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An unforgettable journey to the Gobi desert and back

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Text and images by Joshua Berida

  • SNOW AND DESERT There were reddish mounds of earth
    at the base of White Mountain

  • SPECTACULAR: The last rays of the sun gave the surroundings a faint, red color; and the snow-capped mountains of Terelj with the yurts of the camping ground were picturesque

  • SPECTACULAR: We eagerly waited for the sunset in Bayanzag

  • ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE : We spent nights in a yurt or ger throughout our camping trip to the Gobi Desert and back

  • ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE : We went up and down the wave-like dunes of the Gobi Desert

  • ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE : and the red rock formations in Bayanzag were a sight to behold

    We’ve spent hours on the road, from the bustling city of Ulaanbaatar en route to the Gobi Desert. The long time spent inside the customized Russian van was worth it. I’ve seen the landscape change from an urban sprawl to a vast wasteland of moon-like rock formations to grassland with patches of snow and ice. And as we got closer to the Gobi, the arid region was all around us, the dunes in the distance and the towering, jagged rocks.

    The Gobi’s Contradictions

    Our van drove through rough road. We saw locals herding camels on motorbikes or on another camel, a yurt or two appearing in the middle of nowhere, and gazelles running about. Mongolia’s untamed landscape and climate is a thing of beauty, a few days before reaching the desert region, snow and ice blanketed the roads and steppes as far as my eyes could see.

    We arrived at camp, we were the only tourists. Fewer and fewer locals and foreigners ventured out because of the freezing temperatures. We didn’t let this stop us from enjoying our visit. We climbed up the rolling sand dunes, some of which were the highest in the country. Atop one of the peaks, I saw the sandy knolls, which resembled a golden ocean with the wind carving wave-like features on its surface.

    I’ve read before this trip that the Gobi is a cold desert, which means that its temperatures can swing from one extreme to the other, from hot to cold. It snowed the night before we had to leave for our next destination. I couldn’t completely process and associate “snow” with “desert,” but it was right before my eyes. I saw patches of white around camp and on the dunes in the distance. We left for our next destination as the sun slowly rose and turned the sandy mounds into a deep red from a pale orange.

    The Martian-like Landscape of Bayanzag

    Before we returned to Ulaanbaatar, we stopped by Bayanzag or the Flaming Cliffs. The area had reddish rocks and soil that were Martian-like. Our driver took us to a cluster of rock formations to watch the sunset. The faint glow of the last rays of the sun deepened the red, snow-covered tint of the surroundings. We climbed up the view point to see one of the most spectacular sunsets (there were plenty of them), we saw during our trip.

    The Way Back

    On our return trip to the city, we stopped by ‘Tsagaan Suvarga’ or White Mountain. The latter wasn’t exactly “white” the color was a cross between dirty whitish and yellowish. The mushroom-like formations, the red-colored mounds of earth just beside it, and the snow-capped steppes and mountains in the distance were picturesque.

    We made a detour through Ulaanbaatar to get to Terelj National Park. The latter is the most developed and accessible park from the city. The camping grounds have electricity, running water (during peak season), and other tourism infrastructures for a comfortable stay.

    Despite its development, Terelj has its natural charms. One of its most distinct attractions is Turtle Rock, a formation that resembles the animal. During my visit, the snow-capped mountains surrounding our campsite were photogenic.

    After spending a night in Terelj, we drove back to the city. The memories of the trip to the Gobi and back were still fresh in my mind. Mongolia’s extreme climate carved its beautiful landscapes—the grasslands, steppes, and desert. The long, unforgettable drives through the countryside were eye-opening. The landscape and weather changed within a few hours from one destination to the next.

    In this country, the journey is sometimes the destination.

    *I booked a camping tour to the Gobi Desert for seven days through UB Guesthouse. Their rate for a group of five was $55 per person. The price includes accommodations, food, entrance fees, van, and driver. Visit their website http://ubguesthouse.com/ or send them an email ubguest@hotmail.com.

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