Driving into the desert, away from the nearest town, I had the most wonderful sense of being free. The vans were racing along alongside each other, I was sitting the front with my arm out of the window and we had the Foo Fighters blasting out. It was one of those real pinch me moments.
The landscape had changed and it was getting drier and drier, despite the threat of the massive thunderstorm we could see coming towards us! More and more camels were appearing and we were seeing less gers.
We did, however, get the chance to stop in one of the few gers we past and meet the local family. It was here I first learnt some of the etiquette of gers. Never touch both sides of the doors as you walk into the ger and never walk through the two posts in the centre. Men sit on the left hand side and women on the right, and the host sits in the middle. This was also where I had my first taste of milk tea, a salty milky tea Mongolians drink, which actually was quite tasty. The camel curd we tried was less so. It had the appearance of fudge, but tasted like very off cheese and crumbled and would not disappear in the mouth.
As we drove on at one point our driver stopped and started excitedly pointing into the distance, he had spotted a rare wild ass. Felt very privileged to have seen one of these in the wild. The other drivers who had gone on ahead were so excited to see the photos and our guide had never seen one before, which showed just how rare they were. Slightly small in the photo, but definitely there! All this before we had even made it to camp!
Another lovely tourist ger camp, and we had an eventful evening playing ball games with kids on the roof of the restaurant and trying to catch the amazing lightening bolts that were lighting up the horizon.
The next day, very early, we set off towards Khongoryn Els, the biggest sand dunes in the western Gobi, to climb to the top. I optimistically scampered off with no shoes on and within about 10 minutes realised how utterly exhausting it was. It was so hot, and my feet sank half way up to my calves with each step. I have never found anything so tiring in all my life. After an embarrassingly short time, I sat down and decided I couldn’t go any further. Somehow after a 15 minute break I summoned the energy to get to the next turn, and then the next and then the next. Before I knew it I was being cheered the summit. I was so proud of myself – and the views!
The descent was considerably easier and great run, just running straight down. Plus I learnt why the dunes have gained the name the singing dunes, due to the noise they make as the wind moves them.
At the bottom camels were waiting for us for a camel ride. As I sat on them, I remembered how uncomfortable I had found camel riding when I previously did it in Morocco, and was questioning why I was here again. Plus these camels smell even worse, due to the wild garlic that makes up most of their diet!
That afternoon we headed towards Bayanzag – the location of the Flaming Cliffs. Famous because of the vast amount of dinosaur eggs found there.
One of the best things to see here is the sun setting over the cliffs. We were running a little late, so it was a mad race to make it on time. Another crazy moment with so many tourist vans racing manically across the desert towards to the cliffs.
We made it in time, and it was absolutely not what I was expecting. As we got to the edge, the land just sort of fell away. Absolutely breath taking. It was, of course, full of tourists but nevertheless a very special moment. We had decanted some gin I had brought from home into a water bottle and sat watching the sunset drinking gin – perfect.
The next day involved a very wet walk through the cliffs. It was wonderful to be able to experience them so close. The only thing was the water had turned the sandy soil into almost a paste, which coated our shoes. The drivers had a handy brush to remove before we got into their very clean cars – didn’t want to dirty it up!
On the way out of the Gobi we stopped at what our guide referred to as a forest. It was not your typical idea of a forest, but it was definitely a large collection of trees for Mongolia. The Saxual trees are now protected and you aren’t allowed to cut them down. There are also schemes to grow them and get the numbers back up. It did also show how dry this part of Mongolia is.
Just a few of my personal highlights of the Gobi desert – but if you are in Mongolia, make sure you head here, if nothing else it is such a contrast to the green of the Steppe!