Like any passionate traveler, I had a burning desire to visit unfathomed places which were disembarked by few. A visit to Mongolia in 2015 fulfilled this prodigious dream. Mongolia has been everything a true excursionist could imagine, and more. Its most alluring feature is the Gobi desert, the vast size of which will take you a life time to explore! Combining our trip with that of China and Russia, we had 6 days to explore this not so probed part of the world. We tried to keep our trip nominal, and ensured to gain the best of what Mongolia had to offer. The expedition commenced upon landing in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. We were a group of 6 who had all wrecked their brains to zero down the hostel accommodation before the onset of our trip. Reviews on websites and travel blogs were extremely helpful to make this decision as most of them came from personal experiences. We stayed in the UB hostel and still recall and cherish the help extended by Bobby-the hostel owner, in planning our trip.
As we set foot in the city, we were greeted with a life size poster of Chinggis Khan at the airport who kept following us around town in the form of places, buildings, restaurants and even brands named after him (I recall Genghis chips!). The main attraction around is the City Square called Sukhbaatar with a huge statue of Genghis Khan sedentary on his throne. Several kids and families can be seen taking an evening stroll, riding bicycles or simply enjoying a late evening ice-cream. Visiting in the month of August, it was difficult to wrap my head around the length of the day with the sun setting only by 9:30pm. Though that gave us more time to roam around, keeping track of time became difficult. We did however manage to visit a few eateries and local shops before they closed for the day. I was dazzled with the quality and variety of Cashmere clothing, given that Mongolia is famous for the same.
Up and about early the next morning, we looked forward to our Hunnu ariways flight for Dalanzadgad, which is the capital of Ömnögov in the Southern part of Gobi desert. Goes without saying, we made several jokes around it’s name and the fact that it was the only flight I have ever taken with a hand written boarding pass! Ahaa, our sweet non-english speaking driver arranged by the hostel was at the Dalanzadgad airport to welcome us with his Russian 4×4 mini-van, which I can best describe as the ‘Scooby doo’ van without the floral paint on it.
Then began our 4 days of adventure in the bewinderness of Gobi. After picking some snacks and water for the coming days at a local store we were good to go for our stay with the local nomads in their makeshift dewelling called Ger camps. Crossing the most sparsely populated landscapes with miles and miles of barren land, we came across a few herds of sheep, goats and even camels in parts with some grass lands. There was no road for Ahaa (our driver) to chase. Just the tracks made from other tourist vehicles which left us appreciative of how well he knew this desert. The terrain changed every few kilometres from patches of grass, to green pastures to amply dry land with a view of the Altai mountains in the distance.
The Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag were our first stop, which apart from their panoramic scenery are known to be the first place for discovery of dinosaur eggs in 1922. The reflection of sun’s rays on these cliffs made them appear like flames from a distance. With very few tourists these cliffs are utopian to enjoy solitude and be once with nature.
We then moved to our Ger camp where the host family served us with lamb preparations. The vegetarian in me had to survive on potatoes. Talk of a vegetarian surviving in the wild! After gazing the milky way in the luminous sky for a long time, we tucked ourselves in our sleeping bags as the frosty night befell.
What’s a desert safari without visiting the sand dunes! We ticked it off our list by visiting the Khongoriing Els sand dunes the next morning. A two hour ride on the back of a double hunched camel found only in parts of Central Asia made our day momentous. It was peculiar to see such a furry camel, but then again it had adapted to survive the -40 degrees during winters!
The next day we got the opportunity to witness the Nadam festival, a local celebration with horse riding and wrestling competitions. Being a part of this distinctive jubilation made me feel no less than being on a travel show. The proceedings took place in a mini stadium where some local eatables called Boortsog and Aaruul were distributed among everyone present. It was exciting to see children steering their horses to win the race, while a wrestling completion simultaneously transpired.
The most interesting part of the trip was that no two days were comparable. We left for the Yolling Am or simply Yol Valley early next morning, which was a long commute from our place of stay. The drive was magical as we crossed several herds of camels and sheep which we were accustomed to spotting by now. The terrain became hilly and as we approached our destination. Crossing green pastures with clear blue skies patched with of white clouds, we stumbled upon a variety of wild flowers and fauna in the form of gerbils, pikas and yaks. Yol valley is known for its permafrost ice- ice from ice age! Remembering lessons from my climate-change class from college, the researcher in me was more than excited to see this glacier. My legs however gave way after walking for two hours and we happily halted at a stream, content spotting some pieces of ice which were surely a part of the glacier (or so I wish to believe).
We returned to Ulaanbata with enduring memories and experiences from the Gobi desert. We hopped on to the Trans-Siberian train from the city to move on to Russia, but about that some other time:)