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Published: October 15th 2010
If you asked us two weeks ago what the meaning of 'luxury' was, we probably would have said 'a Porche' or 'dinner at a Michelin starred resturant'
By the time we arrived back in Ulanbatar after our ten day Gobi Desert tour, luxury meant running water and a toilet.
This was the first time we have booked on to a tour of any sort but we didn't have much time to do research about Mongolia and had only 12 days before our departing train to Beijing. We signed up for a 1800km whirl around the desert in a bumpy Russian Jeep with two other passengers, a tour guide/cook and the driver.
We were really fortunate with our group. The distance and style of accommodation meant that we were always in pretty close proximity to each other - a clash of personalities could have made it unbearable! Luckily we were teamed with a colourful Belgium guy of the same age and a sweet natured Korean girl, who after only a few hours looked at me and whispered softly 'I need a shower now' From that moment on, I knew I had an ally who would share my pain of
Chris & Thomas heading into the dunes
the 'greasy hair days'
Our tour was pretty standard and took us to basically the same attractions that every other tour seemed to be stopping at. We were worried that each stop would be overrun with tourists. What were we thinking!? This is the desert! There is plenty of room. During the ten days, we only saw other Western tourists on two or three occassions.
The pictures speak for themselves but the definate highlights were:
• The Khongoryn Els sand dunes, otherwise known as the 'Singing Sands' Probably one of the most evocative and beautiful places we have been in the last few years. At the top, you have the most amazing views of the sand mountains below, surrounding desert, grazing camels and occasional ger camp in the distance. It made the hike to the top worth the effort. Fortunately for us, there was no breeze in the late afternoon so that we hiked to the top our movements on the sand created the deep rumbling sound that give the dunes its name. It was definitely the best travel moment we have had on this trip so far.
• Dismounting the camel after our trek. The
beasts that we rode spent the best part of their lives eating the wild chives that grow in the desert. They spent the entire trek spitting green foam and trying to outdo each other in a fiercely competitive burping and farting competition. We were GAGGING for air. This was the fourth time I have sat on top of a camel. The novelty has well and truly worn off - NEVER AGAIN!
• Sunset at Bayan-Zag, otherwise known as the 'Flaming Cliffs' The colours before the moon came up were beautiful.
• Watching the mirages appear as we bumped our way though the desert. The feeling of being absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Nothing to see in any direction, as far as the eye can see. Not something I want to do again but definitely worth doing once. On same days we spent so long bouncing around in the jeep that we became absolutely hysterical, laughing at the strangest things. Must have been all that clean desert air.
• Watching the old ladies milking their herd of camels at sunset.
• The drive out to the second Ger where we did a short horse trek. The
road took us through a deep river valley filled with hundreds of grazing horses and family gers.
Thousands of stars in the desert sky. Haven't seen such a good star scape since being in rural New Zealand.
• Playing games with the Mongolian children at our first ger. The were the most beautifully behaved kids, who picked up the game so quickly. We had such a great night, even though the only shared vocabulary was 'hello'. Hand gestures and facial expressions can communicate so much.
• The last family that we stayed with were the most genuinely friendly people we met on the road. I wish I could have talked to them to learn more about their lives.
• Watching some of the biggest birds ever, taking flight and soaring above us. No photos could never capture the moment.
• Long drops and no running water. These loo's were always situated at least 50m away from the ger. Each gers has at least one huge guard dog that protect the sheep, camels and goats at night. The call of nature in the middle of the night was a bit traumatic for me! The shower and toilet
in our guesthouse in Ulanbattar really felt like luxury in comparison!
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