Explore the classic Mongolian Gobi desert – a vast, harsh, silent and isolated place. This is, nevertheless, one of Mongolia’s top-draw regions. You will be surprised by the colossal sand dunes, ice-filled canyons, dinosaur fossils and camel treks; and you will admire the courage of the drivers of the Gobi, the harshest and most difficult area of Mongolia.
We begin our journey in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital housing nearly half the country’s population. We step into the history and culture at the beautiful Mongolian National History Museum and continue with the main Sukhbaatar square. We conclude our introduction to Mongolia with a traditional dinner in a famous restaurant in the city. Overnight in hotel.
We leave the capital to go in search of a first small “Gobi”, meaning desert in Mongolian. Just a few kilometers away from town and we are surrounded by the vastness of nature. Freely grazing herds, small white yurts and nomadic horsemen dot the landscape all along our road. Once we reach our Sweet Gobi eco-geolodge camp, we roam freely on foot or camelback along the 80km-long sand dunes of Elsen Tasarkhai, or nearby, around the small Tara lake. We spend our first night in a charming yurt surrounded by this diverse landscape.
Today we stop by the city of Karakorum, founded by the legendary Genghis Khan as the capital of his empire, the biggest of all time. We continue with the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the country, which was the first erected on Mongolian soil: Erdene Zuu. Then we go further into the Orkhon Valley, a Unesco World Heritage site, at the slow pace of warm nomadic encounters. Once settled in our Ursa Major eco-geolodge camp, we go for a walk or horse ride in green landscapes. At the end the day, we take a look at the great starry sky with a powerful telescope. Comfortable night in an eco-geolodge yurt.
We now move southwards, welcomed by locals, to taste the “white foods” such as “aarul” (small dried cheese) or “airag” (fermented mare’s milk). We finally reach the tiny city of Arvaikheer, famous for producing felt. The more curious among us can also try its sidecar taxis! Overnight in a local hotel.
We drive further down to the ruins of the Ongi river’s Buddhist monastery. On the riverbanks was a large complex of 28 temples that could accommodate hundreds of lamas before the communist purges of the thirties. We take in the emotion of this particular place before discovering that religious activity gradually arose from the ashes with a small school in which young monks are again taught. Overnight in yurt camp.
This morning, we explore a different part of the history of Mongolia, taking in the spectacular Bayanzag “fire cliffs” also known as the “Valley of the Dinosaurs” because of the numerous dinosaur skeletons and eggs found there in very good condition. Then, we go for a walk in a Saxaul forest, a desert tree native to Central Asia. Overnight in a yurt camp.
Today we head to the “Gurvan Saikhan” (3 beauties) nature reserve housing the finest treasures of the Gobi. We begin our discovery of the famous Khongor “singing dunes”, so named because of the whistling sound they produce on windy days. We discover small oases at the foot of the dunes where birds, camels and horses come to quench their thirst. Overnight in a yurt camp.
We spend the day exploring these mythic sand dunes, 180 km long and up to 200 meters high, on foot or camelback. We also meet the camel herders living in this harsh region and take time to understand their traditions and extraordinary way of life. Overnight in a yurt camp.
We continue our journey into the vast Gurvan Saikhan by the famous Yol Valley, a strictly protected area. Wildlife lovers will be enchanted with the numerous species that are only found on this reserve. We may be lucky enough to see argali gazelles or desert vultures (“yol” in Mongolian). On foot or on horseback, we move into the groove formed by the riverbed, and are surprised to find a small hidden glacier believed to be eternal. Overnight in a yurt camp.
At dawn, we admire one last time the splendor of the Gobi and the generosity of its people before leaving for the airport in Dalandzadgad, where we board our plane back to the capital. In the afternoon, we go to Choijin Lama Monastery, a complex of ancient Buddhist temples surrounded by modern glass buildings that has a unique and peaceful atmosphere. Overnight at hotel.
We start this last day with a morning visit to Gandan, the most active Buddhist monastery in the country, during which the prayers of the faithful take us into a different world. Exiting this place of worship, we stop at a cashmere clothing factory outlet, of which the world-famous Mongolian quality amazes us. Our afternoon is spent as we wish, wandering the city’s streets or purchasing souvenirs. We end the day with a great traditional song and dance show and dine together in a renowned restaurant. Overnight at hotel.
Return flight after this extraordinary journey…