Tuesday, 26 October 2010

crossing the Gobi

The last five days have been all about crossing the remote South Gobi desert of Mongolia. Given inclement weather conditions we cheated and took a small plane for some of the way. The remainder was spent crossing rocky terrain, no tracks, in an old Soviet land rover-minibus cross (think VW camper with monster truck tyres). I have been fortunate to have crossed the Serengeti, traversed the Atlas Mountains and driven through the Empty Quarter of Oman/Yemen but none come close to the sheer enormity and remoteness of the Gobi.
Endless plains, Steppes, run into the horizon with towering mountains rising from beyond. This moonscape is an inhospitable place yet home to many nomads and a myriad of wonderful creatures. The Steppes are teeming with bactrian camels, Mongolian horses, marmottes, goats and snakes. The mountains are home to eagles, vultures, snow leopards, ibex, brown bears and many others. Two days into our adventure we came across a step in the Steppe, we referred to it as a 'Steppe change'. Here the flat Steppe changes level and red cliffs are born from the shift as the lower level continues on into infinity. Here there be monsters. It is where hardy dinosaur hunters come. Bones from many beasts have been found including the perfectly preserved skeletons of two small dinosaurs that died simultaneously during mortal combat.
There are small ger encampments spread thinly across the desert. There are also, thankfully, a few very small towns (100 inhabitants on average) where you can pick up supplies and petrol. We experienced the first snows of winter with temperatures around -20C. Given there are four months before winter proper starts I cannot imagine how people survive. The nearest hospital is days away once the snow comes. However, there is a camel festival in one of the towns in February and I am tempted to attend. The chap photographed won most of the honours with his fabulous bactrians last year. He invited us to sit with him in his ger where his wife and grand-daughter (photo) gave us some dried mare's milk based biscuits before we set off into the wild beyonds on camel led by his son...
Five days and 1,000km of desert crossing without washing, cell-phone or blackberry coverage reminds you just how good life can be.
Mongolian of the day:- my name is... :: minii ner...