Taking digital detox to the max: how I spent my six days in the Gobi desert

Hola amigos! For those who have been following my journey through Mongolia or are just looking for more of a visual and personal account of what a Gobi desert tour may look like, here’s the blog post for you. Oh, and I will give you a huge spoiler: it is F-AN-T-A-S-T-I-C-A-L-L-Y beautiful. So without further a-do, below is an account of what we did each day of the trip. If you’re interested in learning how to best plan and prepare for a Gobi tour check out this post , our tour was booked through Sunpath Hostel which I highly recommend. Enjoy the photos!

P.S. As many may not realize (myself included), these tours includes a whooooole lot of time in the car/ Russian style combat van, which is why I included the total hours of driving each day. Full disclosure 😉

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Our van, aka where we spent 50% of the time during the tour.

Day 1: White Stupa/ Tsagaan Suvraga (7 hours of driving )

We left Ulaanbaatar (UB) around 8:00 in the morning on the first day. After making a quick stop at a supermarket to stock up on wet wipes, water and delicious Mongolian peanuts (nut-o-philes, be sure to try them while there. They. Are. Phenomenal.), we headed out into the desert.

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Me with not so many people around.

I was quickly reminded at how sparsely populated this country is. It is absolutely incredible and you just have to go to the Gobi to see it. Fun fact: Mongolia has a horse-to-human ratio of 44:1 and on the road you’ll surely swing around the van as your driver dodges the occasional bunnies and sheep but also stops intermittently as horses and camels cross the road.

 

Some five hours or so of driving later we get to the first stop called White Stupa. These gorgeous rock formations are given their name because of their resemblance to the Buddhist style altar. The shapes were formed by a river that used to meander through the area.

 

After spending some time exploring the valley, we drive for another two hours to reach the first nomadic family with whom we’d be staying that night.

 

If you’re interested in reading more about traditional Mongolian Nomadic living, check out this post!

Day 2: Yol Valley / Yolyn Am (3.5 hours of driving)

The second day got me pretty surprised. Why? Because I came to realize the diversity of the Gobi desert. Who would’ve thought there’d be snow capped mountains there? Not me, that’s who! Three hours of driving and we get to a small town (Tsogt Ovoo) near the Yol Valley where we had some lunch. Another 20 minutes and we’re in the middle of the valley where we proceeded to  exploring it by walking on the frozen river and quietly hoping we’d be able to spot the elusive snow leopard. Sadly, there was no snow leopard to be found.

 

Day 3: Sand dunes/ Khongoryn Els (5 hours of driving)

This was definitely one of my favorite days! After our usual breakfast of fruits, tea and biscuits, we headed to the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, also nicknamed “the singing dunes”. Why? Because when you descend from them, avalanches start happening all around you and the sounds they make.. well, you get it, the sounds resemble singing (not sure what genre though).

Anyway, we get to the dunes and looking up at the 200m peak, I naively guesstimate a 20-minute walk up to the top. Whoa, was I mistaken! It took about an hour. And it wasn’t easy. The higher up you got, the harder the wind blew, and the quicker your feet sank into the sand. The last part was essentially man against sand where you had to be quick and nimble before sinking into the ground. But hey, that view was most definitely absolutely 100% worth it!

 

After emptying our shoes of excess sand (mine even got slightly deformed from it), we head out to meet a new nomadic family where we’d eat dinner and have a look see at their camels.

 

And camel riding we did, around their property, as the sun was coming down. In the middle of the Gobi desert with no other people to be found. Absolute serenity.

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Me and my new buddies.

Footnote: Getting decent pictures while on a camel back is not an easy task. Hence the lack of them…

 

 

Day 4: Ongii Monastery/ Ongii Khiid and Flaming cliffs/ Bayanzag (8 hours of driving)

And just when you thought one single desert couldn’t get more diverse, it did. The red, flaming cliffs of Bayanzag instantly threw me back to Utah’s red lands.

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Familiar much?
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Same shot but with the wide angle lens (Rokinon 14mm f2.8) . Here’s when I noticed the automatic and dramatic vignette the photos get when shooting with this lens.

We spent no more than an hour checking out this area, and quite frankly, I wasn’t keen on staying much longer. Don’t get me wrong, the nature was stunning but the wind was so strong tears kept running down my face making it that much trickier to see.

 

After playing around in the cliffs we drive off to a temple- Ongii Khiid.  The ruins surrounding this quiet and almost completely deserted monastery is a solemn reminder of the Soviet invasion when soldiers raided the area.

 

The temple itself is still only occasionally used for prayer, though mainly by the one monk who lives on the property.  His 5-year-old son showed us around the lands: the prayer ger, temple, and surrounding altars.

 

Day 5: Horse riding and cooking lessons with a nomadic family (5 hours of driving)

Our very last day saw the bumpiest ride. And by bumpy I mean bumpy to the point where I had to wear a hat simply because my head kept getting throbbed either against the window or the ceiling of the car. Not very nice.

 

We get to the last ger, where we stayed with the family all day. After horseback riding in a nearby valley, we hiked around the area before my dad got called upon to herd the family’s 300-something sheep, meanwhile, I was sitting in the ger learning how to cook up some Mongolian dumplings. Yum! I’ve included more details on this part of the trip in a different post that goes more into detail on traditional Mongolian nomadic life. Stay tuned!

 

“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost?”

Oh aren’t you inquisitive! Read more about the cost in this post.

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