The Gobi Desert (although there’s no need to put ‘desert’ after it as in Mongolian ‘Говь’ is the word for desert) is the fifth-largest desert in the world. What makes the Gobi Desert so incredibly spectacular is the vastness of the landscapes especially the gravel plains that have been crossed for centuries by humans moving between its wells, springs and oases. Research suggests that the Mongol Army cut through the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan on their way south.
So how to introduce you to this immensity that is the Gobi Desert? What better way than through the words of authors, EL guests, a US based non-profit organisation and a few 20th century explorers. All the images are by our guests or the EL team as well.
‘The Gobi Desert seems like earth reduced to its most basic elements: rock, sky, glaring sunlight and little else. The apparent emptiness is both compelling and intimidating. But the Gobi is not empty, it is filled with space, sky, history and landscapes.’
‘The word gobi denotes a desert or a waterless place but doesn’t really mean anything by itself. The Mongolians have many descriptive words for types of gobi, like the Eskimo and Scandinavians with their words for snow. There are supposed to be thirty-three Mongolian words for gobi – such as gravel, sand, bare earth, rock, mountain, dune, watering place, and those describing various types of vegetation. The ancient Gobi was more like an East African savannah – long grasses and some trees, with lakes and marshes. Successive waves of drought turned it into the more barren land it is today.’
John Man, Tracking The Gobi
‘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. ‘With the rising of the moon the desert takes on its most captivating appearance, and though the long hours while she travels from one side of the horizon to the other she has her own way with human imagination, softening the austere outlines and investing the barest formations with subtle charm. She is mistress of magic and with one touch can turn the wilderness into a dream world.’
Mildred Cable and Francesca French, The Gobi Desert
‘ There is certainly a beauty here, however, it is the gravel plains of the Gobi that stop my heart and leave my mind gaping in painful awe. The plains feel harsh, presenting a seeming endless barren desolation that is difficult to comprehend. Yet I sit and gaze into their expansive horizon, as I do into my evening fire, seeing nothing and everything in the vastness of this place. Each time we stop and I look around it takes a while for me to recover from the immensity and seduction of it all, and from the knowledge that I could not survive here unsupported.’
Sovay Berriman, EL guest
‘The Gobi will make you question everything you thought you knew about the desert. It will strip the layers of expectation, familiarity and ‘seen it all before’ mentality from the harshest of critics. No longer will you compartmentalise landscapes into preconceived boxes. ‘The ground was speckled with tuffs of grass, livestock were huddled around a ger and there were drops of water obscuring my view. RAIN?! Barren rocky outcrops, glistening natural springs bordered by lush green trees, wind swept dunes and blazing sunsets amongst the ghosts of prehistoric creatures. From the furgon, the back of a camel and on foot I moved through these changing scenes like the sole actress on a deserted film set.
The remoteness lends itself to a sense of freedom and unconscious ownership. Just when you feel an element of power over the landscape, mother earth will remind you of your perilous position in the world. This tap on the shoulder came to me deep in the middle of the night. The wind embraced the tent with the full force of a bear hug, using my body as a barrier against the side bending to it’s demands, I felt as minuscule as an ant in the wide open steppe.’
Megan Greentree, EL guest
‘Like a fairy city, it is ever-changing. In the flat light of midday the strange forms shrink and lose their shape, but when the sun is low the Flaming Cliffs assume a deeper red and a wild and mysterious beauty lies with the purple shadows in every canyon.’
Roy Chapman Andrews, The New Conquest Of Central Asia)
And one of my favourites, from my on first trip to the Gobi Desert with Turuu as lead driver back in the days of yore.
Jess: When was the Gobi a sea? Turuu: Back when I was a fish.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes