August 26, 2009 - 8/24 – Into Mongolida (Sukhbaatar) 76m/122k**

Into Mongolia
Monday, August 24, 2009
76m/122k

Alexsey and I left Hotel Druzhba in Kyakhta, and backtracked 36m to where we ended the day before.  He got his tea, while I regrouped for the day’s ride.

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Then it was into the woods with the 3rd biggest climb of the trip back to Kyakhta.  A little over 1,200 feet worth.

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The first security is a good 10k from the border. 

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They check documents of people in cars, but not on bikes.  I rode on, past a very large military base, into Kyakhta, and to the border crossing.  Lonely Planet warned me about the hassle on “no mans land” and provided a couple of tips – go to the front of the line and give somebody 200 rubles to take you across the border – which I used to great success. 

They let bikes and motorized vehicles across, but I had excess camping and other gear, and couldn’t ride, so I had Alexsey ask a Mongolian guy in a little truck at the front of the line if he would drive me across.  He said yes.  Here’s the approach to the border crossing and Alexsey backing up to transfer my stuff.

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We were next in line, and I waited less than 5 minutes before getting into the process.  At this point I was sternly warned by a Russian in a uniform that no pictures were allowed.  Here’s my Mongolian driver.

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Crossing was an 11 step process that took 1-1/2 hours.  (you can skip this part..)

1. Guard opens 1st gate, lets through (in my case) three light duty trucks.
2. Stop 1. Preliminary passport check.
3. Stop 2. Preliminary vehicle documents check.
4. Stop 3. Driver runs into big building on left, comes out 20 minutes later with forms for him and me to fill out.  We do.

This is a picture of stop 3.  The vehicles pointed toward us are coming into Russia, subjected to the same process as we were.

5. Driver runs back into big building.  (They all run from step to step…?) comes back out 10 minutes later, gets me.
6. Bob goes into big building, walks up 3 flights of stairs.  Lady checks me and passport.  We go back out and sit in truck.
7. Some lady comes out of big read building, inspects truck.  Gives us form.
8. Stop 4.  We drive off to the side and line up in a group of 3 trucks.  A giant truck/bus/car (wish I had a picture of it), drives past us very slowly,  and scans us. 
9. Stop 3.  After some time waiting, a guy gets out of the giant/cool scanning truck (must have cost more than most villages I rode through so far) and gives us a form.
10. Stop 5.  Drive to next building.  Get out.  Soldier does detailed truck inspection. 
11. Stop 6.  Drive to next building.  Get out.  Go in.  Inspect passport and stamp it.
12. Stop 7.  Drive to gate.  Beep horn repeatedly.  Soldier lets us into Mongolia.

Here’s the last step coming out of Russia, a shot of the border, and then the Mongolian station. 

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It took more time getting out of Russia than into Mongolia.  Mongolia has a passport check and a vehicle inspection, that’s it.  But once you get into Altanbulag (border city on the Mongolian side, there is small scale chaos.  Money changes, people lined up waiting to get into the process, walking around their cars. 

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I meet my Mongolian guide and drive, and exchanged information over some noodle soup at a grundgy café.

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Then put on my rain gear… it was ‘spitting’ out, and rode out of Altanbulag and into Mongolia.  I leaned my bike on this first big sign, which I think/hope says something like welcome to Mongolia. 

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Here’s the first distance sign.  I am supposed to spend the first night in Sukhbaatar (named after a Mongolian General who negotiated Mongolian independence from Russia a few decades ago), the second night in Darkhan, then two nights camping before arriving in Ulan Baatar – the capital and only large city in the country.

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First thing you notice about Mongolia is that it is a giant pasture.  Sheep, cows, wild horses roaming all over the place, including the road and abandoned factories.

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And then there’s shamanism… a secondary but popular and visible faith I neglected yesterday.  There are blue cloths all over, on bridges, shrines, even the visor of the drive who took me across the border.

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My Lonely Planet guide says that shamanistic beliefs are closely tied to nature, making Mongolians natural environmentalists. 

My new traveling companions (guide = Ariutulga Dorjsembe = Uka, and driver = Demberel Batsukh = Dembe) planned to follow the schedule and spend the night in Sukhbaatar.  It continued to drizzle, but I didn’t want to quit at 2pm, so we went on.  The road heading straight, and I mean straight, south out of Sukhbaatar and was lined with various trees and bushes.  A nice touch.

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Today I rode 36m/60k into Mongolia, up first of many passes, before the rain and cold and hills were too much.  At 4pm we loaded into the van, and headed south into Darkhan to spend the night.  Once again I’m in stopping in the middle of nowhere (60k mile marker in Mongolia) and will start there tomorrow.

Rider’s notes:  Big, steep climb into Kyakhta.  The town is on your left.  If you’re looking for a hotel, check yesterday’s update.  If you want a supermarket or café, and to just get across the border, ride past town (on the left), up the last short, steep hill, and down to the other side of town.  There’s a big turn off to the left, where you go to cross the border, and at that intersection there’s a great supermarket and little café.  The border crossing advice from Lonely Planet, repeated above, is best.  Unless you speak Russian, or pay a guy to take you across/follow his lead, it would be a big challenge getting through it all.  On the other side of the border, the first 5k is a messy little town, Altanbulag.  No reason to stop.  The roads are relatively, blessedly flat to Sukhbaatar (30k from border), which has hotels and shops.  Riding out of Sukhbaatar, you turn straight south, have another 20k of nice/flat roads.  Then you get to the first of 3 passes on the way to Darkhan.  About 3k long, up to 12 degree climbs.  Nothing near as bad as earlier in the day, or on the first day out of Irkutsk.

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