Mongolia Part 2 – Hustai National Park

Day 173: September 1, 2018

We woke up and cleaned out the fridge of our Ulaanbaatar Airbnb for breakfast. Our host showed up around 9:45 am and offered to drive us to the hotel where we were picking up our rental car. It was very nice of him.

We arrived early so the rental car wasn’t at the hotel yet. We walked with the attendant to the garage and then back. He was a very interesting person. He lived in New York for awhile and then with his mom in Poland. When his dad got sick he came to Ulaanbaatar to take care of him. We received a free upgrade as the Lada 4×4 we had rented wasn’t available. This meant that we got a huge UAZ Patriot.

It took us awhile to get out of Ulaanbaatar. The traffic along the main road, Peace Avenue, seemed to be never ending. At highway speeds the UAZ didn’t seem to handle very well. There was a lot of play in the steering causing it to drift a lot.

About an hour west of Ulaanbaatar we took a dirt track south to Hustai National Park. There were three or four dirt paths so you could pick your poison. We reached the park after about 20 minutes and were greeted by a smiley young lady with a Hustai vest.

We were shown our ger which Danny tried to enter with his backpack on. The doorway was just too short so he got knocked back. Inside were three beds, a dresser, a table and a fireplace in the middle.

Inside of our ger

We went to the main building for a buffet lunch then asked if we could be taken into the park. Based on what we had read we needed a guide in our vehicle to enter the park. The girl who had greeted us said she was free at 5:00 pm to take us out. It could’ve been the language barrier or just a lack of organization, but everything seemed very confusing. I think most tourists must come there with a guide.

There was an information centre with an explanation of the park and the different animals. Hustai is world famous for being the only place with wild horses. The park covers 50,000 hectares. The wild horses or Takhi are the ancestors of domestic horses. Wild horses have 66 chromosomes while domestic horses have 64. The Takhi are indigenous to Mongolia. In the 1960s they became extinct in the wild. They were bred in captivity and then 84 were reintroduced to the park starting in 1992. Now, there are 230 Takhi living in Hustai. There are 33 breeding harems and 18 bachelor groups. The largest group has 13 horses.

We watched a short documentary on the park and then our guide hopped in the back of our UAZ. We headed into the park along a track that was not awful, but definitely had its bumps. We stopped at the first parking lot where a park ranger had a telescope out. Through it, we could see the wild horses up in the trees. He told our guide there were more just over the hill. She asked if we wanted to walk up there and we readily agreed.

The scenery was very beautiful: rolling hills, all greens, browns and reds with barely any trees. You could see out for miles. The weather was perfect: a bit of sun, a bit of breeze, not too hot and very few flies and no mosquitoes. The grasses don’t get very tall so it was very easy to walk anywhere.

Danny walking up to the Takhi

Over the hill in the valley we spotted a group of nine Takhi. I don’t think I have ever been so excited to see horses before. Our guide had binoculars to see them more closely as we were required to stay 300 m away. We took some pictures through the binoculars which made me wish I had a better camera.

The Takhi

The Takhi reminded me more of zebras without stripes than domestic horses. They are stockier and have shorter manes. I think I could’ve stayed out there all night watching the Takhi and enjoying the scenery. Around 7:00 pm we returned to the camp as it was supper time.

The Takhi

For supper, we were fed a cabbage salad, a plate with beef, rice and vegetables then pineapple slices for dessert. We had the staff make a fire for us while we were eating supper as we were worried it might get a bit chilly at night. We returned to a very warm ger. I read my book for a bit before bed.

Day 174: September 2, 2018

Last night it was raining like crazy. When we woke up it was still showering. We had breakfast at 8:00 am: a buffet with eggs, wieners, veggies, cereal and apples. We had planned to go out for a hike, but it was still raining.

In between rain showers, Danny went for a run up a nearby hill. Behind the camp he saw many golden eagles. They seem to be very plentiful here.

For lunch there was a buffet again. After lunch the rain had cleared so we asked our guide if she could take us out again. She said she would be free at 6:00 pm, but we could go into the park by ourselves as long as we didn’t go passed the last parking lot.

We drove along and saw the wild horses up on the hillside. There were also plenty of marmots ducking in and out of their burrows. We passed the park’s research centre and drove to the very last parking lot. From there we decided to go back to one of the first parking lots and hike to the top of a hill there.

Hills always seem to be so much closer than they actually are. There were tons of purple wild flowers around. You had to be careful of your step to avoid marmot and gopher holes. As we were walking we could see movement on the opposite ridge. Two stags were there that looked like a cross between our deer and elk with their long necks. They ran across the ridge and over to the other side.

Hiking up a hill in Hustai

The view from the top into the valley was spectacular. On the northern slope it was very windy, but hidden behind the rocks there was tranquility.

View over Hustai

The walk down was much easier. We returned to the UAZ and drove back to camp to rest a bit before heading out with our guide. In the parking lot, Danny lifted the hood to check on a leak. Immediately, three other drivers came over. They had all been checking out our ride since we arrived. Danny allowed them to gawk and let them look at the interior as well. The Mongolians really seem to love the UAZ although Danny just tells them it’s not as good as a Land Cruiser.

A man checking out our UAZ

At 6:00 pm we went to find our guide. She asked us to wait a moment because she had to deliver something. Her and one of the park rangers held hands and skipped away. It was pretty adorable.

When she returned, we started our drive into the park. She asked us why we had chosen to travel to Mongolia. We told her how we wanted to see the different lifestyle that is present here as well as the untouched land and openness.

We stopped at the first parking lot, but couldn’t see anything so we kept driving. At a further parking lot there was a group of wild horses. We were even closer than the last time because they were right down from the parking lot. We drove up a bit further and got a fantastic view of them. They didn’t seem to be too scared by the vehicles.

The Takhi at dusk

Up the road a bit farther our guide spotted stags up on a ridge and does up on another ridge. How she spotted them I have no idea as I had trouble just seeing through the binoculars.

We were unable to drive further up to where there is a Deer Stone. Our guide wasn’t quite able to explain why in English, but I had read that hiking wasn’t allowed during certain time periods. I assume it is due to the migration or breeding of one of the park’s animals. It did seem we were able to go anywhere within the parking areas without a guide. She was much better at spotting the animals than us though so we were glad to have her along.

The sun started dropping and it was quite dark on the drive back. At this point, we saw even more Takhi as they had descended into the valleys. In the daytime they stay on the ridges to catch the cool breeze then in the evening they move down into the valleys. We even scared a tiny little fox on our drive back. It turned into a very eventful drive.

Back at camp, our guide’s boyfriend was there waiting for her and said good night. We went and ate supper: salad, chicken, rice and vegetables. Back in our ger we had them start a fire and settled in for some sleep.

We are so glad that we received the recommendation to spend extra time in Hustai. It was a really incredible place. The scenery was amazing and the Takhi just added an extra layer. Tomorrow we go east of Ulaanbaatar to another ger camp. We feel a bit sad to leave such a beautiful place.

M

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