Our tour of the Gobi desert

Our tour of the Gobi desert

In July 2014 we took a week tour through the Mongolian Gobi Desert, booked through Sunpath Hostel (our base in Mongolia).

Super French and UK hit the Gobi desert

Super French and UK posing in the Gobi desert

The Gobi desert is the world’s 5th largest desert and the largest one in Asia.

It endures extreme temperatures getting the cold Siberian –40°C wind in the winter months rising to as much as +50°C in the summer.

Unfortunately there are no roads, just dirt tracks like the ones behind us in this photo:

Posing in the Gobi desert

Posing in the Gobi desert

As a result, the only way to see the Gobi desert is by going on a tour with a sturdy car and good driver who knows how to fix the wheel when it falls off:

Wheel breakdown during tour

Wheel falling off during our tour

We travelled with fellow travel bloggers Claire McHale (ontheroadwithclaire) and Djena and Thomas (17moissansfromage):

Silly Gobi fun with fellow travel bloggers

Silly Gobi fun with fellow travel bloggers

Unlike what we initially thought, the Gobi desert is not just sand dunes and dry terrain (like Sahara desert).  It is also a variety of greenery, mountains and rock:

Horses bathing in the Gobi desert

Horses bathing in the Gobi desert

The Gobi desert landscape

The Gobi desert landscape

Mountainous terrain with some left over winter ice at Yolyn Am in the Gobi desert

Mountainous terrain with some left over winter ice at Yolyn Am in the Gobi desert

The Gobi desert was one of the highlights of our travels so far because the varied landscape was just incredible.

During our week tour of the Gobi desert, not one day was ever the same.

We enjoyed taking photos of the landscape, learnt a lot about camels and also about how the Mongolian nomadic families live.

The Landscape:

Tsagaan Tsuvraga

The Tsagaan Tsuvraga (“white stupa”) is a formation of rocky cliffs that are composed of different ores that when exposed to oxygen turn different colours.  There are pinks, reds and oranges in the rocks.  The cliffs have been eroded naturally over millions of years giving them many layers.

As a result, the Tsagaan Tsuvraga looks stunning – like something you have never seen before.

For us it looks like what we imagine the surface of Mars to look like:

Tsagaan Suvraga

Tsagaan Suvraga

Seb posing at Tsagaan Suvraga

Seb posing at Tsagaan Suvraga

Our shadows posing at Tsagaan Suvraga

Our shadows posing at Tsagaan Suvraga

The Bayanzag flaming cliffs

The Bayanzag are a group of red / orange sandstone cliffs famous for the discovery of important fossils.  In 1922, the famous American palaeontologist, Roy Chapman Andrew, discovered the first nest of dinosaur eggs here and unearthed over 100 dinosaurs.

This made it particularly interesting – walking around what is effectively, a valley of dinosaurs, and imagining that millions of years ago, these large animals used to roam here:

The Bayanzag flaming cliffs

The Bayanzag flaming cliffs

The Bayanzag cliffs are also called the “Flaming Cliffs” because they look like they are on fire when the sun shines on them.

Bayanzag flaming cliffs

Bayanzag flaming cliffs

Where's Sebastien hiding?

Where’s Sebastien hiding?

The Khongoryn Els singing sand dunes

The Khongoryn Els are Mongolia’s largest group of sand dunes, and one of the few areas of sand dune formations in the Gobi desert.  They are up to 300m high and stretch forever.

They are also called, “Duut Mankhan”, meaning, “Singing Dunes” because of the sound they make when the sand is moved by the wind.

It’s quite fun trying to climb/walk up the sand dune – one step forward, two steps sliding back:

The Khongoryn Els sand dunes

The Khongoryn Els sand dunes

And then running back down them, you land in the really soft sand, feeling like an astronaut in space:

Stef jumping at the Khongoryn Els sand dunes

Stefan jumping down the Khongoryn Els sand dunes

The dunes were also fun for making sand angels:

Seb making a sand angel at the Khongoryn Els sand dunes

Sebastien making a sand angel at the Khongoryn Els sand dunes

We also found the dunes to be a great backdrop and base for our early morning circuit exercises.  And, we even picked up (literally) a fellow travel blogger to join in:

Working out with fellow travel blogger Claire

Working out with fellow travel blogger Claire

Camels of the Gobi desert

Mongolian nomadic families living in the Gobi desert usually own a small herd of camels.

Mongolian camels (“bactrian”) have two humps and are able to tolerate the extreme weather conditions of the Gobi ranging from freezing cold to extreme heat.  

The nomadic family we stayed with at Khongoryn Els had a group of camels.

Camel sunset photo at Khongoryn Els

Camel sunset photo at Khongoryn Els

Camels are extremely cute animals (it’s the eyelashes and the ears), but they are particularly photogenic with a sunset backdrop:

A camel admiring the sunset at Khongoryn Els

A camel admiring the sunset at Khongoryn Els

Mongolian camels can go without water for up to 2 months and when water becomes available they can drink up to 57 litres at once.  A well fed camel will have plump and erect humps.  A hungry camel’s humps shrink and lean to the side.

We watched (and highly recommend) the film, “The Story of the Weeping Camel” about a camel rejecting her baby colt and the nomadic family’s efforts to reunite the two to prevent the baby colt from dying.  This film involves the family trying to find a good violinist to soothe the mother camel to help her accept her colt.

At Khongoryn Els we watched this violinist perform a similar song to soothe the camels and put them to sleep, which also included throat singing:

Camel ride in the Gobi desert:

Naturally, staying with a nomadic family with camels, gave us the opportunity to spend lots of time befriending them and then riding them through the desert:

Stefan bonding with Cecilia the camel at Khongoryn Els

Stefan bonding with Cecilia the camel at Khongoryn Els

Riding camels through the sand dunes at Khongoryn Els

Riding camels through Khongoryn Els in the Gobi desert

Posing and riding our camels through the Gobi desert at Khongoryn Els

Posing and riding our camels through the Gobi desert at Khongoryn Els

Staying with nomadic families

Mongolia is fascinating because whilst being such a vast area of land, it only has 3 million people, over half of which reside in its capital city, Ulan Bator.

Those residing outside the capital, like in the Gobi desert, usually live in a ger (or otherwise known as a yurt) with their large flock of animals (varying from goats, horses, camels, yaks, sheep and cows).

Nomadic goat herder on his horse

Nomadic goat herder on his horse in the Gobi desert

Gers can easily be dismantled to enable the families to move and live somewhere else.

There is gernerally no land ownership in Mongolia so the nomadic families are free to set their gers up wherever they wish.

During our week tour of the Gobi desert, we were fortunate to stay with nomadic families in their gers:

Seb posing by the nomadic family's gers

Seb posing by the nomadic family’s gers

Stefan posing in a ger

Stefan posing in a ger

As usual, we made every effort to charm and impress the nomadic families we stayed with:

Sebastien using his French charm to impress this nomadic mother

Sebastien using his French charm to impress this nomadic mother

Stefan stealing the nomadic family's freshly made khuushuur (fried mutton dumplings)

Stefan stealing the nomadic family’s freshly made khuushuur (fried mutton dumplings)

(We had of course attempted to camp but this turned out to be a complete disaster when Stefan tried to set up the tent – a blessing in disguise as it meant staying longer with the nomadic families):

Stefan trying to set up tent to camp in

Stefan trying to set up tent to camp in

Despite all our efforts to charm the nomadic families we stayed with, we were nonetheless really fortunate to watch this nomadic mother singing this song to us before bedtime:

We really enjoyed admiring the Gobi desert, but by the end of our tour, we welcomed our return to Ulan Bator for a hot shower and to watch Mongolia’s famous Naadam festival.

I love Gobi graffiti

I love Gobi graffiti

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7 Comments

  1. Andrew

    How beautiful that the mother sang you to sleep. What an amazing adventure that week must have been

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for your comment Andrew. Yes that was defininitely a highlight. Unfortunately we struggled to reciprocate and only later realised that we could have sung traditional camping songs (like kumbaya etc) in return.

      Reply
  2. Kathy & Alexis

    This is great! Definitely an inspiration. We could use some tips on how you structure your blog- very accessible and easy to navigate!

    Looking forward to keeping up with your travels,

    K&A

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thank you for your comment – we also like the look of your blog which are checking out now. Have you any plans to visit Mongolia soon?

      Reply
  3. Leox

    the photos are so beautiful and joyful ~ somehow, i can feel the joy through the photos, it is amazing! and i love the ice one especially
    i learn so much after reading your article, not only about Gobi, but also about how to have fun.

    tell Super French that he should fly into the air 🙂
    enjoy your journey O(∩_∩)O~~

    looking forward to your next post~

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Leox! Glad you liked. Super French is now flying high above the Chinese skies thinking what to write for his adventures in Beijing 🙂

      Reply
      • Leox

        Looking forward to your new post (੭ु•̀_•́)੭ु

        Reply

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