Four Days into Mongolia.

Having spent some time trying to meet up with one group of French Silkroute Club members in Mongolia and failing, yesterday (2004-07-09) we bumped into part of another group quite by accident.

We met up with Jacques and Danielle Peyrin in their VW Synchro (they were heading towards the Russian border). We met them about 80km North West of Khvod.

Naturally we exchanged information on road conditions, border formalities, availability of fuel, camping places and (being French) good restaurants in Ulaan Baatar.

The group has now spent four full days driving in Mongolia and we have reached Altanteel (47.130590°N 92.769908°E about 80km north west of Bulgan). So far all the roads, except the approaches to some towns, have been dirt (i.e. not paved). But whilst the roads have been rough and occasionally deeply rutted they have always been passible with care. We have not needed to do any road re-building as in Tibet on China 2002.

We will be publishing detailed information on our route (GPS tracks) and road conditions (lots of road photographs) later.

Imp in the dust!So far we have covered about 430km (of the 1,600km from the border to Ulaan Baatar). The only problems we have had is OJ (with front wheel drive) being unable to climb one hill unaided, and on one occasion ending up balanced on three wheel with one front wheel 150mm off the ground! Imp has had to towed by Mog when stuck in soft sand when attempting to cross from one track to another track.

Most days we set off at 07:30 and are on the move till 17:30. Of this time we are typically moving for 6 hours and cover 100 to 130km. Giving an overall daily average speed of just over 10kph and a moving average speed of about 20kph!

We were "reliably" informed that only Mog would be able to cope with Mongolian roads, so far this is quite untrue. All the vans driven carefully have coped well.

We were "reliably" informed that diesel was not available in western Mongolia, this is untrue. Diesel has been available (at about $0.50USA per litre) in every reasonable sized town.

Navigation has been a problem on occasions. The road often consists of up to twenty parallel tracks clustered round one "main" track. The main track is usually heavily corrugated, and therefore to be avoided. If you are driving on one of the peripheral tracks when the main track branches you may not notice this and can find yourself being swept off on a minor roar without knowing it. A GPS is very very useful (I would not attempt this route without one).

A GPS system connected to a laptop computer with appropriate software (e.g. Fugawi) and a good Mongolian map is better. But because all the maps we have have proved significantly inaccurate you often find yourself driving on what is clearly the "main" road but 15km off the one shown on the map (The map right shows our actual track (purple) and the main road we were "on" north of Khovd)

Our European GSM cell phones have worked within 10km of major towns, but not between them.

The scenery, the birds, the stars and the silence have been awesome, and worth every minute of the rough roads.

Stephen Stewart.

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