Mongolian Natural Road (trip)

Trip Start Mar 23, 2007
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55
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Trip End Sep 15, 2008


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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September 24th.... We are off!

Singhe our driver and Gothe our guide picked us up from our hostel at 7am. We threw our packs on top of the boxes of food and settled in on the leopard-print polester covered seats of the russian 4-WD van. See pics! It's imperative for your bum to find a good comfortable groove right away as we came to find out. 9 days bumping around Mongolia is a damn long time.

After gassing up and a few twists and turns on questionable paved roads we took a random left onto a dirt path. Seriously, no sign and completely non-descript. Gothe turned with a big grin and said as if welcoming us to a party - "mongolian natural road - same for next 9 days". Sweet. By lunchtime we were both pretty pleased just to have a pause from all the bumping around. It is a scenic drive - but unlike one we've ever experienced in our life. Even with 4-7 hours in a car everyday we were able to clench our muscles in ways that would just not be possible in a gym!

We stopped in the middle of nowhere - literally - for lunch. A ger appeared out of the blue, we pulled in and had a moment of joy at the lack of movement. We ducked inside the traditional ger which is the mongolian name for a yurt. It has similarities to a tee-pee especially in the way that it is indeed a tent and designed to be a "mobile" home, yet is quite different in design. It is essentially a cylinder with a cone roof. It is insulated with pressed wool felt and covered with a thick sort-of canvas. The diameter is anywhere from 8-12 feet, and rises to a height of at least 10 feet in the center - which is usually where the stove pipe goes up through the center. the center is usually open to the sky, however the modern nomads usually have rigged some plastic or other fabrics to allow light in but minimize the flies and cold. Good move. The whole open to the stars thing is romantic in theory. A nice piece of plastic when it is 30 degrees out and raining or snowing is just plain wise.

Gers are decorated fairly similarily. The sub-floor is a wooden base, although the mongolians have become huge fans of linoleum and most ger flooring is linoleum. Atop this there might be a few thick rugs. The ger usually has a sort of futon bed - a few to a ger. The ger serves as the whole house - it is the kitchen, the living area, the dining area, and the bedroom - so furniture is both sparce and yet practical with lots of cupboards to house different "things" a typical family would require from soap and shampoo to clothes and food.

As we walked into the ger for lunch it was fairly typical, however had a long table as this also was set up as a sort of fast food restaurant. Along the back wall she had a very nice mountain bike - though hanging from the mountain bike was a mutton drying - salt/jerky style. She walked over to the slabs of ribs hanging from her bike cut a few chunks and started heating the wok. Lunch was fresh fried flour noodles and mutton. Being vegetarian in mongolia sometimes means you just pick out the meat. :)

At dusk we reached our beds for night one. We were guests at a nomad family. Their children had gone off to school in the nearby village so they had an "extra" ger which was what the 4 of us shared for the night. The bathroom in case you are wondering...is the desert at large. Lotta yak, camel and horse poo in the desert and so then that is where the human waste goes as well. Wealthier and more "permanent" nomads build an outhouse - a hole in the ground but at least with a bit of privacy. Traditionally you just walk until you think no one can see you. If you are lucky there might be a rock outcropping within a 1/2 km. I for one, learned to curb my evening water and tea consumption. The gobi is a dark and cold place for a bare bum at 3am!

On day 2 we were surprised to pull through South Gobi - an actual town in yes, South Gobi. Home to at least 50,000 people, it has banks, gas, shops, schools, and guesthouses. Or more specifically guest -gers. This town is likely to grow rapidly in the coming years due to tourism but probably more due to the nearby mining possibilities. The area is teeming with speculators. Though I call S. Gobi a town - it has a very outpost, old-west feel to it, and would refrain from the use of modern when describing it.

The landscape changed dramatically and it had a very American southwest look. The mountains that surrounded us and the plains were very similar to Nevada. Perhaps with a few casinos, South Gobi could be the Mongolian Vegas. By afternoon the dry mountains and mirages had morphed into rocky mountains, trees, and canyons an area which has become protected as the Mongolian National Park. It was also an opportunity to prevent further leg atrophy and go hiking! It was a beautiful sunny day, cool, but fall colors were splendid as we ditched the van for a few hours to go exploring by foot. Later that afternoon we had a hair-raising drive through the canyons with just enough room for the van. Had we stuck our heads out the window, we would be vulture food.

Vultures have a very prominent position in Mongolian culture. They are a revered animal believed to be the conduits between life and world-hereafter. They are the birds who eat the dead, but more importantly they are responsible for bringing the spirit from earth to the heavens. Traditionally, after a Mongolian has died the remains are put out for the birds. If a person was good in mortal life, it is believed that the birds come quickly. Gothe explained that sinners sometimes are passed over by the birds. This is a very bad thing as the Mongolians understand that vultures eat all dead, and hence if they refuse a dead body - the soul is doomed.
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