Mongolia: Lost in the Gobi Desert (1)
The reason why Mongolia fascinates me the most is not only because of the mighty scenery, but also the hospitable people I’ve met on the way.
From Ulaanbaatar, along with four other backpackers I met in the hostel, we’ve decided to take a Russian van and head south to Gobi Desert. Gradually, as the van slipped into the dirt road, all the pollution, busy traffic and noise vanished into silence. All we hear is the wind soaring through the window and us bouncing around in the van as our crazy (but very skillful) Mongolian driver Erka drives on the rocky and sandy way.
The season when I visited Mongolia was August. The weather is just perfect to visit as it isn’t cold nor hot.
The first day heading south, we stayed in Delgertsogt, a nomad place located in Dundgobi Province with nothing but greenery view and animals. It is Mongolia’s Rocky Mountains and was totally awe-inspiring to all of us. The ruggedly beautiful nature lays out its heart at your feet.
We stayed at a Mongolian ger with a nomad family near by the Rocky Mountains and were given camel milk and camel meat noodle for our dinner. Believe me, camel milk is nothing similar to cow milk. It’s sour, astringent and a bit bitter. My travel partners didn’t really enjoy the taste, but for me, it was better than nothing. Besides, I do really like it!
Be warned though, our Mongolian guide Urnaa told us some stories around Baga Gazriin Chuluu, a tremendously beautiful park not so far away from Delgestsogt. If visited, you must leave the park hours before sunset or likely you will end up lost in the surroundings. Even locals get lost sometimes there. It’s very tricky to drive back to the right path.
There goes our exciting adventure.
Climbing in the Rocky Mountains. Very hospitable host preparing camel milk for us.
Tsagaan Suvarga (The White Stupa)
The second day of our Gobi Safari, we arrived in Tsagaan Suvarga, or you can call it “The White Stupa”. It is still located in the Dundgobi Province and from there it is very interesting to see the sheer slope. While standing on the cliff of the slope and observing from a certain distance, there seems to be some ruins of an ancient city. These amazing rocky formations were eroded over thousands of year by the wind.
If you like a little hiking, it’s good to spend some time here to walk down those sheer slopes, just have the right shoes on so you won’t slide down. It can be very slippery and dangerous sometimes. Always travel with caution.
The most enjoyable part for me in Mongolia is the quietness. Everyday in the evening before dark, I like to take a stool out from the ger and just sit somewhere watching the nomads guide their herds back into the ranch or milk the camels, goats, sheep, and horses. It gives a moment for me to think about my life. Living away from family and friends for 6 years isn’t a long time, but also not short. I’ve been through many rough situations and also encountered plenty of joyful occasions; nothing stopped me from exploring the world.
At the ger we stayed which is not so far away from Tsagaan Suvarga, I had a chance to milk the camel with the nomad family and learned how they live in an autarky way. As there is no signal for phones there and people don’t rely on technology much. It’s nice to put yourself out of the daily life routine or even the same travel style, and just appreciate the nature and live like a nomad.
Enjoying the quietness in the middle of nowhere.
Having fun with our shadows.
Milking the camels.
Mongolian camels have very long fur in winter and sheds during summer.
The third day on the big loop safari, we arrived at Yolyn Am, a valley surrounded by mountainous views and glaciers. The glaciers were already melting but our guide Urnaa said after one or two months, Mongolia will be freezing cold again and new glaciers will be formed. Normally during June to September, the glaciers melt away and become a stream to the circumstances and the inhabitants. When we were there we saw many wild lives popping out from the ground or running through the bushes. It’s a very nice stroll around to feel the breeze and do some hiking.
This night we didn’t stay in a traditional ger, instead, we built our own tent and slept in the valley somewhere we preferred. Another driver from a jeep followed us and stayed with us at the same spot and 3 other travelers joined us for the evening. It is these kind of moments you feel peace, life with no signals for phone or Internet, no pollution, no sounds of the city or even people. It was just simply silent with a trickle sound of the stream. In the evening, we hiked up the small mountain behind our tent to see the sunset and it was remarkably stunning. We played cards in the dark with just a flashlight and the two drivers were playing the guitar and singing traditional Mongolian songs. It was such a great experience!
The green scenery in the valley.
Glaciers are melting forming a stream.
That my tent in the valley.
Washing our hair with stream water.
Khongoryn Els and the Sand Dune
After a freezing night in the tent, we woke up early to catch the sunrise. Our guide Urnaa made us delicious traditional Mongolian buns for breakfast while we were still sleeping. It was the fourth day of our safari trip and since then we haven’t had the chance to take a shower; the most unbearable part of that is not the shower itself but the greasy hair. Thus, along with one of my travel partners, we’ve decided to wash our hair with stream water. Of course we scooped some water in a large container and washed it somewhere far from the stream so the soap water would not float in. As a tourist, it is also important to have the morals to keep the environment clean.
Soon after that, we set off to the west and finally we started to feel the heat of summer in the south desert of Gobi during the day. Our plan today was to ride camels in Khongoryn Els where the Singing Sand Dune is. Mongolian camels are different than Indian and Egyptian camels; they have two lumps on their back. I first thought it would be more comfortable, but I was completely wrong! Two lump camels are a lot more painful! (Ouch!)
Afterwards, our driver Erka took us to the famous Singing Sand Dune to see sunset. It has its name is because while climbing up the sand dune, you can always hear a low howling sound like it’s singing. Seriously, climbing up was really difficult but once you are up there, it’s worth it. Just keep in mind to wear a scarf or a buff around your nose and mouth to keep the sand out, and a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Not so long after we were up on the top, we realized a hazing orange, brownish storm coming toward us. People started to yell “Sand storm!” and rushing down the sand dune. It was quite horrifying, as we have no idea how strong it is and how fast it will reach us. As soon as we arrived at our van, the sand storm stroke us and you can hear those tiny sand hitting the window of the car and making this “click click” sounds. There was no possibility to see the path due to the zero visibility. We were literally stuck there. Fortunately, the sand storm didn’t last too long and a local resident came and guide us the way back to our ger. Such an unforgettable experience!
Camel ride with the other travellers.
Preparing to climb up the sand dune.
Sand storm we encountered.
Everyday in Mongolia is like a surprise; you never know what you will expect next.
- It’s cold in Mongolia no matter what season you are in, even in the summer. Always prepare a nice warm jacket in case.
- It’s possible to hitchhike between big cities in Mongolia, but if you want to go to the nomad area, either be patient because there’s no actual road or ask someone from the big cities that is already heading there.
- If you’re easily to get car sick, prepare carsick medicine in advance. Like I mentioned, there’s no actual road to drive through in the Gobi Desert so the path will be extremely bumpy and you will most likely end up making a huge mess in the van or car.
- In summer, don’t forget to bring insect repellent. At night in the ger, sometimes there are some unexpected visitors attacking you while you’re sleeping. That can be very annoying!
- Going to the toilet has always been a problem for all of us. In the Gobi Desert there is not proper toilet to use. The whole nature is your bathroom. Be ware! Bring something that helps you to digest, like a pill or yeast, whereas most of the time you’re eating meat and very less vegetables. There will be days that you can’t do the job.
- If you can’t live without technology, Mongolia is not a place for you, unless you just stay in cities. Your phone is just to take photos and when the battery dies out, you can put your phone away, too. There’s no place for you to charge your phone in the nomad ger.