August 2012. After a day in Ulan-Baater I spontaneously decided to go on a trip to the Gobi desert with some people I met at the first night in my little home stay style hostel. Why not I think, I got three weeks and no plans except for wanting to try fermented horse milk, buy a Morin Khuur (horse fiddle) and get to know Mongolia…
After an almost 17-hours long bus ride overnight I not only felt closer to my newfound travel buddies but also pretty knackered when we finally arrived in the dusty little town of Dalanzadgad, the capital of Ömnögovi Aimag (county). Our tired group of Ruben (French) and Vlad (Slovakian) and Chrissie and Sebs (two other Germans), dragged itself to the next café to eat one of the three available dishes from the 20-items menu. People
With a lot of miming, some luck and a few drawings Vlad and Ruben managed to hire a car and driver for our trip to the Gobi. After the bumpy bus ride it felt almost luxurious to be squeezed into a normal car with six people.
Five hours and several camel herds later we arrived in Hongerin Els, a part of the Gobi that amazes with its vast emptiness and its up to 188 metres high dunes.
We stayed in two yurts belonging to a family of nomads that were friends with our driver, Singhe. After a round of Airag (fermented mares milk) and some home made, quite sour tasting cheese we were shown to our gers (yurts) and happily flopped down for a meal of mutton.
The next day we went out into the dunes. Just walking until lunch, when we left Vladimir behind and returned to the ger for some delicious Boos (mutton dumplings). After lunch Singhe drove us to one of the highest dunes and with a few bottles of water and some snacks we made our way onto the top of the dunes.
The next day, Ruben, Vladimir and I went for another climb through the dunes. After a few minutes it was quite clear, we had picked a challenging day for a hike in the Gobi.
The wind was blowing the sand so harshly at us that it seemed almost like a purposeful attack from nature. I breathed so much sand my nose started bleeding after we returned to the camp. The view was still amazing though when we finally stood on the highest dune we could find.
There is something very satisfying about climbing up somewhere. It’s not just the amazing view in a landscape empty of most human life but also the process of conquering a place. Sweating, being thirsty and exhausted and then reaching the top of the dune is oddly fulfilling. In short – climbing up stuff is brilliant!
After another lunch of, guess what, mutton, we jumped, well okay, slowly climbed, onto camels owned by our new nomadic friends. Riding a camel is a little bit like being on a small boat with a lot of very regular waves. Except for that your seat isn’t too comfortable, especially if you’re a man.
Swaying through the Gobi on our camels, singing a few songs and watching the sun slowly set was another highlight of our trip. Especially when we came close to a herd of young camels, who saw us and started to gallop towards us in surprising speed.
Our camels became almost as nervous as ourselves. Our guide who was holding our leashes handed me over the collective arrangement of leashes, including the one for his own camel, to chase away the young camels, yelling ‘shu’ and throwing some stones.
It is very fitting that Mongolian horses and probably also camels are only trained to know the word ‘go’ and not ‘stop’. That ‘go’ I think is also used for ‘go away’. Luckily, after a few more attempts to attack us, the youngsters gave up and we comfortably rode back to the ger camp.
- Last desert nomads defy a raging sandstorm (newscientist.com)
- Mongolia Monday- Beatrix Bulstrode on Mongolian Bactrian Camels (foxstudio.biz)