(Firstly I apologise for the annoyingly mis-sized pictures, and maybe some wonky text too, but WordPress is not playing tonight, and I think I’m even lucky to get any of this post up with the internet connection I have at the moment! Still, hope you enjoy 🙂 )
So, after leaving our ger early the next morning, we drove for about half a day or so, and the landscape was definitely more ‘deserty’, very dry, orange ground but still with a fair bit of greenery. A Mongolian herder Along the way we came across a local Nadaam Festival, where we managed to catch a children’s horse race, which was a great find. We arrived at a beautiful place on a riverbank where we would set up camp for the night, and decided to place our tents that the guides had given us near the river. Ten minutes into the ‘tent putting up challenge’, it decided to start raining and break into a massive wind storm! Our half erected tent promptly came down, so we flung ourselves over various bits of flapping material to ensure none blew off into the desert wind! Now, as a seasoned camper you may think I’d be embarrassed about this, but the fact that the tent pegs were just a 7 inch length of straight metal, no curved end loop, crook or such like, just straight, and the not-so-nicely sheared off metal was a dream to push into the ground, it wasn’t painful at all! This, and the fact that we were putting said tent pegs into sand (this is the desert after all), combined with a desert gale, for good sturdy tents this did not maketh! Mission, well and truly abandoned! I, and all the others in the group were extremely pleased about this, and I was quite pleased that the untimely desert gale actually proved to be quite timely, because this meant we booked into the ger camp right next door 🙂 Had this gale at occurred at 3am whilst we were in the tents, well, I don’t even want to think about that! After the very hot drive of 170km through the desert, and the equally hot and strenuous tent exercise, the nearby river had our names on it/in it, and it was time for a refreshing dip! There was a huge Mongolian family having a swim and splash around so we went in where they were. We ended up mucking about with them having water fights and had a great laugh. The current was extremely strong and you couldn’t hold yourself still in it, so Cecile and I decided to venture across to the other side, where some of the family were standing by the rocks. The current was so strong they had to help (drag) us across, til we reached the edge. We had such fun, like a bunch of kids, and it was just what we needed after hours in a hot minibus! Our ger camp was near Ongin Khiid, a set of two monasteries, ruined in 1939 by the communist purges, where they sadly also killed 200 lamas. We took a walk up there and to the top of the hill for a lovely view of the ruins, the campsite and rivers. We met a monk there who is staying there with a small group of others, hoping to rebuild the monastery, they have built a little temple, and he took great joy in showing us around and was a very enthusiastic and funny character. Left to right – Djena, Cecile, Thomas, Sebastien and Stefan Cecile, Sebastien, Stefan et moi! The little temple After a great dinner we ventured into the gers, and I say ventured because the previous night had been a bit of a beetle fest! Thousands of the things dropping onto the plastic floor so you could hear each and every one! This didn’t sit well with one or two of the group….(no names!) The following day proved to be even more eventful! The road got a lot rougher with lots more ups and downs and twists and turns. I say road, but really out of the main city of Ulaanbaatar there are no roads, just tracks, no signs. Hence why you kind of need to go with a guide and driver, it makes for a fun trip anyhow. So, the roads are getting rougher, and the speed is getting….well it didn’t change. Fast is the one speed these drivers know, and fast they will go! The road was getting kind of crazy and then all of a sudden this strange, loud, very abnormal noise came from the rear of the van. Sebastien shouted out ‘stop stop!’ and the driver ground to an abrupt halt. This is what we saw: Don’t think the back wheel is meant to be here? It certainly wasn’t, the bloody wheel had come off! After a few minutes of thinking WTF?! It looked like the driver may be used to this…..he appeared to have it under control, and had a spare part on board! And a box of tricks to fit it with! So before long, we were ready to roll again (although I must admit I was a little apprehensive at first wondering when the next wheel would come off!) After this we appeared to be driving around in circles for a bit, and I soon established that we had lost the road! Luckily this didn’t go on for too long, and the driver did find the track again. I think they have this country mapped in their head, tougher than learning the knowledge in London! Eventually after another 300km driving in one day, we reached the Khongoryn Els sand dunes. It was a little late due to the day’s mishaps, but still well worth the journey. When we arrived we happened to time it just right, we heard this guy playing music on his horse head fiddle, it was like a low chanting sound, and as he sat by the camels in the sunset, we realised he was getting them one by one, to sleep. It was truly amazing listening to him, and to watch each camel getting droopy eyed and wobbly on their feet, as they tried to fight the sleepiness, but one by one they sat on the ground, yawning, and finally closing their eyes for the night’s slumber. Never seen anything like it in my life. Magical. As the night was drawing closer I took a walk by myself to the edge of the ger camp we were staying at. I could see the sand dunes in the distance, and as I stood there a good while, soaking in the surroundings of where I was, deep in the Mongolian Gobi Desert, the sheer peace and enormity of this place hit me. This was it. This is what I had come to see and experience, something I am having trouble putting into words, but it felt amazing.