Unique Experiences in Mongolia
There aren’t many destinations left in the world that offer unique experiences, traditional culture and authentic festivals. Mongolia is one country keeping its traditions alive.
Bouncing around in an old Russian van for a week, covered in dust, and drinking fermented camel’s milk is one of the most memorable experiences from my travels in Mongolia.
Joining a tour with four other adventurous travelers from France and Germany, we loaded up the van and said goodbye to the comfort of our hostel (and its showers), before embarking on an adventure we’d never forget. Our destination was the Gobi Desert, which spans from northern China to the south of Mongolia.
Leaving the industrial city of Ulaanbaatar, and heading into the countryside, was literally a breath of fresh air. Dotting the lush green landscape were white gers (yurts) and herds of sheep and goats - which would be our primary source of food during the trip.
To my surprise, the landscape continuously changed. Initially, I envisioned the Gobi Desert to be just that - a desolate, parched terrain. However, we found ourselves passing through grassy hills, sandy dunes, towering cliffs and Yolyn Am, a rocky gorge, covered in ice for 10 months of the year. During our trip, the ice had melted and we rode horses alongside the river; something I never expected to do in a desert.
At times, we were the only people around for miles. All we could see was the bright blue sky, rocky gravel and patches of shrubs. As soon as our vehicle’s engine was turned off, the silence was eerie but beautiful. It was at that moment, when we were in the middle of nowhere, that one of the shocks on our van completely gave out.
We couldn’t drive any further.
Thankfully, we had done our research and ensured that our van had a GPS, satellite phone, basic tools, drinking water, and of course, a spare tyre and shocks. Our driver ordered us out of the vehicle, got on his back underneath the van and proceeded to change the part.
Once the vehicle was sorted out, we were able to continue exploring the highlights of the Gobi Desert, all of which were spectacular.
The aptly named Flaming Cliffs were picturesque when the golden sun illuminated the rock, creating a flaming red color. it's where dinosaur eggs were first discovered in 1923. We also rode double-humped Bactrian camels at the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, at the base of the towering Altai Mountains which was a very memorable experience.
The best part of the Gobi Desert tour wasn’t about these popular sites.
The most memorable part of travel is often the “in-between” bits, and this was especially true in the Gobi. We watched a local family assembling a ger, and pulled over to lend a hand. We asked our guide to find us some traditional fermented mare’s milk to try, and she found a nomadic family who had a barrel full in preparation for the Naadam festivities. We played with inquisitive children, befriended a baby goat, and sat in a circle with a couple of local men and sniffed snuff, scented tobacco inhaled through the nose, which is offered as a greeting in Mongolia.