21 Days In Mongolia

Day 5:

Waking at 7am (the normal waking time for this trip) we did the usual tents down before the muesli, bread and coffee/tea breakfast, before getting in the vans for the short drive to Yolyn Am. I had been cold again in the night even though this time I had added the sleep sheet liner to my sleeping bag.  Therefore, wearing a t-shirt, long sleeved top, and the North Face jacket with fleece lining in that I bought in UB, we arrived at the entrance to Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park and Yolyn Am, ready to take a hike at 8.30am.

In the lush green valley, we looked inside a very small museum which told us about the national park and surrounding area.  Inside was a small collection of dinosaur eggs, bones and stuffed birds. There were one or two ger shops that rushed to open when they saw that visitors had arrived, especially as it was the end of the season and we would probably be the last visitors of the year.

Yolyn am (Vultures Mouth) was originally established to preserve the birdlife but it is actually more popular for its scenery. It is a green valley in the middle of the Gobi Desert, with a metre thick ice river almost all year round. I say almost – because of course, "the river remains frozen for most of the year, except for about a month starting in late August” as stated by the Lonely Planet and the day we went was August 26th!  We, as a group, were somewhat disappointed at this, as the info we had received before we went had described seeing a glacier which "remains here, year round” – which was obviously far from the truth. Paul explained that the Mongolians translate frozen river to the word glacier, but it didn’t help with my disappointment.  The other disappointing fact was that the ice that is normally metres thick and lies at the bottom of this steep valley was now only a trickling stream, although pretty, it was very hard to imagine how in only a few weeks this would be thick ice again.  Having said all that, the walk through the gorge was breathtaking and it was wonderful to think we were walking through a green valley in the Gobi desert, hopping over the babbling brook. It reminded Andy and me of walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

By the time we got back to the vans, approximately 2 hours later, it had warmed up tremendously and we drove for an hour through a stream in the bottom of a different gorge, through the National Park in order to get to where we were going. It was bumpy, but different. The vans had to drive through a very narrow gap in the cliff faces that was just wide enough and we finally made it to lunch.  It was lovely to eat lunch in such a remote spot, although the dodgy meat from a can didn’t go down well, apart from with the drivers.  We lunched under a birds nest but I think they were pleased when we left.   I took the opportunity to throw a bucket of water over my head to get rid of my very messy hair style. Although one of the drivers knew there was going to be a really steep hill to drive up – I don’t think they realised that the vans wouldn’t make it unless we got out and walked to the top, but that’s what we had to do.  It was fun and with a helping push all 3 vans made it to the top.

We made it through the gorges and valleys and up on to the plains again where the drivers opened up the vans and we were on our way.  We passed a nomad herding his goats. The previous days we had seen many goats, sheep, horses and yaks (well we called them caks and yows as apparently many of the ones we saw were a crossbreed between the cow and the yak as they then produce more milk than a yak but are hardier than a cow) We also saw a few camel.  The nomads all have horses – it is a basic form of transport.  Apparently a horse is worth 5-7 sheep or 7-10 goats. A camel is worth 1.5 horses.  Together, cows and yaks number around 3.8million and are used for milk, meat and their hides, the sheep are easy to herd and provide wool for housing, felt, clothes, carpets and meat (the obvious mutton).  The goats are still popular for their meat and especially for cashmere wool.  There are about 15 million sheep and 11 million goats in Mongolia.  Camels are used for their long distance transport. 

We could see for miles and in one direction we saw mountains and in the other it was long flat plains. During the long afternoon journey, Bataar was left in the distance and the other two drivers finally stopped to wait. After some time they decided to both go in the one van and go back to look for him.  This left us on our own in the hot desert. Whilst they were gone we discussed what would happen if the drivers didn’t return and decided that Andy was the only human male there and therefore we would have to start our own colony.  It wasn’t that long though before we were all reunited. Whilst we had been sat there, in the middle of nowhere, literally, we could see in the distance what looked liked a massive lake – it was a mirage. We had read about them and it was great to actually see something so big that wasn’t actually real.

In the late afternoon we finally saw the sand dunes (Khongoyn Els) in the distance so we knew where we were heading for.  However, it turned out to be a long, long, long journey and the dunes never seemed to get any nearer.  We travelled in parallel to the dunes for miles and miles (these dunes go on for 180km) and in the end we were willing the van to take a left turn rather than the straight (well as straight as you can go over rocks, ditches and holes in the ground) path it had been taking. The van did finally turn towards the sand and we breathed a sigh of relief. The sky was a spectacular blue as the sun set and we witnessed a breathtaking sunset. There was no wind, which was great, but as it was already evening, it was getting cold as the sky was clear and the heat left the earth.

Sitting around a candle for a snippet of light, the group talked and carried on bonding well.  Quite a few decided they would get up to see sunrise from the top of the massive, 300m sand dunes. Andy and I didn’t commit to this because we knew we would never get up. To stop the cold, I tried putting an emergency foil blanket over me before I went to sleep but it ended up being the coldest night yet.

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