Mongolia: Natural sights in Gobi Desert

by - February 18, 2019

This is part 2 of the post series about my previous trip to Mongolia.

For our one-week trip, we opted to explore Gobi desert. Even so, my mental image of Mongolia (probably from Chinese period soaps) was the green steppes and horses. So I was still taken aback as the green quickly gave way to earthly, dusty, barren colours as we rode away from the city. We explored the following natural sights along the way.

Tsargaan Suvarga or White Stupas

Tsargaan Suvarga or White Stupas was an ancient seabed that was formed naturally by the waters and winds. Now it is completely dry, a magnificent scarp with beautiful stripes of red and white, with clusters of sharp peaks that resemble stupas in land-locked Mongolia.

The hike down looked steep and scary, but the deep deep sand provided stability and peace of mind. We hiked down and explored the gentle peaks.

How strange that this place used to be the ocean!

Yolyn Am / Yol Valley

On day two, suddenly our surroundings turned back to green. We were on our way to Yol Valley, a pocket of cool oasis in the midst of Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.

We didn't expect to see summer glaciers here! Apparently direct sun never reaches this deep and narrow gorge, resulting in ice all year round. We ended up climbing on rocks and slipping on ice with our inappropriate shoes.

On the way from Yol Valley, suddenly the weather turned cold and it hailed, loud ice balls hammering down like crazy, making thundering thuds as it inundated the roof of our van. Ten minutes later, the weather turned back to normal.

Khongor sand dunes

Khongor sand dunes are the largest in Mongolia, some parts reaching up to 300m. But first, we went for a camel ride on the gravelly land next to the dunes. It was my first time to get up close and personal with these guys. They were very gentle animals but the way they walk made up a bumpy ride, I really enjoyed looking at their gorgeous eyelashes (to keep sand out) and natural eyeliners.

We passed by this pleasant calm waters where camels and goats took refuge and drank to their hearts' content.

Next, sand dunes climbing. It was completely grueling for my below-average fitness level. We climbed barefooted through the smooth and warm sand that is inclined upwards 30 - 40°. Every time I made one step, the sand yielded and it was reduced to half a step. 

After almost giving up, I finally made it even though I missed the sunset, and was rewarded by magnificent views of pink sand reflecting the fiery sky.

Khavtsgait petroglyphs

When our guide told us we're going to see some rock paintings, I thought we were going to an art gallery. But I was wrong. 

The hike looked steep but actually manageable, I'm glad I came back in one piece. 

These are ancient drawings made by ancient dwellers in the area. 


Bayanzag / The Flaming Cliffs 

This was a fun, if slightly daunting hiking experience, with its undulating and vast red and ocher landscape. I think this was my fave point of interest in Mongolia. So many interesting curves and contours which made it a great photo spot. I felt like little video-game characters.

We stayed to enjoy the dramatic sunset here.

Green steppes

On our second last day, we left the desert, browns, yellows and reds towards fertile green and blue en route to Ulaanbaatar. It was serene and peaceful.

We donned traditional costumes and went horse-riding, listening to our host and guide's folk singing as we rode quietly in the crisp air. Life was simple.

In the course of one week, the diversity of natural landscapes that we encountered was quite astounding. 

The earth was formed, wrinkled, sculpted meticulously, hardened, softened, painted in various colours and patterns, sprinkled with different materials like sand, dust, ice and grass; flaunting different kind of beauties and evoking different feelings. It was like an encounter with the Divine Artist.

Stay tuned for part three of the Mongolian series which will be about Ulaanbaatar, culture and food.

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