The Gobi Desert
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
If you want to read how this story ends: The dream becomes a nightmare