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The Gobi Desert

Posted on 7 Aug 2013 | 12 comments

We were ecstatic to finally leave the confines of convoy traveling when we entered Mongolia. Unlike many horror stories we had heard before leaving, for us it was not the group of people we had trouble with. It was a lack of freedom and a totally inadequate guide, with the lack of freedom being our biggest bugbear.

Entering Mongolia we could throw away the chains and we left the others unceremoniously behind on an early morning departure. Free at last (although the freedom wouldn’t last long as you all know…)!

Traveling into the Gobi meant endless flat horizons with little scrubs growing in the harsh climate. We loved it. Choosing which track to drive on and what time you want to stop for lunch or overnight camp were the biggest decisions of the day. Tough.

following the tracks next to the telegraph lines in the Gobi

following the tracks next to the telegraph lines in the Gobi

camping in the Gobi, so beautiful

camping in the Gobi, so beautiful

cooking in the middle of nowhere after a lovely shower

cooking in the middle of nowhere after a lovely shower

a beautiful rainbow in the middle of the Gobi

a beautiful rainbow in the middle of the Gobi

it is pretty harsh out here

it is pretty harsh out here

we see a lot of bird of prey in the Gobi

we see a lot of birds of prey in the Gobi

how cute! a jerboa (we think)

how cute! a jerboa (we think)

Our first stop was a small monastery where we met one of the monks who invited us over for tea. Into his ger. Our first ger visit! He spoke a few words of English and we enjoyed the chat and visiting our first family, non-touristy ger.

it helps to be able to read the Cyrillic alphabet...!

it helps to be able to read the Cyrillic alphabet…!

the monk gives direction how to get to his ger - and yes, I am hanging on  whilst Jon drives!

the monk gives directions how to get to his ger – and yes, I am hanging on whilst Jon drives!

our first ger visit

our first ger visit

Our next goal was Kongoryn Els, the famous singing sand dunes of the Gobi. They are over 800m tall and belong to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. Getting there was a 2-day journey though, with the roads slowly getting worse and worse as we got closer to the sand dunes.

Jon using the well to give the camels a drink

Jon using the well to give the camels a drink

a beautiful offer site, next to the only tree in miles!

a beautiful offering site, next to the only tree in miles!

On the way we bumped into Guy & Cheryl, Rob & Robyn and Miles & Marina who were parked next to a line of horses. They had stopped because Miles’ truck had a broken spring leaf. We stopped for a chat and I asked if I could go for a ride on one of the horses. I could! We didn’t really understand what was happening, but as it turned out they were doing a training run for Naadam, the annual Mongolian festival where they have ‘proper’ horse races of around 30km long.

the line of horses, waiting for the racers to come back

the line of horses, waiting for the racers to come back

I rode out together with some of the local kids to the trainer who was on a motorbike, parked on the next hill. From there we watched them come in at full race pace and rode back with them. One thing for sure: Mongolian saddles are extremely uncomfortable and even after this short ride I had massive bruises on my thighs!

my first ride in Mongolia

my first ride in Mongolia

We camped past Dalangzadgad in the middle of nowhere, just pulling of the track when we were ready to camp. Another day of driving brought us to Yolyn Am (Eagle Gorge) where ice can still be seen in the narrow shady sections of the gorge – we didn’t see any though. Probably enjoying the many mice, ground squirrels, jerboas and pikas that were running riot in the gorge too much to be looking for ice. We camped in the gorge and watched them for hours and hours.

another cute one, looks like a hamster but they are called pikas

another cute one, looks like a hamster but they are called pikas

Yolyn Am, a gorge that has ice in it even in summer!

Yolyn Am, a gorge that has ice in it even in summer!

The next day we drove out via Dugany Am. Sensationally spectacular! It is another gorge with a creek running through it that gets very narrow in a few places. One spot is so narrow a car only just fits through it.

Dugany Am, Lara just fits through!

Dugany Am, Lara just fits through!

After driving the rest of the day we were now close to the highest sand dunes, in fact we were driving parallel with sand dunes for a few hours already. We decided to ask one of the local farmers if we could stay overnight and the 22 year old girl who appeared from the kitchen ger said we could, no problem. We were given tea and aaruul (dried milk curds – very hard little biscuits). We then joined Uuriinthya and her 2 brothers Osokh and Otgon milking the goats. Uuriinthya showed us how to do it and we managed to get some milk! They were a lot better so we thought it might be better to help catch the buggers – great fun.

milking the goats

milking the goats

pretty difficult to get any milk out

pretty difficult to get any milk out

one of Ganbold's camels in front of the impressive sand dunes

one of Ganbold’s camels in front of the impressive sand dunes

That night we slept in a ger for the first time, they are beautiful on the inside and very comfortable. The interior is always set up the same way and certain rules apply like no passing things in between the 2 support poles of the roof.

Lara and our ger for the night

Lara and our ger for the night

Otgon is our cook for dinner

Otgon is our cook for dinner

The next morning we rode camels to the sand dunes. Our first ride ever on real Bactrian camels (2-humped beasts of the desert). They were comfortable and very well trained and we had no problems making them listen to our commands. Her dad has won prizes with his camels on shows and was filmed and photographed by the BBC for Human Planet and that night we watched the Deserts part of the series. We can definitely recommend watching it, very interesting and beautiful!

Jon and his camel, he had camel number 8

Jon and his camel, he had camel number 8

Jude on her camel, hers is called brown

Jude on her camel, hers is called brown

Time to climb some sand dunes ourselves, and we drove deeper into the Gobi to the biggest of them all. They looked very big when you stand underneath them and we started our slow climb to the top, wearing socks to stop our skin from blistering as the sand was burning hot! The last bit of the dune we were climbing was seriously steep and we went down to all 4’s (op handen en voeten)! A shame we don’t have anything to use to sandboard down as we reckon it would be perfect for it.

The views from the top were spectacular and we stayed there for an hour or so, just enjoying the beauty of it all, the silence and the emptiness. After a relaxed lunch in the shade of our awning we headed back east a little to be able to drive through the only pass in the dunes at Sevrei and that’s where we got stuck in the soft creek sand and broke Lara.

stunning views are our reward after a slow hike to the top of the biggest sand dune

stunning views are our reward after a slow hike to the top of the biggest sand dune

If you want to read how this story ends: The dream becomes a nightmare

12 Comments

  1. Good that Lara fitted through Dugany Am. I hope you have packed a stone chisel and hammer just in case you need to widen any gorges to fit through. On second thoughts, maybe a few sticks of dynamite would be more practical.

    I think I’ve read some of your exploits out of sequence as it seems ages ago I read about your broken diff and how you eventually got it repaired.

    You really are seeing some vast and lovely countries. Brisbane will seem very small and boring after all this I should think.

    • When the nightmare happened we wanted to let people know what was going on. Then we went back to the normal sequence and just added info to bottom if we had news. So it was out of order but for a reason. All back to normal again now.
      Dugany Am was one of our favourite locations in Mongolia for sure! Luckily no dynamite needed 🙂
      Loving the traveling and definitely not ready for going back to B yet!! But maybe we will be in another 6 months…

  2. Cool photos of the gers. Love the one with Lara in the background. Was that monk in the photo on his mobile?

    • Thanks Alex, I don’t think he was in this photo, but we have seen so many monks with mobiles! Even spotted one using an iphone when the prayers were on inside a temple…!

  3. Hey guys, all of your posts have been amazing to date, but that one has really captured my imagination. Stunning photos, and what an awesome way to experience the Gobi desert meeting and staying with so many locals.

    • Hi Todd, it was awesome. I have always wanted to go to the Gobi, a true dream come true! Have you started your travels yet?!

  4. Hi Jon & Jude I’ve loved following your journey so far – its great being able to share in your adventure while I’m home with a toddler! I recently read a book about a family who took their son with autism to Mongolia to see the Sharmam. They had an amazing journey on horseback and stayed in many gers. So I read your Mongolian stories with extra interest! Happy travels, Kim.

    • Hi Kim (& Gary and Sean), thanks for your message! Great to hear you are loving the stories, we love experiencing the adventures and writing about it. Mongolia was amazing, there are some more stories following from Mongolia with lots of photos. And for the toddlers there are some photos on the country pages too. I add animals to each country page for my nephews 🙂 Sounds like a very interesting book, please let me know the name so I can find it somehow and add to my reading list! Big hug, Jon & Jude x

  5. Ha, that Sounds like a TV Series where it stops when it gets most interesting …
    Hope you have managed to drag Lara out.

    • I guess the rest of the story was the nightmare one a few weeks ago and then the follow ups underneath the most recent posts. You might have missed the dream becomes a nightmare post when you were on holiday?

      • ah, I didn’t realise, that this was already an older post! Now makes sense.

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