© Nova Fisher novatravels.net
China and Mongolia Land of Dynasties

The Gobi

You   might   imagine   the   Gobi   desert   as   a   classic   desert   with   sand- dunes. I did. But it’s not. Yes,   it   has   200m   sand-dunes   in   a   tiny   corner   and   some   rocky   out - crops,   but   the   main   desert   is   mile   after   (hundreds   of)   miles   of   entirely empty,   barren,   flat   gravel   plains,   without   much   grass.   Driving   across the   desert   involves   following   dirt   tracks.   No   signs,   no   proper   roads. Drivers   navigate   by   the   mountains   on   the   horizon,   and   while   they usually   follow   the,   sometimes   very   vague,   dirt   tracks   they   think   noth - ing   of   just   turning   off   and   driving   off   road,   often   at   70   mph   heading for some invisible landmark in the distance.

Nomadic Camel herders

In the inhospitable landscapes of the Gobi there is a scattering of nomadic camel herders. We visited a nomadic family, headed by Ganbold. He and his family’s survival depends on their 1000 animals – cashmere goats for income, sheep for food and 50 Bactrian camels for riding, wool and milk. In the winter they move their ger and livestock to more sheltered land in the Khongoryn Els dunes. A constant threat to their animals are the grey wolves. Ganbold and our driver did the traditional nomadic greeting of taking each other’s snuff.  After drinking camels milk tea, we then went on a ride to the sand dunes on his camels. Ganbold, has been featured in a BBC programme and book on Human Nature.

Khongoryn Els (Khongor dunes)

We   drove   west   from   Dalanzadgad,   past   our   ger   camp   to   the   sand   dunes   of   Khongoryn   Els known   as   the   Singing   Dunes,   but   unfortunately,   arrived   too   late   to   see   the   sunset   and   views from   the   top.   The   Khongor   dunes   are   some   of   the   largest   and   most   spectacular   sand   dunes in   Mongolia.   Rising   as   high   as   200   meters,   the   dunes   are   7-8kms   wide   and   about   100   kms long.   The   dunes   rise   up   between   a   spur   of   the   Gobi-Altai   Mountains   to   the   south,   and springs   and   oases   on   the   north   lush   green   side.   Known   as   “Singing   Sands,”   because   they sing   while   you   climb   -   they   say   that   the   eerie   music   can   be   heard   when   the   wind   blows,   or when you walk or slide on the sand. (I didn’t hear it even though it was windy!)

Khavtsgait Petroglyphs

We   headed   back   east,   stopping   at   Khavtsgait   to   walk   up   the   rocky   outcrop   and   explore   the petroglyphs   (ancient   engravings).   From   the   top   there’s   a   fantastic   view   over   the   surrounding plains.   Looking   down   we   saw   an   old   Russian   army   village   of   about   a   dozen   houses   and closeby is the woodland that the Russians had planted but all of this is derelict now. Khavtsgait    petroglyphs    are    a    collection    of    ancient    engravings.    Some    of    this    rock    art    is thought   to   date   back   as   early   as   3000BC.   The   engravings   that   depict   wild   animals   were probably drawn by hunters whilst waiting for their prey.

Gobi Desert

Unlike   any   other   desert   I   know,   it   gets   snow   in   winter   -   a   lot   of   it.   We were   told   that   last   year   there   was   1m   of   snow   covering   the   desert. Gobi is a land of extremes with temperatures of +40°c in summer and   as   low   as   -40°c   in   winter,   strong   winds   in   spring   and   autumn and   sudden   sand   and   snowstorms.   You   wonder   how   on   earth   or, perhaps, why on earth people live in this environment. The   Gobi   Desert   covers   much   of   southern   Mongolia,   and   about   40% of   the   country   as   a   whole.   It   is   the   habitat   of   the   Bactrian   Camels, Argali   mountain   sheep,   Golden   eagles,   Saker   falcons,   lam-¬mergey - ers,    Altai    snow    cocks,    ibex,    yaks    and    Jerboas    that    resemble    the Kangaroo rats.

Bulgan village

We    called    into    the    small    village    of    Bulgan    and    whilst    our    punctured    tyre    was    being repaired   we   visited   one   of   Gobi's   few   organic   farms   and   the   village   shops.   We   had   to   wait for   the   petrol   lady   to   return   from   lunch   so   that   we   could   fill   up   with   petrol.   We   stopped shortly   after   for   a   picnic   lunch,   near   a   flock   of   sheep   and   goats,   during   which   we   were invaded by bees..

Yolm Am

We   wandered   down   the   lush   valley   of   Yolm   Am   into   the   gorge   with   steep   rock   faces,(200m   in places)   criss-crossing   the   stream   as   we   went.   As   the   gorge   narrowed   we   started   to   walk   on deep ice. The return trek took us 90 minutes. Yolyn   Am   is   a   deep   and   narrow   gorge   in   the   Gurvan   Saikhan   Mountains.   The   name   translates as   Lammergeier   Valley.   The   Lammergeier   is   an   Old   World   vulture,   hence   the name is often translated to Valley of the Vultures or Valley of the Eagles. Although   the   area   sees   little   precipitation,   Yolyn   Am   is   notable   for   a   deep   ice field.   The   ice   field   reaches   several   metres   thick   by   the   end   of   winter,   and   is several   kilometres   long.   In   past   years   it   remained   year   round,   but   these days the ice field tends to disappear by late August.


We   walked   around   the   spectacular   sandstone   formations,   glowing   orange   at   sunset.   Bay - anzag   known   as   the   Flaming   Cliffs   due   to   its   deeply   red   coloured   sandy   rock   that   glows orange   at   sunset,      is   one   of   the   most   famous   palaeontological   sites   in   the   world.   Huge shelves   of   rock   and   sand   descend   into   many   canyons   that   meander   down   to   the   desert floor.   In   1922,   Roy   Chapman   Andrews   discovered   the   world's   first   nest   of   dinosaur   eggs here   and   unearthed   over   100   dinosaurs.   Other   finds   in   the   area   include   specimens   of   Velo - ciraptor and eutherian mammals. It is known as the ‘Dinosaur Cemetery’.

Bactrian Camels

30%   of   the   world’s   population   of   Bactrian   camels   (about   285,000)   -   live   in   Mongolia,   mainly   in   the   Gobi   desert.   They   stand   over   2   metres tall   at   the   hump   and   weigh   720-820kg   and   can   haul   loads   of   nearly   300kg   at   a   rate   of   50km   per   day.   Although   averaging   4km/h,   they have been clocked at over 65km/h. Well   adapted   to   harsh   climates,   camels   are   famous   for   their   ability   to   travel   as   many   as   160kms   without   water.   They   retain   their   body moisture   efficiently,   and   have   a   large   capacity   for   storage.   A   thirsty   camel   can   drink   as   many   as   135litres   at   a   10minute   sitting.   They   don't store   water   in   their   humps   -   these   conserve   up   to   36kg   of   fat,   which   allows   the   camels   to   survive   when   food   is   scarce.   The   humps   shrink as fat is consumed for energy.