Oh, how we LOVE Mongolia’s 4×4 Furgon van. Actually, they are Russian and also known as UAZ (УАЗ) and wherever your Mongolian journey takes you you will more than likely come across a UAZ en route.
(In fact, we love our Furgons at Eternal Landscapes enough that we even make birthday cakes in the same design.)
The Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod is produced in Ulyanovsk, Russia. (UAZ is an initialism for ‘Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod’ which translates to “Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant.’ The factory is based in Ulyanovsk, Russia and started production in 1941 as part of the Soviet war effort.)
Mongolia is the size of Western Europe and out of a total of 50,000km of roads in Mongolia (give or take a few km), in 2018 only around 1/5th were tarmac (asphalt) paved roads and they don’t have a long lifespan. A majority connect the provincial capitals/centres to Ulaanbaatar – the capital city. Otherwise, apart from mining development, nearly all other roads are gravel and dirt roads.
The state of Mongolia’s roads are just one reason why Mongolia’s 4×4 Furgon van has obtained huge popularity – almost legendary status (and rightly so) – among off-road enthusiasts thanks to its reputation as a very reliable and capable 4×4 with impressive off-road capability as well as a high-wheel base.
One of the main reasons our superb team of Mongolian drivers love the UAZ is its deliberately simple design, which allows for easy maintenance and repairs. The Furgon/UAZ is produced in several modifications, with the main difference being the body type – the exact configuration varies depending on the specific modification. There are two separate fuel tanks.
They are superbly durable vehicles – there is a saying that ‘a UAZ will break down where no other car can go’ – referring to their reliability. Part of the joy of a Mongolian road trip is experiencing the mechanical talents of your driver – most UAZ drivers are equally as happy under the vehicle as driving the vehicle. Tim Severin wrote that vehicles are kept running by a process called ‘Mongolisation’ which describes the salvage and modification of any spare part from whatever source – ask anyone who has undertaken a long-distance trip and for sure they will have a tale about how their vehicle was fixed with a piece of wire or rope picked up from the road. Owen Lattimore noticed of his driver that:
‘Like so many Mongols, used from childhood to coaxing and controlling live things and to adaptation and makeshift in keeping camp equipment and travelling gear in working order, he had a talent for machinery that only needed opportunity.’
As well as the impressive off-road capability, the Furgon 4×4 van are spacious and well-ventilated with ample luggage space, a sociable layout, and surrounding side windows. In addition, each EL vehicle has its own simple mobile kitchen, its own sunshade, and charging facilities. For cold days, it has an excellent heater.
Our Furgon vans also act as excellent support vehicles for our mountain biking experiences or treks where we don’t use pack animals.
We know that a majority of companies now use domestic flights from getting from A to B via C – ticking off a list of ‘must-see’ sights en-route. But as well as the environmental impact (emissions per kilometer for domestic flights are always much higher because such a large proportion of the flight is spent taking off and landing) we focus on slow travel – on making connections with people, places, and the Mongolian culture – incorporating road trips into our experiences. Travelling across the country slows you down and gives you time to experience the ‘places in-between’, the places and communities not actually mentioned in the guidebooks. It allows for a slower-paced more immersive experience.
Another reason we use Mongolia’s 4×4 Furgon van is for the drivers. Here at EL, every experience we research, design, and offer helps to create long-term employment opportunities and provide long-term support to a range of Mongolian people and families as well as projects that focus on improving life in Mongolia. As part of our philosophy, we don’t outsource the logistics of our trips to those already working the tourism circuit. Instead, we want to show that everyone has great potential and so we invest – nurturing our own local operations and providing long-term employment opportunities to those often overlooked by other companies and supporting them in their aim to be the best they can be.
We currently employ 9 drivers (Bataa, Hasaa, Sodo, Nymka, Unuruu, Bayaraa, Nymama, Ganba and Sandag) plus two city / short transfer drivers (Lkhagva and Idre). And Turuu (my business partner) still drives on certain tours as well. We know each one and their family personally. They are not modern city men – they are more traditional men (often from rural areas) and are now often overlooked by other tour companies who prefer younger more international Mongolians who speak English. We wanted to provide equal opportunities and so as our trip assistants are female and typically younger with a more modern outlook, so our drivers are all male, older, and from more traditional backgrounds. We find it is a partnership that works well.
Yes, their English is limited and they are of the ‘strong and silent’ type but their role is to handle the Mongolian roads and not to converse fluently in a multitude of languages. Our ‘boys’ have superb driving skills, are expert mechanics, and are supremely talented at the skill of ‘mongolclokh’ – improvising the Mongolian way. Their skill and improvisation are a joy to watch. Take the time to know them and you’ll see why we employ them and why they are an essential part of our EL family and great, all-round men.
So those are some of the reasons we continue to use Mongolia’s 4×4 Furgon vans – for the vehicles themselves as well as for the long-term employment opportunities they provide. We consider time on the Mongolian road as a highlight – an integral part of your Mongolian journey. We always recommend removing your watch, keeping an open mind, and letting the day and the journey unfold. Instead of spending time in the van thinking ‘when will we get there’- readjust your thinking as you are already there; surrounded by the spectacular beauty that is Mongolia. It’s all part of the journey and it might lead you to whole new experiences. After all, some of the best memories are formed by unexpected encounters and unplanned moments.
As we say in Mongolia: Sain Yavaarai – Journey Well.
If you are interested in travelling with us in Mongolia, take a look at the range of Mongolian experiences we offer.