Mongolia and the Olympics - winning gold in Judo
Mongolia And The Olympics
July 26, 2021
Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes Mongolia
Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes Mongolia
July 27, 2021

bactrian camels walking in a the winter landscape of northern Mongolia

Camel Trekking Mongolia

The Gobi Desert is Asia’s largest desert – split between northern China and southern Mongolia. John Man is his book, Tracking the Gobi, mentions that Mongolia’s Gobi Desert  ‘offers a cross-section of this sweep of earth’s history.’  And yes, the Gobi is an ancient land but it only offers a hint at the flow of peoples that have crossed it. For centuries, up until the 1920s, the Gobi was traversed by camel caravans – mainly on the trade route between Urga (modern-day Ulaanbaatar – UB) and Beijing. It was also crossed in the 1920s by five ‘Central Asiatic Expeditions’expeditions led by scientist-explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. We think an extended camel trek is a truly ‘iconic’ Gobi experience and this historical connection is just one motivation behind our camel trekking experiences in Mongolia.

Bactrian camel - camel trekking in Mongolia

The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) has two humps, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel. Bactrian camels have served as pack animals in Mongolia for centuries such as on The Tea Road because of their tolerance for high altitude, cold, and also drought conditions. Their pale colour is better for reflecting the sun’s rays during the extreme heat of the summer months in the Gobi Desert and they have thin stomach hair – which lets the heat escape from their body. Look closely and you’ll see that they have two pairs of eyelashes that are extra long – designed to keep out the sand. They have tough teeth for chewing the thorniest desert plants. Camels also have dry poo and concentrated pee – to help conserve water. Airag is the famous Mongolian drink from horses – fermented mare’s milk. However, herders in the desert make a similar product with camel’s milk known as khoormog. Image: EL guest Kairi Aun

For one of our camel trekking experiences in Mongolia, we focus on Mongolia’s Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes – Mongolia’s highest dunes stretching for about 180km in length and 12km in width. We recommend a minimum of two days but for those with the time, we suggest a five-day trek as this gives you longer to explore the remote, little-visited southern side of the dunes. (Our camel treks are always vehicle supported so for those that need to can swap four legs for four wheels.) Previous guests have highlighted the colours in the evening sky, the stars, the cool early morning climb of the dunes and playing cards with our camel herder who acted as their camel guide. Not a single mention of stubborn camels or sore backsides.

You’re accompanied by a camel herder – someone who knows the area like the back of their hand. and someone that we work in long-term local community partnership with. The herder guide chooses the camps each night but the five-day camel trekking experience follows an approximate circuit route around the dunes. Locations include:

  • Seruun Bulag – a local spring.
  • Uujim Pass – the sand dunes are breached by a natural highway of low-lying sand and this north-south route has been in use for centuries. The prevailing winds blow away lightweight sand before it has a chance to lay down in deep drifts thereby preserving the route.
  • Mount Zoolon – the sand dunes are ‘squeezed’ between  the Bayan Tsagaan Mountains to the north and the Zoolon and Sevrey Mountains on the south.
  • Zuun Shurguul – a dense Gobi forest of saxsaul trees and tall grasses
Wolf prints - camel trekking Mongolia, Gobi Desert

Wolf prints outside our tent during one of our five-day camel trekking experiences in Mongolia

Welfare Of The Camels

Although we can’t answer for other herders or companies, we know that the families we work in long-term local community partnership with – including the one we arrange our camel trek through – care about the health and welfare of their camels.  Although there is no room for sentimentality on the Mongolian steppe, the herders are not cruel as their livestock are their insurance policy.

You will see that for the camel treks the camels will have nose pegs. Nose pegs are not just used in Mongolia or other developing countries. Western countries such as Australia also predominantly use nose pegs for their riding camels.

All livestock in Mongolia are free ranging including riding camels. This means they are free to roam and graze.  Riding camels are brought in the evening before or morning of the trek from their grazing grounds. Once the trek is finished, the camels are free to roam again. Because of this freedom, all camels used for riding (whether by the herder, another Mongolian or a westerner,) have nose pegs. Without them, it would not be possible to control a camel as a rope or line is attached to the nose peg and used to control the camel’s neck and head movements, hence the overall body movements of the camel.

We ask for travellers to have an open mind and an inkling to understanding the situation in Mongolia.

 

We included a five-day camel trekking experience in our Wild Gobi Research experience. This is what participant Sovay Berriman thought of the experience:

‘Six Mongolian Bactrian camels took us across the foot hills of the mighty sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, led by Bagi, a local herder and, our guide.  The dunes of Khongoryn Els sweep up against Zöölön Uul, a mountain range that is at the easterly reach of the Gobi Altai. You could say the dunes were a mountain range themselves. They are mammoth, the highest peak of sand being approximately 300m. They present the stereotypical beauty I think of in relation to a desert; sweeping lines and sharp contrasting forms lit by an unforgiving sun. There is certainly a beauty here…’

Thousand Camel Festival winter camel trek

Learn more about Mongolia’s Gobi Desert here or here. Alternatively, get in touch for further details on our camel trekking experiences in Mongolia.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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