Today’s journey saw the most dramatic changes in scenery, as we left the extensive dry steppe of central Mongolia, crossing a fog-covered mountain range and then descending into the year-round green Orkhon Valley, which is like a green oasis in the middle of central Mongolia. The change in scenery came with a change in climate as well, with the valley regularly covered by a blanket of fog and clouds, often accompanied by rain showers. The valleys are ideal feeding grounds for goat, horse and yak and is therefore home to quite a few people.
We made our way to a very friendly family, living right in the middle of the valley, and were warmly welcomed in their awesome ger. They first served us the traditional warm tea with milk with some local snacks, but we then also had to try the traditional fermented horse milk, airag, a favourite drink amongst Mongolian men.
After dinner I went for a walk to explore the surrounding hills, lit by the slowly setting sun. Orkhon Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the hills are still covered in beautiful original pine forest. Mongolian law forbids the cutting of trees in the entire country and although it was clear that here and there trees are still selectively logged, it’s only for local use and on a fairly small scale.
Day 9 – 29 Jun: Orkhon Valley
Morning routine for the locals, milking the yak. They use the milk to make butter, drink it warm, make yoghurt (tarag) and often let the yoghurt ferment and then distill it to make milk wodka, called arkhi. This time of the year also horses are milked and the milk is fermented into airag.
The Orkhon Valley is a perfect place for horse riding and that was the plan for today. That is easier said than done though, as Mongolian horses are actually all semi-wild and are very hard to control. You don’t chose your horse, the horse choses you; and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a smooth ride. From the back of a horse seems the only right way to truly explore the valley.
First stop is the Orkhon Waterfall, formed by a combination of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, some 20,000 years ago. We then slowly made our way up into the valley, over the rolling hills and following the Orkhon river.
After dinner I spend again the early evening wandering around through the valley, enjoying the setting sun and its golden light.