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Published: August 28th 2019
‘Actually the Gobi isn’t a desert at all’, says Chimeg, ‘it is a semi-desert.’
Chimeg is our guide. She will guide us during our one week trip across the Gobi desert.
And she is right. The pictures you usually see make you believe that Gobi desert consists of sand dunes. That is misleading. The sand dunes are only a little part of the Gobi desert. Very photogenic indeed, but the Gobi is mainly a monotonous steppe, frightening even as you can easily lose your bearings. Sometimes you may even ask yourself what for you are here actually.
Well, we come here to see the Flaming cliffs, the spot where Roy Chapman Andrews found his dinosaurs, to see the ancient rock carvings and the ice filled gorge at Yolin Am. These are the hotspots of the Gobi, which make it worthwile to travel hours over bumpy terrain. Luckily we have a good driver, called Bayara, who doesn’t take any risk, apart from driving with a speed of 80 km/hour across the steppes.
Now and then larks fly up in front of the car. Sometimes we see sandgrouses and agama lizards. And the more we go to the south, the dryer
it becomes. Goats, sheep and horses are everywhere, but the cows disappear. It’s not their habitat. Too dry. Instead we see more and more Bactrian camels. Not the wild ones ofcourse, which were described by Przewalski and which turned out to be a complete different species. Old buddhist temple
After three hours driving we arrive at our first stop at Baga Gazriin Chuluu in Dundgov area, a mountain range which originated 200 million years ago. The desert wind has eroded the stones. Some are completely round. We pass the ruines of a 17th century buddhist temple, called Sudutiin Am. It was destroyed by the communists in 1936. Afterwards it was rebuilt as a youth camp, tells Chimeg, but again destroyed, this time by a storm.
In between stand birches and Mongolian almond bushes.Mongolians don’t eat almonds. Sheep and goats do, says Chimeg. She knows a lot of her country. We make a short hike around the area. The stones have a orange color. In between are succulents and needlegrass.
Higher op there is a piramid of stones. It’s called an ovoo, says Chimeg. You have to walk three times around it and put a stone on it. It
has to do with shamanism. When I ask if she is shamanist, she says shamanist and buddhist, but in the first place shamanist. In shamanism one cares about nature. During our trip she always picks up rubbish, left by other people in nature.
That night we sleep at Erdene-Ukhaa, a nice ger camp with a good restaurant and excellent showers. Yoliin Am
The day after we drive to Dalanzadgad. It takes 7 hours, first 50 kilometers off road and then 300 kilometers over asphalt. It is a nice city, the capital of Ömnögov. We visit the South Gobi Museum, which has some dinosaur stuff, but it is quite childish. We stay that night in The Gobi Sands Hotel. Rather luxurous and expensive. I must say in fact all Mongolia has become expensive compared with some years ago.
It’s about one hour driving to Yoliin Am. The altitude is 1500 – 2000 meter. It’s a gorge famous for its ice sheets. But since some years the ice has disappeared. So nowadays it’s just a gorge. Above some big birds of prey are making their circles. I think it to be lammergeyers. Maybe they are looking fort the
Mongolian pika’s, little rabbits who come out of their holes and make a whistling sound to warn eachother for danger. They survive in a rather poor environment. That’s why they have special bacteria in their intestines, which can fix nitrogen. With this nitrogen the pica’s can make their proteins. Higher up an Ibex family with their youngs is walking over the rocks.
There are some plants we saw before, like Aster, Onion and Lady’s bedstraw. But there are also new ones. Chimeg helps us to find the names: Rumex, Columbines, Junipers, which grow as bushes, and many more (see the pictures).
The museum at the entrance of the park is far better than the South Gobi Museum in Dalanzadgad. There are displays on the Gobi bear (40 specimens in 2016), the Wild camel (1000 specimens in the world of which 320 in the Gobi) and the Khulan, which is a subspecies of the onager (the Asiatic wild ass). Special attention is paid for the deadworm. No one knows if it exists, but beware: if you meet the monster, he will kill you with its venom. Naadam festival
We missed the Naadam festival in Ulaanbatar, but here
in Dalanzadgad we get the opportunity to see it. During the opening ceremony some people get a medal. To promote to get children, you get a medal when you have two children, says Chimeg. When you have four kids, you get two medals.
There are actors who sing and dance. Everyone has beautiful traditional costumes. Also some people in the public. There is a strong wind, taking sand and hats in the air. Ten women compete with archery. The men are wrestling. They give their hats to a referee, turn several times around him. And begin to walk with slow heavy steps and swaying their arms like a bird of prey.
While the women are arching and the men wrestling, a horse race is going on. Six to ten years old children are the drivers. We can see them at the horizon where a dust cloud is coming nearer. The winning drivers, horses and trainers get a medal and some money. After the horsedrivers have finished, everyone drives off road home, leaving such a dust storm behind that we need to do our mouth caps on.
The festivities came to an end late at night with a nice Mongolian
rockband and fireworks. We could see it from the window of our hotel. Rock paintings, Trees and Dinosaurs
It is not easy to find the petroglyphs of Khavtsgait. The rock paintings are 3000 – 8000 years old. Baiara and Chimeg are discussing where they are. Finally we discover them. We have to climb the dolorite rocks. There are a lot: deer, ibexes, ceremonies, masks, horses… There must be even somewhere an ostrich. We couldn’t find the ostrich though.
From there it is about one hour driving to the Saksaul forest. The Saksaul is the only tree in the Gobi desert. It is fully adapted to the drought by having no leaves, and extended roots both horizontal as vertical.
The Flaming Cliffs is the last hotspot we visit today. They have a orange color. It is the spot where Roy Chapman found dinosaurs and specially the first dinosaur eggs ever. We also begin to dig in the ground. When a stone sticks to your tongue, it is a fossil bone, says Chimeg. Several of them stick indeed, so apparently we found some dinosaur bones.
To enter the Flaming Cliffs you have to pay. There are some
stallions where they sell touristic stuff. Special are the geodes and other stones and tools from the stone age (10.000 years old). I buy a root of a tamarisk. The locals put money in it and seeds, says Chimeg. It brings fortune. Mandalgov
We leave Dalanzadgad via the ‘Highway’. After two hours driving northwards we turn into the steppes. From there it takes one hour to reach the White Cliffs. Actually the name White Cliffs is not right. They are not white at all. I have seldom seen such a colorfull landscape: from yellow, via green and orange to dark red. It’s a jaw dropping landscape.
Chimeg has arranged a hotel in Mandalgov, the Buz Hotel. Clean and with a nice restaurant. Back in Ulaanbatar
It takes four hours from Mandalgov to Ulaanbatar. In Lotus Guesthouse we say goodbuy to Chimeg and Bayara. They did a wonderfull job. We stay just one day in Ulaanbatar to recover and to buy presents in the Department store for he people at home. The day after we’ll fly back via Moscow to Amsterdam.
In case you are looking for a guide in the Goby here are some
Our guide Chimeg has a website: www.classicjourneys-mongolia.com
. We can recommend her. She is responsible, speaks English and knows a lot of her country.
You can mail her via: email@example.com
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