As you could read in our previous post, we were a bit unfortunate in Mongolia, but that didn’t prevent us from enjoying this magnificently beautiful country. Mongolia is one of those mesmerizing countries you can drive through and look out of the window in awe for hours and hours without getting bored.
Day 1 – following Ghenghis Khan. After stocking up on lots of fruits and vegetables in Ulaan Bataar (UB) as they are crazy expensive or impossible to find outside of the capital, we headed eastwards. The moment we left the city, we were instantly hit by Mongolia’s beauty: rolling green hills, blue skies, the occasional white ger, and sheep and horses running free.
Our first stop was the massive equestrian statue of Ghenghis Khan, built in 2008 to celebrate 800 years of the foundation of the Mongolian empire. It is one of the biggest statues in the world (though smaller than Mother Russia we saw in Volgograd), and climbing to the top left us breathless – and that not only because of the nice amount of steps we did.
After this must-see stop, we set off to a less touristy destination: the Blue Lake (Kokh Nuur). It is the place where Ghenghis Khan was corronated and became the Khaan of Khans. Being a Ghenghis Khan-fan, Manolo had been dreaming of visiting this place for a while. Though the lake itself is nothing special, there is a commemorative monument with totems of Ghenghis Khan and all the Khans reigning after him, where it is difficult not to feel history come alive.
Walking distance from the lake, there was a ger camp where we stayed the night. Even though the Blue Lake is not normally visited by foreigners, it is clearly a popular holiday destination for Mongolians, as the ger camp was quite big and full of Mongolians having a good time, which meant we would get the full Mongolian experience during our first day already.
Day 2 – a visit to the belly button of the earth. The next morning, we set off to another non-standard tourist place: Mother Rock (Eej Khaad). Mongolians consider this rock to be the belly button of the earth and an important energy place. We decided to put this place on our itinerary, as you never know that some of this energy could rub off on Sophie (as she could use it).
It turned out that you could take the name Mother Rock quite literally. We weren’t sure what to expect exactly, but somehow we were all surprised to learn that Mother Rock was a stone shaped more or less like a human, dressed up with mother-like clothes. Why the Mongolians come here to worship this particular rock is a mystery to us, but the views from on top of the surrounding hills were spectacular. And as if that wasn’t enough, the sun started to go down and we got to enjoy an absolutely beautiful sunset.
Day 3 and 4 – extraterrestrial Middle Gobi. The next day we hopped in the car again, and continued South, direction the Big Gobi desert. As roads are bad and bumpy in Mongolia (when they exist), it took us three days of driving through Middle Gobi to reach the Big Gobi. Luckily, Middle Gobi is blessed with some pretty spectacular sights itself: we marveled at the big rock formations of Bagaa Gazriin Chuluu and the seemingly random but very pretty and colorful sedimentary deposits of Tsagaan Suvarga (White Stuppa).
On the way, we stopped at a ger where they were milking the horses, so we got to taste fermented horse milk and understand real Mongolian life a bit better. In the evening, we went for a sunset horse ride which took us through some beautiful Mongolian steppes and some more rocky landscapes which could have been located on some faraway planet (wormholes are a thing). Sophie regretted the horse riding quite quickly though, as the family who got us the horses only owned Mongolian saddles, which are solely made out of wood. That didn’t seem to bother our horse guide though, who was only 5 years old and was probably born on a horse.
Day 5 and 6 – knifes in the Big Gobi. We reached the Gobi National Park on Sophie’s birthday. After stocking up on some water and food in Dalanzagadad, the only town around in hundreds of kilometers, we entered the National Park and went for a hike in Yolyn Am Gorge. This narrow and steep gorge provides an oasis in the desert with a river and lots of greenery. Due to the high valley walls, the temperature inside the gorge is considerably lower and ice survives every year inside the valley until July. Somehow Manolo managed to smuggle a bottle of champagne inside the valley without Sophie noticing, and after cooling it down in the river, Sophie got to celebrate her birthday in style.
The next morning, after our driver lost his temper and all hell broke loose (read more about that here), we drove 200 km into the Gobi desert, to see the famous Khongoryn Els or singing sand dunes. While the Gobi desert is obviously a desert, it is not the sandy kind, but rather a dry rocky land covered with some grasses and white flowers, the Khongoryn Els are the only sandy part, with sand piled up to 300 m high, 12 km wide and 100 km long. It gives the word sand castle a new meaning. Climbing to the top of this enormous pile of sand was extremely exhausting, as the sand dunes are rather steep, and every step forwards is rewarded with the sand where you are standing on sliding downwards. We made it to the top though after a tiresome 45 minutes, after which we were rewarded with the most beautiful sunset.
Day 7 and 8 – catching our breath after too much adventure. After the sand dunes and a little hostage situation, we decided we had had enough adventure for a little bit and our driver dropped us off in Dalanzagadad, from where we took the bus to Ulaan Bataar the next day. Though we were sad to cut our trip short, we were happy to arrive to Ulaan Bataar where we could finally take a hot shower after these 8 days and wash off all the Gobi dust.