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Back in 2008 the intrepid Tamsin and I took on the unlikely task of driving from Kilburn to Mongolia in Princess Roo; a twenty year old Austin Maestro bought off eBay for £130. Despite the British-built Maestro regularly being ranked as one of the worst cars ever made, incredibly the plucky little red oil-drinking rattle box did make it all the way to Ulaan Bator. That’s a journey of over 6000 miles, and not a sat nav in sight. We arrived dirty, happy and with a few loose fillings – but she got us there. Here’s a selection of photographs from the trip.
We didn’t see that many new pristine shiny things in Russia – least of all roads. That made this smooth and glistening tarmac stick out like a sore thumb, and it was a real pleasure to be the first to drive along it.
In the midst of a giant three day rainstorm in Ukraine, I took this shot whilst driving. I saw the cross lit up on the corner as we headed toward it. I picked up the camera, steadied it on the steering wheel and as I clicked the shutter the lightning struck.
Improvised cruet set in a roadside stop off in Kazakhstan.
We came across this father and daughter hunting red foxes with a trained golden eagle in the Bayan-Ölgii Province in the far west of Mongolia. This vast, open steppe is a very remote place indeed. The borders between Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia are not easy to find – there is such a lot of open space here that the countries simply bleed into one another.
Tyres with attitude, Mongolia.
After yet another huge rainstorm, we were pleased to come across the fine looking ‘5 Stars’ establishment. Upon closer inspection it became clear that five stars was not necessarily a valid accreditation given by the Michelin guide. The clues were the only clients were Russian truckers, the presence of a weird bowling alley and the bit where we were asked by the receptionist “How many hours” we would want the room for. To get here we had come along the most terrifying road to drive on in a right hand drive car, playing chicken with the hundreds of thundering car transporters taking thousands of Ladas from the nearby factory across Russia. The road was three lanes wide with the middle lane used for overtaking by cars going in either direction. They clearly hadn’t thought this through. At one point after a particularly close encounter we somehow finished up parked on the hard shoulder of the opposite side of the highway. Oops.
This family is moving house – quite literally. Packed up on the procession of camels is their yurt and all their worldly possessions as they travel in formation to pastures new.
Three plucky Mongolian musketeers.
One of the best games to play to while away the hours behind the wheel is spot the different things being sold by the roadside. This Mongolian woman has a novel way of displaying her cabbages.
Tractors, tractors, everywhere.
Kazakhstan is a very big country. The ninth biggest in the world, in fact. It’s a beautiful place, but there isn’t much in it. So imagine our surprise when we stopped at a solitary petrol pump and found ourselves enthusiastically swept into a wedding party next door. Our protestations that we were “Driving” were brushed aside as we were filled up with indiscernible eye-watering shots and traditional Kazakh wedding fayre. They didn’t understand a word we were saying or vice versa, but that in no way impeded the fun. By the time we left we could barely find our car keys as we stumbled out the door toasted by one final shot of firewater by these two proud parents of the bride.
High up in the Altay mountains is not the place you would expect to find lilos for sale. Nevertheless we did come across this impressive and diverse set of inflatables despite the adverse weather and apparent lack of open bodies of water.