A drive thru the Gobi. Often thru a green landscape, in rainy weather. The desert reminds us of a golf course. Then northwards to Central Mongolia.
Khongoryn Els, 30th June
Dalandzadgad – as depressing as Sainshand. Probably Mongolian district capitals are not really cool places. Whatever, by now we’re used to it. So the danger to immediately commit suicide is largely banned.
After a night here we’re ready to move on. A quick visit to Nomin Supermarket to get some beer – and we’re on the road into the Gobi. 1 of the great deserts of the world. Definitely we won’t visit the whole desert up to its western end. By now, end of June, it’s simply too hot and strangely we may have too much rain to pass on the tracks without getting stuck.
So we concentrate on the eastern part, even if it’s the most touristy 1. We head for the famous Yolyn Am – the Vultures Mouth. No problem to find our way. Additionally to the track on the GPS there’s even a road sign.
We pass a nice green valley, later we follow a small river. And we’re slightly wondering if this green grassland really is in the Gobi. Somehow we drive thru a landscape with some definite potential for a golf course.
Arriving at the entrance of Yolyn Am, for the 1st time in Mongolia we’ve the impression we’re not the only 1s having this idea. There’s practically no public transport outside the “big” roads connecting the district capitals and driving a rented car seems to be forbidden to foreigners. So all tourists are on a well organised tour – even the backpackies.
A nice walk to the gorge which is famous for having some ice at its narrowest point until July – this in the Gobi with temperatures around 40° (not Fahrenheit).
After cooling down at the ice of Yolyn Am we move on to the narrowest gorge a car may pass: Dugany Am. So narrow you’ll have to shrink your car or cut it into 2 pieces. On the way to this dangerous place we discover a car with strange number plates. Yellow 1s – from Australia. The guys were also passing through China.
Then we move on to the narrowest place a car ever passed. First a steep way up to a small pass. For some tourist buses not easy to drive.
On thru a small valley. The road of course nicely corrugated – a test for all bolts keeping Prado in shape.
Then the ultimate challenge – and the only reason to drive this track: the narrowest point in the gorge. Prado just drives thru. We cannot observe any shrinking of the car. Consequently, the rocks probably slightly opened up to let Prado pass easily.
Now, nothing can stop us anymore on our way to Khongoryn Els – the famous, incredibly high sand dunes of the Gobi. After a rather late lunch break we’re on our way. Unfortunately it’s not too clear where the big dunes are. According to some local sources there are just 30km to drive; others indicate some 120km – as our GPS does. We remain optimistic and estimate some 30-40km on reasonable tracks. We follow the mountain range called the 3 Beauties. We realize that this range extends over 40km and the dunes are pretty far beyond. And we also realize that we’re in the South Gobi. Not only temperatures are around 40°, also the tracks reflect desert conditions. They’re badly corrugated. And a little strange: they’re partly wet and muddy. Visibly there was some strong rain last night.
We drive some 25 – 30 km/h. And start believing that the distance would rather be 120km than 30. So we prepare for a busy afternoon and evening. We move on. Sometimes in a landscape much more resembling to a golf course than a desert.
In the late afternoon we finally discover the famous sand dunes. We follow them for some 60km.
A little before sunset we reach famous Khongoryn Els: the place of Asia’s highest dunes.
Dark clouds promise a wet night. Fortunately there are a number of Ger (yurt) Camps for desperate tourists.
What a nice experience to enjoy the cool beers in the middle of the Gobi desert observing heavy rain pouring down.
Ongiin Khiid, 2nd July
The next morning: all rain forgotten, the sun is back. Early morning we head for the sand dunes and experience that they’re not different from any others.
Enough of them. To the next must-have-seen-sight: Bayanzag – the flaming cliffs.
140km on corrugated tracks. On the way huge signboards of the national park authorities indicating everything you’re supposed to do or even more important what you should even not think about doing.
On the way we pass many Ovoos – offerings to local spirits protecting the poor drivers from the incredible dangers of the desert.
There’s no longer the green of a golf course. At the beginning all looks very dry, lot of rocks and some sand. Later it looks more inviting again.
Arriving in Bayanzag we discover quite a number of overlanders camping below the cliffs. The Aussies we met 2 days ago and a group of 7 cars from Germany, Belgium and Austria. They call themselves Mongolei Karawane. Unfortunately we could not really find out what’s behind that great name. Nevertheless, they seem quite happy to be the foreground of all pics the tourists take on the cliffs above them. Whatever, we can’t avoid the strange feeling that they’re somehow on an organised overlanding tour.
The cliffs are not really flaming when we arrive. The sky is cloudy, some rain probably not too far.
Astonishingly the cliffs are not really high rising rocks. They’re more a steep, eroded slope which forms this tourist attraction. Of course, we’re not alone. Most tours offered in Mongolia visit this place. And of course as interesting the cliffs are for the odd tourist, as interesting are Prado’s stickers for the tourists’ drivers. So that seems to be the alternative attraction.
Whatever, a pretty interesting place to stroll around.
Later in the afternoon there’s even some sun to flame the cliffs.
The next morning a visit to the nearby Saxaul Forest. These trees are so popular for the Mongies for heating during the harsh winter that today only very few remain. Nevertheless, even if not used as fire wood we have the impression the Gobi desert wouldn’t be covered by thick jungle.
Then we drive on to the north. Another 100km on the ever same corrugated tracks. Now to Ongiin Khiid. A place at 1 of Gobi’s few rivers with the ruins of a monastery. Weather as usual in the Gobi: grey sky and dazzling. On the way some old volcanoes, …
… we pass 1 of these lost villages in the middle of the desert to finally reach Ongiin Khiid.
It’s still raining. We search a tourist Ger Camp. The 1st 1 has the interesting name of The Secret of Ongiin and looks pretty sophisticated. Unfortunately they don’t seem to rent accommodation just for a night. Hearing the price they tell us we suppose they want to sell us the whole place. And what the hell should we do with a Ger Camp in the Gobi desert.
The next 1 has a castle like restaurant. That place even rents out yurts for a night and it’s very nicely situated. Unfortunately, only later we come to know all the secrets: many extras to pay like showers, bed sheets – name it – pay it or leave it. Adding all up we have the impression they also want to sell the whole place. We stay optimistic and avoid to great extent all additional offers.
Nevertheless, dinner is absolutely awful. To avoid such inconvenience in future we highly recommend the management to immediately shoot the cook.
Ongiin Khiid is the place of a famous monastery completely destroyed in the 30ies of last century, nowadays being slowly rebuilt.
Later a nice walk along the river …
… and finally the ultimate place for a sun downer at our slightly disappointing Guest Ger.
Arveikheer, 3rd July
Our last day thru the Gobi desert. Some 100km on the usual tracks northwards to the paved road – and that’s the end of our desert adventure.
The further north we drive the greener the landscape and more and more the Gobi resembles to Mongolia’s golf course. And luckily the lower the temperature. By now around 20°.
Arriving in Arveikheer in the early afternoon Prado as well as our cloths cry for an immediate spa to wash off all dust and sand of the Gobi. A request we cannot refuse.
And that’s it. More adventures soon, should we find any reliable internet connection.