Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gobi Desert (Part 1)

Since we plan on taking an extravagant trip at the end of service, Sally and I were initially reluctant to take another trip in Mongolia, but after much debating we decided that we would spend a lifetime kicking ourselves if we didn’t take the opportunity to travel to the Gobi Desert. Our reluctance to travel is really just due to the fact that traveling in Mongolia is challenging and sometimes miserable. In order to see the sights that are hidden in the vast expanse of this country, we have to mentally prepare ourselves for long off-road journeys, the inevitability of getting sick, and the knowledge that the majority of any journey will be going to and returning from a destination.

Once we had made our decision, I contacted a tour company that other PCVs had used based out of Даланзадгад (Dalanzadgad—DZ for short) the provincial center of Omnigovi province which is the southernmost province in Mongolia. I made plans with the tour agency to go on a three day adventure in the countryside of Omnigovi with us and a group of other PCVs. Since we all speak passable Mongolian, we didn’t need a translator, so we just hired a driver/guide and a Delico (a large SUV) for the journey.

Before we could begin the three day tour, it was necessary to make the journey to DZ in two stages. We traveled first to UB from Khentii. After a day in the city, we embarked on an 11 hour bus ride south to DZ. The bus journey took us through southern Tov province, Mandalgovi province, and much of central Omnigovi. Much of this region of Mongolia is flat grassland, and some regions of Mandalgovi can be best described as sandy desolation.

DZ is a provincial center a little larger than Chinggis in Khentii but much more developed. Much of eastern Omnigovi province is used for mining, so the combination of mining money and Gobi tourism has created a rather pleasant little city with paved roads, a small amusement park for children, and a number of other amenities that are not always available in Mongolian provincial capitals.  After a long bus ride, we utilized our PC connections to crash on another PCVs floor for the night before embarking on our off road adventure early the next morning.

The first day of our journey began by exploring a couple of iconic canyons nestled in the mountains about an hour from DZ. At the first canyon, we hiked roughly a half mile until we came to a waterfall that was still a massive mound of ice because it was hidden from direct sun.
Top: Rock Canyon, Bottom: Standing in front of a frozen waterfalls.
The high is in the mid 80s F on this day. 

As we returned to our car, our guide pointed out a number rock formations on the surrounding mountains that looked like various animals native to Mongolia.
Eagle Shaped Rock

Camel Shaped Rock

Our second canyon of the day was the iconic Eagle Canyon nestled in the South Gobi National Park. Our hike one way was 1.5  miles, and it involved following a stream between massive shale cliffs. The stream eventually became an icy bed as we went deeper into the valley.
Snow leopard pelt in a museum at the entrance to Eagle Canyon
Snow leopards are native to the Altai Mountains which extend into the Gobi
Ibex in Eagle Canyon, Next three pictures also in Eagle Canyon

 After the canyons, we continued our off road journey for several hundred kilometers  east. In the evening, we arrived at a scenic nomadic camp that was to be our lodging for two nights. This camp was located in a large grassland at the base of a massive region of dunes known as the Khongoryn Elys (also known as the singing sands.) The Khongoryn Elys is a region of sand that is about 4-8 miles wide and around a hundred miles long. The dunes lie on the northern side of a ridge of mountains and in some places a single dune can tower as high as 900ft from base to summit.
Off-roading somewhere in Omnigovi 
Our tour included three days of travel, lodging in a nomadic camp, and all of the meals and water during the journey, so upon arrival at the camp, we were treated to a nice Mongolian style meal and shown to comfortable gers.
View from ger door of Khongoryn Elys
View from the ger camp
When the sun set, Sally and I wandered out onto the steppe to listen to the sound of silence and enjoy the total void of electric lights. The stars quickly filled the sky, and the Milky Way was more clear than I have ever seen it. Thousands upon thousands of twinkling pinpoints filled the sky and illuminated the dark world with a pale light.


P.S. Part two to follow soon!!

(For the name of the tour company or contact info email me.)

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