The Mission

The Peking to Paris Rally is a recreation of the 1907 challenge issued by Le Matin, "Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?"
The 2016 version will follow a route of 13,695 Km (8,510 miles) and take 35 days. We are travelling in Rhubarb and Custard, a 1936 Buick. We know nothing about cars or rallying.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Mongolia - Reflections

I haven't changed my clothes or had a shower for three days. I've gone to sleep dressed exactly as I was when last underneath the car lying on the dust with a spanner and a grease gun. It's been too cold or too impractical to have a shower in camp and I confess that I feel a bit grubby - in fact very grubby.

But yesterday was our last night under canvas and now we can shake off the dust of Mongolia and look forward to a hotel room and a shower. The car, our tools, our clothes, our bags and maybe a bit of ourselves is completely caked in Mongolia. It may eventually wash off our physical possessions but it will be impossible to shake it out of our thoughts.

We can surely never forget the endless hours of rock strewn trails we've driven along, the breaking of cars and, yes, people along the way. There have been crews in tears at the side of the road and others in despair. One navigator left for home after a single day on the road. The two 14 litre LaFrance cars couldn't cope at all. Four vehicles have rolled, one caught fire and many others have damaged suspension, steering, gearboxes or all three.

But we've also been through an extraordinary wilderness almost untouched by modern life and peopled by a handful of semi nomadic tribespeople still herding their animals on horseback and moving their yurts with the grazing.

It's a harsh, semi-desert landscape, unrelenting and unforgiving and it's people are tough and resilient, but they are also gentle, kindly, warm and welcoming. Mongolian spiritual beliefs are tied to the land. It must never be damaged and if something is taken from it then it must be replaced. The people are the land and the character of the landscape is their character.

One evening I set up my camera tripod on the ground. It has magnetic feet and I couldn't shake the desert dirt from it because it was rich in iron. And there lies the future of this wilderness, because Mongolia has the largest iron ore reserves in the world and copper and other metals too. The wildness can't fight the mining companies and in a few years the landscape will succumb to fast roads and the people will succumb to the lure of urban living. Of course it's right that they should have clean water, sanitation, access to healthcare and education and all the good things we take for granted. But with the passing of the wilderness something important will be taken from the land and perhaps also from the character of the Mongolians.

For the moment however we have enjoyed this place as it has been for generations. The Rally has come and gone. The animals and the desert barely even noticed.

No comments:

Post a Comment