After hours of driving, we reach a lake: Zuum Nuur, our destination of the day. When the driver parks the car at the only ger camp, no one answers. We get off and walk down to the shoreline of the lake. A perfect mirror of barren mountains, a couple of trees with yellow leaves, clouds: there is no wind.
When the owners of the ger camp finally return, they install us in the small house: only their own ger is still standing. A large bucket of milk stands in a corner, and its smell permeates the air. A fire is quickly lit, after which it is time to get out again and explore. I walk to the beach with grey and white pebbles again. There is no trash on the shore; everything seems untouched, and it almost gives the idea that I am the first person who has ever been here. Just standing there seems surreal: the water is not moving, there is no other soul around, not a single sound: no animals, no music, no voices, no traffic: absolute silence. It is the first such moment I have since our arrival, and I will have more of it in Mongolia. The only sign that time does not stand still, is that sometimes, the sunlight is blocked by small clouds. Whenever the sun shines, the views are eerily perfect: a line of trees in autumn colours runs on an islet, and I see them upside down in the water below. The silence is so overwhelming, that I dare walk only on tiptoes. I reach a small beach jutting out into the lake. Here, I notice small fish near the shoreline: a sign of life at last!
Around the corner, I see the western part of the lake: there is another islet with some trees on top. I decide to walk up the slopes towards the highest point for an overview of Zuum Nuur. It only takes a little climbing to reach the first patches of snow between the trees. Once at the top, I walk around to get the best viewpoint. Visiting Mongolia almost always means a do-it-yourself job: you have to find places yourself, there are no signs - and it turns out to be one of the major assets of Mongolia. When I find the best spot to see the entire lake, I just stand there to soak in the views. What I thought were islets turn out to be peninsulas. The peninsulas, the mountains on the other side: apart from a few patches of trees, it is all empty, it is all wild, it is all eternal. When I look ahead into the next valley, I actually see a car moving down the mountain, and when I walk down the mountain top, I come across a herd of sheep. The night is squeezing the last light of the day out of the sky just when I reach our little house again. When we leave at daybreak, the owner of our camp is already back from the neighbours with a sheep on the back of his motorbike, and preparing to slaughter the animal. Women are not allowed to do this in Mongolia: they give life, men take it. The scene is surreal again: the animal lies on its back, already has cuts in its legs, but does not utter a single sound, even when the man prepares his knife to finish his job.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Zuum Nuur (Mongolia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Zuum Nuur. Read more about this site.