Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Gobi Desert (Part 2)

On the second day of our Gobi tour, we started the morning early with a short camel ride to a point where the dunes started. Camel riding is something that I have had the opportunity to do a couple of times in Mongolia, and each time I come away convinced that ancient riders of the Silk Road were a bow legged group of eunuchs; maybe they road side saddle for comfort. I certainly couldn’t have led a life atop a camel.
I nicknamed my camel Groovy Joe
Camel Pose in the Gobi

The high for the day was set to be in upper nineties, but the morning was still pleasant and cool. After the ride we returned to our camp and enjoyed a pleasant breakfast before setting off on a mid-morning hike in a river basin at the base of the dunes.  

Somehow, as is common in multilingual settings, we experienced a major miscommunication on this hike. Our guide had informed our group that the hike in the river basin was a short 20 minutes in which we would follow that sandy gorge to a nearby bridge where our driver would pick us up. Thinking that this would be a pleasant quick trip, we piled into the Delico woefully unprepared.
Our driver dropped us off at a location near the river bed and pointed out which way the bridge was. 

We set off cheerfully and excited. After 45 minutes of trudging through small dunes and sandy river banks, we began to realize that the bridge was not around the next bend. The temperature rose quickly, and the sun was unbearable. A number of our group began to get overheated, and it was necessary to take rough precautions. I caked sandy mud on my calves to avoid sun burns and others dipped articles of clothing in the muddy river which was more of a stream. Armed against the heat, we set off again. After another 45 minutes when we had drank most of our water and realized that our situation was perhaps leaning in the direction of dire, we left the river for a ger camp about a kilometer across a plain of small head high mounds of sand. Once at the ger camp, it was easy to take advantage of Mongolian hospitality. The Mongolians at the camp sent someone on a motorbike off into the distance to locate our driver who was waiting at the bridge that was still 3 or 4 kilometers away.
Trudging by the River
While none of our group suffered too badly, it was awe inspiring to see how uninhabitable the desert can be even when you are walking along an oasis. We made the right choice by leaving the hike for shelter. It is important in these natural settings to respect nature and to quit while you still can. No doubt if we had not been led to believe the hike was only 20 minutes and had been prepared for a 3 hour trudge to the bridge, we would have prepared for it with water and appropriate clothing and probably been fine.

Once back in the comfort of our vehicle, we drove to a nearby spring that fed the oasis and relished the cool water and convenient cloud cover.  

The afternoon of this day was spent out of the heat in the comfort of our ger camp. A ger is a versatile dwelling that can stand all temperatures of Mongolia. In the hot summer, the lower sections of the felt wall can be lifted to allow a breeze to travel through the wooden framework. Some of our group spent the time napping and recovering for the heat, others including Sally, learned how to make rope the traditional way using camel hair.

In the evening, we piled into the Delico and drove to a location about 20 kilometers away where a wall of sand rose from the floor of the plains to a towering 600 ft and in some places may have reached 800 ft. We climbed up the steep side of the dune to catch the sun setting on the sands. It was absolutely beautiful. At the top we were on a narrow ridge only a foot or two wide that stretched seemingly endlessly in either direction. Climbing the dune was incredibly challenging; it was easiest to make the climb barefoot, but with each step you took your foot slipped a half step. Going down the dune was really fun. It was possible to  jump and run down the steep slope with little fear of injury, because the sand cushioned your fall. Climbing the Khongoryn Elys was a one of the kind adventure, and we may never see another mountain of sand that is comparable.
Attempted to do a little sand sledding

The third and final day of our tour took us to the Flaming Cliffs which are valued by Mongolians as one of the most beautiful sites in the country. It was a really neat view, but was a little
underwhelming if you have traveled in the American Southwest. I have been to many other places in Mongolia that I valued as more beautiful and unique. The Flaming Cliffs are also the site of a number of dinosaur finds which is a huge source of pride for the country and instrumental in the field of paleontology.  

 After the cliffs we headed west to a site of petroglyphs. Much of this portion of the journey was not on any sort of road. Our driver drove through open grassland occasionally asking directions at a lone ger. Soon we were at the base of a small range of mountains. We climbed up to the top of  a specific peak where people from as far back as the beginning of the bronze age (3000 B.C.) had carved pictures of animals and hunts into the black boulders that littered the mountain. The Petroglyphs experienced little damage from water erosion, so were still quite clear and distinct even though they were just scattered around a mountain side.

After viewing the markings of the ancients, we returned slowly to the capital of Omnigovi province in the early evening. From here our trip was a two day return journey from Dalanzadgad to Ulaanbaatar, and again from UB to Khentii.

I mentioned in the last post that traveling in Mongolia can be challenging. Even for our group of hardened PCVs, people who had spent two years in the country, it was a challenge. In our group several people suffered from heat exhaustion, but we were prepared with rehydration salts. Also, half of our group dealt with digestive issues of various sorts. On our last day as we were approaching DZ, I became aware that the khushur (Mongolian traditional food involving fried meat stuffed dough) from lunch was not agreeing with me. Never in my life since I gained dignity in continence have I been so close to losing it, and only a hazardous dash to a fuel station bathroom saved me.

That being said, our trip to the Gobi was amazing, and we really valued the opportunity to saw it. Sally and I have seen some amazing sites in this vast and beautiful country. We have traveled to the far western provinces, some of the central ones, and have explored a number of renowned sites in our own province. There is still much of Mongolia that we have not seen, but we will leave that for a return journey, someday in the distant future. For us, the Gobi was our last Mongolian expedition Now that we are back at site, much of our time will be spent preparing to leave our home and friends of two years.


No comments:

Post a Comment