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Mongolia – an experience

Jan 7, 2019 | Features, Tourism

Crawling out of my tent in the early Mongolian morning, I look across a vast steppe covered in a colourful carpet with intricate patterns. There are chives growing, as far as the eye can see and they’re all in flower. Literally millions of mauve and white heads bobbing gently in the morning breeze. A delicious, heady scent of herbs permeates the air as I move around our Land Rover, searching for my red tin mug.

We’re camped on the edge of an enormous open valley. It’s like a giant basin, rimmed with dark towering mountains. Sentinels in the early morning light.

Mongolia, the Land of the Great Blue Sky is indeed living up to her name on this crystal clear day.

“People pay squillions to wake up to a 360 degree view like this”, I think as I take in the beauty which lies before me and languish in my chair, sipping my steaming coffee.

It is an idyllic scene and as I absorb the smells, sights and sounds, I wonder how long it will be till the wind wakes from her nightly slumber and begins to roar.

I think back to two nights ago when we were camped in amongst Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes in the southern Gobi. Our nice little dome tent with the ‘cute little vents and lots of netting for great airflow’ just didn’t cut it!

A wind from hell blew in during the night and hammered us for over six hours. I felt as though someone was standing over me with a giant salt shaker, spilling it over my face all night.

I’m sure the wind speed was over 60km/h because most of the time my tent was so bowed in, that it was touching my face. I could hear the gusts coming through the corridors in the dunes, like roaring waves or a wild screaming banshee.

I spent most of the night cowering into my sleeping bag to keep the sand from getting in my eyes, nose and ears.

In the morning I was literally laying in a sandpit. What a night! The sandman from my childhood stories really did show up.

And speaking of tents, if you’re coming to travel in Mongolia, forget about bringing a tall one. Once you step out of it, in one of those winds, you can say goodbye to it as it tumbleweeds itself all the way to the Russian border.

Aside from that, Mongolia really is a magnificent country to travel through, and driving overland at our own pace allowed me to truly immerse myself into some of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever set eyes upon.

I love the massive expanse of space and being able to interact with the local people in the towns, the markets and the herders on the steppe; sharing a tiny part of their traditional nomadic lives.

Mongolia with all her beauty has indeed dazzled me, but I am acutely aware of becoming complacent. She is a land of temperature extremes and can change dramatically within a few hours.  

Local folk, aware of these extremes, have been caught out. Frozen dead bodies of unprepared herders have been found, out on the steppe in these circumstances. These extreme temperatures are far more prevalent in spring and autumn.

It’s not often that two days are alike and I’m learning to expect the unexpected. From sweltering in a pair of shorts one day, to 24 hours later when I’m pulling on all my winter woollies, including my woollen beanie.

My first trip through Mongolia was an eye opener. A real shift from my western lifestyle. I only got a diminutive taste of what this country has to offer and I was there for eight weeks. But what I saw, smelled, heard and tasted tantalised all of my senses. Mongolia is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

Mongolia is not for the faint hearted and if you’re looking for a five star type, cushy, comfortable holiday, then forget it. Mongolia is probably not for you. It’s challenging, both emotionally and physically, and it is in your best interests and safety to be fully prepared.

Take the time to plan your Mongolian trip and have an unforgettable time.

Rensina van den Heuvel has travelled overland through 40 countries in a Land Rover, UAZ and a Russian truck. She runs a small group, cultural camping tour in Mongolia each year for 16 days. August 24 – September 9, 2019. Contact: 0487 313 566 or rensinavandenheuvel@gmail.com

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