Ok, after some thinking we decided to go. The tour was organized by UB Guesthouse and they gave us all the information and alternative tours, but this sounded like the best one. Since our time in Mongolia was pretty limited we had to opt for the 7 day tour and we booked it straight away. 414,000 for the both of us!!!! Wooooow, that sounds expensive, doesn't it? Well it's about the same as 175 USD per person for a 4WD-van (old but good), with driver, gas, sleeping bags and some cooking gear and a translator, all for 7 days. In the end we managed to find a fifth person to join us so it turned out even cheaper. We met Dee, a Dutch girl who had been travelling south-east Asia, Australia and China for almost a year on her own.
We left UB early the morning of the 26th. We just had to stop for some additional supplies, Gas for the stove, matches and, last but not least, water. Pretty good to have in the desert I've been told. :-)
Gobi was the destination. The name is Mongolian and means desert and is a vast region occupying much of southern Mongolia and a large piece of northern China. By some definitions, it encompasses desert lands stretching more than 3000 kilometers in a broad arc from the Tarim Basin in western China to the Da Hinggan Mountains on the border to Manchuria and from the centre of Mongolia to the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.
The tour was planned so that we would drive between 5 and 8 hours per day and then eat and spend the night with Nomad families in their "gers" (tents). We would have the possibility to take one shower in a village that we would pass on the way after about 3 days.
We stopped at a "Sacred Stone" a holy place consisting of a blessed pile of rocks where you are supposed to walk around it 3 times clockwise while making a wish while for each lap adding a rock on the pile.
After about 10 minutes drive from Ulan Bataar we left the paved roads behind us. We were amazed by the beautiful countryside and we stopped a couple of times to take photos. -"Bairat, STOP!" was the command. Our driver, Bairat, who by the way always had a smile on his face, didn't speak much English, but that he understood. J
ust before sundown we arrived at the camp where we were to spend the night. The sunset was incredible as was the (full) moonrise. We had Mongolian tea (a kind of salty goat milk) and ate dinner, consisting of small mixed pieces of mutton and rice, together with the family while our guide, Saga, explained about the local customs and translated some questions for us. The family really made us feel welcome and we had a great first night in the Gobi. We went back to our ger, which they had warmed up for us by making a fire in the stove. The fuel was cow dung...
We slept like babies and since it was so cold in the morning nobody would have wanted to get up unless half an hour before it was time, our hosts lit the stove for us. That was great! Breakfast was fried bread and tea. We paid our 4000 per person before leaving (3.5 USD) and said goodbye.
The program for the day was to drive another 300km through the wilderness, and stop on the way at the "Mud Cliffs" for dinner. First we stopped at an old temple in the middle of nowhere.
We bumped in to our first herd of camels and called -"Bairat, STOP!" to check them out. Later we would see camels from time to time as we made our way through the gobi.
When we arrived at the mud cliffs we walked around the area. There are many crystals scattered around on the ground and the dirt is in shifting tones of red, brown and yellow.
We then had lunch on top of the plateau that makes out the cliffs. We cooked inside the van which is a good way to avoid the sand and ocasional winds but maybe its not the safest way to cook.
On the way we saw some mirages, it really looked like lakes in the middle of the desert, but in the end there was just more desert. In the evening we arrived at Dalazadgad village (1450m above sea level) where we arrived late at night and had some difficulties to find the tent in the dark after that all of us had had our showers at the local "bath house".
Since we were in a "village" we had an electric light in the tent, but no heating so it got quite cold. We had our rice and mutton (Soya meat for the vegetarians again) in our own tent and went to bed.
After a breakfast of crackers and tea we played some football and packed ourselves in the van again.
We drove about 300km on bouncy roads to the Ice valley or Yolyn Am (Vulture Canyon), without ice now because of heavy rains earlier this year. Wildflowers line the banks of the gently flowing stream. It was beautiful and we truly enjoyed the scenery and also managed to photograph some of the many "Pikas", squirrel-sized members of the rabbit family with little round ears, who pop in and out of their burrows all around the place.
We then had a little pick nick lunch before we went straight to the next stop to save one day and to be able to fully enjoy the "Sand Dunes" where we spent two nights. After leaving the valley we had a nice ride through some beautiful terrain. We asked our driver to stop a couple of times and just enjoyed the views.
As the sun started to set we had still not reached the campsite. We encountered a group of camels and took the opportunity to strech our legs and get a couple of nice photographs of the animals.
The place is called "Khongoryn Els" and is a spectacular line of sand dunes (180km long and 12km wide) in a valley squeezed between mountains. The highest dunes are some 200 meters. It was more the desert that we had expected and it was nice to not have to get up as early and bounce around in the car all day. Emma had a cold and spent the whole day in bed and Dee, who seems to only need a couple of hours sleep per night, was up before sunrise anyway. Orna, the family's daughter played with us and Sabrina and I went on our first camel ride through the desert. Dinner was pasta and vegetables for all (Dee and I were tired of the mutton and had decided to become temporary vegetarians).
We also made a new friend. The lovely daughter of the family named Orna. She played with us and showed us how to treat the animals. Also she showed us what to do if you drop a candy on the ground. First you whipe it off on the goat and then you let the dog lick it and, abra cadabra, you can eat it again...
Saga went with us on the camelride which started at a neighbouring nomad camp. We drove there and rode the camels back to our camp. On the way we met Dee who had went on a walk to the dunes.
The following day, after the tea and crackers, we drove to Bayanzag, better known as "Flaming Cliffs". It’s a red-tinted badlands famous for dinosaur fossil discoveries that began in the 20's and continue to this day. On the way we stopped in a small village for some food.
At the Flaming cliffs we walked around a bit, enjoying the grand views and the nice weather.
The night we were lucky enough to experience a real ger inauguration party. The tradition is that when a couple gets married, the groom’s family gives them a ger and the bride’s family provides the furniture. We met the lucky couple and sat with the groom and his brother in law who, waiting for the bride’s family, had started the celebration with our guide and driver. We were offered "Mongolian vodka" it’s the rest liquid from yoghurt production, mixed with vodka. It has a really "goaty" taste. The other drink we were offered was "Mongolian beer", fermented mares (horse) milk. The third was the normal, Russian style, vodka. Our guide and driver was drinking the "beer" mixed with the Russian style vodka from big bowls (1,5 liters or so). The Mongolians are very bound by many traditions and our guide helped us so that we would not offend our hosts. We had many difficulties to gracefully decline the beverages and in the end I had to drink 4 shots of vodka and 2 silver bowls of the Mongolian Vodka. After that they started passing around the big "milk bowl" again. The only way not to have to drink it was to sing three songs. Our driver and guide sang beautifully together with the others, traditional Mongolian songs about their lands, parents etc. Then Dee got the bowl and started to look a little bit nervous. She started with some local Dutch song which everybody enjoyed and nobody understood anything of. Then I think she sang some Christmas song and finally "Allstar" from the firs Shreck movie. She happily returned the bowl and it was passed to me. Now I had had a little moment to prepare so I started with the obvious choice, the Swedish national anthem. It worked. Then it got a bit harder, but since they wouldn't understand a word anyway, I sang a lullaby. For the last one I had a really tough time figuring it out, until Sabrina got the idea and we sang a Swedish birthday song together and I got rid of the smelly milk. Now Sabrina was up. She wasn't prepared at all and had to think for a while. She started with a German Christmas song, "Oh Tannenbaum" and then after much thought, "Alle meine Entchen". For the last one she chose "Schneefloeckchen", or rather a quick version. We got out of there before they could serve us any more food or drinks. Puhhh.
The next day we started the final part of the tour. We had seen a lot of animals during the trip but especially during this last day did we really see many. We saw Gazelles, Buzzards, gophers, dessert mice, camels, horses, goats and even a dessert fox.
To sum it up, Gobi is great!!!
Lots of Love,
Fredrik and Sabrina
PS 1 The toilets were quite special. A huge hole in the ground with two stones, planks or something to stand on while leaving a gap in between for your "business". Check it out!
PS 2 We will upload some more photos shortly!!