True Gobi and Heartland – On The Road Update

Expectations Of Travelling In Mongolia
June 28, 2013
On The Road Update
July 11, 2013
A quick review of one of our most recent tailor made trips 

I write this in Bulgan Hotel in Bulgan Province in northern Mongolia (copy and paste is a glorious invention!). It is a delightful hotel which very much reminds me of the BBC series ‘Fawlty Towers’ – especially the antlers on the wall, the stern faced manager and the showers that when the tank is ready with hot water play a medley of Christmas songs starting with Jingle Bells. Today, June 26th, is the day of the Presidential elections here in Mongolia and Turuu and I are watching the results with interest (currently 63% of the population have voted with results still to come in  from the western aimags of Khovd, Bayan-Olgii and Uvs which are one hour behind Ulaan Baatar). 

We are currently on our Untamed Mongolia group itinerary but as I had the time to sit and write, so I thought I would put together a brief update on our last trip – on May 26th we welcomed our True Gobi and Heartland guests to Mongolia. They arrived on the 13.15 from Beijing – the morning had started out damp and cold but by late lunchtime the sun was warming the day.
The Trans-Siberian
Traditionally in Mongolia, where possible, your journey should always go in a clockwise direction – just like within a monastery, a ger or when circling one of the sacred stone shrines that here in Mongolia are called ovoos. So, as tradition states we started off heading south to the vast expanse of the Gobi. The heat was welcome as on May 27th Ulaan Baatar and the surrounding Tov Aimag experienced a snowstorm – we were returning from a day visit to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and entered into the city to find total gridlock – it took Turuu 5 and a half hours to travel 80km!

Gorkhi Terelj (prior to the snowfall that brought chaos to UB!)
We found peace, quiet and warmth camping within the sacred granite rock formations of Baga Gazriin Chuluu. From there we travelled south and another of our camp locations was at Bayanzag – famously known as the ‘Flaming Cliffs’.

The Gobi is a glorious wide-open space of huge extremes and its plateaus (including Bayanzag) can be starkly bleak, windswept and yet beautiful. To Mongolians, Bayanzag means ‘rich in zag’ – the Gobi shrub that we know as Saxaul. Bayanzag is an ancient eroded rock formation where were discovered some of the most notable dinosaur fossils of the 1920’s by Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions. Why is it named the Flaming Cliffs? In the words of Roy Chapman Andrews himself:
En-route to Bayanzag – where land and sky meet
‘From  our tents we looked down into a vast pink basin, studded with giant buttes like strange beasts carved from sandstone. One of them we named the dinosaur, for it resembles a strange Brontosaurus sitting on its haunches. There appear to be medieval castles with spires and turrets, brick-red in the evening light, colossal gateways, walls and ramparts. Caverns run deep into the rock and a labyrinth of ravines and gorges studded with fossil bones make a paradise for a palaeontologist.  One great sculptured wall we named the ‘Flaming Cliffs’, for when seen in early morning or late afternoon sunlight it seemed to be a mass of glowing fire.’
 (And yes, we were lucky enough that for us, the cliffs did indeed put on a display of colour.)

 From there we headed to Khongoryn Els sand dunes.  June 1stis Mother and Children’s Day and celebrated throughout Mongolia. We passed through Bulgan sum in the southern Gobi and as well as a refreshing water melon, a battery charger and a kilo of apples. we picked up some small gifts for Maam and her two daughters Barkhas and Uransanaa.
Happiness in the Gobi!

Leslie had mentioned that as a weaver she liked to connect through her hands. At Khongoryn Els, we spent the evening once the sun had set in the family ger attempting to make camel hair rope as they use in the construction of their gers.  A whole heap of patience and quite a lot of spit was required.

The ‘heartland’ part of the True Gobi and Heartland included a stay at Ulaan Tsutgalan also know as Orkhon Waterall, at the Khogno  Khan Nature Reserve as well as a night in the modern town of Kharkhorin (once the capital city of Ogodei Khan – Karakorum and the site for Mongolia’s oldest monastery – Erdene Zuu). Here we stayed with our friend Gaya and we spent an enjoyable evening making (or in my case, failing miserably to make) Mongolian dumplings. There was very much an exchange of information and skills that evening as Leslie passed on to Gaya the art of needle felting and the making of the cutest of soaps wrapped in wool.
Mongolia’s Buddhist heritage

Our last port of call was Khustain Nuruu National Park – we arrived in the afternoon so that Leslie and Ken could enjoy the flexibility to explore and hike on their own. They were privileged enough to see over 36 Takhi – the wild horse also known as Przewaslskii.

(Takhi are social animals – living in harems of between 4 to 20 individuals (including a leading stallion, mares and offspring). Each harem has its own range where they spent up to 95% of their time.)

Before returning to our campsite on the outskirts of the national park we spotted Siberian Marmots close to their burrows – using rocks as vantage points to check for the enemy – birds of prey. In fact, it was quite a trip for wildlife as we had also spotted White Tailed Gazelle in the Gobi and on the outskirts of Khustain.

And that in just over a nutshell was our True Gobi and Heartland Discovered. By June 28th we will be back in UB to say good-bye to our current guests before welcoming those travelling with us on our Journey Among Nomads June 29th departure. Yes, I will be posting a full update on our Untamed Mongolia and Journey Among Nomads trips both here and on our Facebook page sofeel free to stop by and pay a visit if you have the time. For now, thanks for listening and I wish you were here.

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