20.07.2018 - 25.07.2018
This morning we went to see the Erdene-Zuu Monastery. After the collapse of the Mongolian Empire; the city was abandoned and fell into disrepair. With the remains of the city Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) Monastery was built in the 16th Century, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. In 1792 it housed 62 temples and 10,000 lamas and since 1990 it has again become an active monastery, retaining much of its former glory.
This is the walled monastery from a look out.
Before seeing the monastery, we visited the famous turtle. Back in the day there were 4 of them outside the monastery.
We walked around 3 of the outside walls. There was a gate on each side.
The walls are quite high with lots of stupas.
Enclosed in this immense walled compound are three temples that are dedicated to the three stages of a Buddha's life: as a child, adolescent and adult. The main central temple is called the Zuu of Buddha and has statues of Buddha as a child. This part is now a museum. This is the entrance.
Here are the temples.
This is the working monastery.
Other temples and stupas within the walls.
We then said farewell to Kharakhorum and headed another 100kms south.
Some more views of the town from another lookout.
We stopped for a coffee break at this statue. It is Buddhist and has a nice story behind it about helping one another and being considerate. These animals were by an apple tree but they couldn’t reach the fruit so they worked together to be able to get some apples. You can see the rabbit, monkey and elephant all have an apple.
The scenery went from the green steppe to us suddenly seeing small sand dunes against some big rocky mountains.
Our first camel sighting.
After settling into our ger camp near the Mongol Sand Dunes, we had lunch. This is the restaurant.
The view from our camp.
This is only the start of the sand dunes, but we couldn’t resist going up one.
After a break we drove through Khogno Khan Natural Reserve. This reserve is spread over 46,900 hectares. The scenery was different to what we had seen so far.
We explored the remains of the 17th-century monastery, the Uvgun Khiids, which is located at the foot of Mt Khogno Khan. The monastery was built in 1660, after the existing monastery was destroyed by warring armies in 1640.
The monastery had views with spectacular scenery.
This morning we farewelled Mt Kogno Khan and headed to Ongii. We drove 300km, we left at 8am and arrived at 14.30.
We continued for a while with lush green scenery.
We drove around 60 km on tarmac. We had a blow out so had to stop and change a tyre. But what a spot to have to wait, it was hard to take. We had lots of toots and waves as us westerners stood on the side of the road.
We then turned off for another 240km off road. In a short time you could see that it was becoming flatter.
We had a lovely coffee stop.
While we were there we took these photos of Marla and the drivers and all of us.
There are so many tracks that you can pretty much choose your own route.
We then drove further for a picnic lunch as there was nothing around us.
Around 14.00 we came across a little town with a petrol station in the middle of nowhere.
While there we had a frozen yoghurt.
Shortly after heading off again we started to get to a real rocky and dry area. We are now in what is called the middle Gobi.
We stopped to see some rock art. They were petroglyphs of antelopes. We felt privileged to see them as they were in the middle of nowhere.
From the top of the hill the views were spectacular. There were both green and rust colours in the landscape.
We then continued on our way.
We stayed in another Ger camp close to the Ongii River.
We went for a walk along the river.
As we walked along the river front there were little frogs about 1cm long hopping all over the place.
We visited the ruins of the Ongiin Khiid Monastery located on the bend of the Ong River. The first monastery, Barlim Khiid, was built in 1810 on the north bank of the river.
The second, Khutagt Khiid, was built in 1970 on the south bank. Once the largest monasteries and home to a thousand monks, it was destroyed in 1937 during the communism period. Over 28,000 monks were killed in Mongolia during this time. Two monks now call the ruins home, after a small temple was constructed in 2004.
As they raise money the are slowly updating the ruins.
Before heading back to camp, we decided to hike up the hill close by. They had replicas of some of the local wildlife that is now hard to find.
We saw this lizard on our way back.
It was still a lovely evening, so we got to eat dinner outside. We had a lovely sunset.
The sun rises around 5am so we are often up early. This morning we watched some birds near the river.
After breakfast we continued our travel to Bayanzag, more commonly known as the ‘Flaming Cliffs’. The drive from Ongii involved covering a distance of around 180km. In the middle of nowhere was an oowo so we stopped. The drivers did the usual ritual with 3 rocks and 3 times around the oowo to wish us safe passage.
The ground became flat and there were still gers in the middle of nowhere.
Not long after that we saw our first camels for this region. The nomads have a lot of camels down here.
We were on 4WD tracks over dry plains as once again there are no direct roads.
We passed a radar station.
Once you arrive at this station you are now in the Southern Gobi.
We then passed some ruins remaining from when the Russians were here. Looks like part of it is still being used. Probably in winter.
The landscape changed again. There was a lot of volcanic rock and lovely coloured rock formations.
We even stopped for a coffee break to look at the views.
At times it even became sandy.
This journey took 4 hours, we had arrived at Bayanzag. Before heading to our camp we stopped to see the red sands and the traditional Gobi Tree.
When we arrived at camp we had a traditional greeting and shared in a bowl of milk.
After lunch we had a break as it was really hot. Shane put out his solar panel and charged up our camera batteries. As we are in the middle of nowhere, they only have electricity in the restaurant between 8pm and 11pm. We don’t have to worry thanks to Shanes forward thinking.
Bayanzag is a traditional desert with rock, red sands and scrub, known worldwide for the number of dinosaur bones and eggs found in the area. Some of the dinosaur bones we showed you back in Ulaanbaatar were found here. The first excavation was in 1922 by palaeontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. Once it cooled down a bit we visited the Flaming Cliffs.
We had a beautiful sunset to finish off the day.
The Gobi Desert is home to many of Mongolia’s renowned landscapes and the largest sand dunes within Mongolia are located at Khongoryn Els. So, this morning after an early breakfast, we travelled by 4WD 150km to Khongoryn Els. We were first sent on our way by the lovely girl who met us yesterday. She put milk on all the tyres to wish us good luck.
It took longer than usual to get to our destination as we had to stop in Bulgan to get the flat tyre fixed from the other day. So we had a walk around town. Most of the buildings are from soviet time and are quite old.
The hospital and pharmacy.
The shopping centre.
The only new building in town was of course the local government building.
Once the tyre was fixed we were on our way. We still couldn’t believe we were in the Gobi. We have always thought of it as the Gobi Desert so you just assume sand dunes, but the Mongolians just call it Gobi and there were so many contrasts in landscape as we travelled the Southern Gobi. It is such a harsh climate for animals but there was plenty of livestock around. We stopped at a pumping station in the middle of nowhere. They were pumping water into the troughs for the animals.
Shane looked inside the shed. This was the old motor.
Our next stop was at another nomad family. Marla had spotted the way the horses were tied up, so she knew that they were milking their mares. This was something to see as we had never heard of milking mares until our visit to Mongolia, but this is how they make their airag.
This is their ger. It is grey not white as they have a waterproof cover on it. You can see they once again have the mod cons.
The children work hard too.
The horses normally roam free, but they are tied up and the foals are tied up separately amongst the mares.
They then get a foal and once it starts suckling they pull the foal away, so they can milk the mare.
After we had seen how it was done we were welcomed into their ger to drink airag. We really can’t believe how hospitable these people are. We just drove up to strangers asked to see how they milk the mares and next thing we are sitting in their ger drinking their airag and eating their snacks. We do make sure that they are left with gifts for doing this, but still.
This is what they put the milk in to ferment it.
We noticed the medals hanging up. The young boys had won these at the Naadam Festival at their local race.
Of course, when they have down time they are like any other children around the world. They were watching TV.
We then headed on our way again and past by all these horses hanging around some water troughs. There was no water in them, so our drivers got out and manually filled the troughs for the horses.
Shane then helped too.
A cow and her calf were waiting behind the horses.
After driving a bit further, it was time for coffee. Another picturesque place to stop.
We also found this interesting bug hopping around. We had never seen anything like it.
We then headed off towards the mountains. We had to drive through them to get to the dunes on the other side. Again, a total change in scenery.
Once we came over the top of the hill we had our first sighting of the sand dunes.
This was the view from our ger.
We had lunch at camp and then had a break until later in the day. It was still pretty hot when we set off but we just had to visit the remarkable sand dunes. They are located to the west, in the heart of the Gurvansaikhan National Park. Also called the ‘Singing Sand Dunes’ due to the noise the sand dunes make when the sand is moved by the wind. They measure up to 800m high, 12km wide and approximately 100km long. We had the choice to explore the desert countryside on a camel. We stopped at a nomad family who have camels. We visited their ger and then went out to the camels. They looked relaxed.
Shane went for a ride on the 2 humped Mongolian camel.
I walked along side for a while and took some photos, but it was too hot for me to wander too far.
We then stopped at one of the biggest dunes.
We were amazed that you could really hear the dunes singing. The sound was incredible. At first I thought it was a plane flying over but it was the noise of the dunes.
I hung around the bottom.
Shane decided to see how far he could get in a limited time. He got about half an hour from the top. It can take about 90 minutes to climb if you are fit.
Here he is at the bottom.
On his way
Shane looking more like an ant.
Higher he went at times scrambling on all 4’s.
This is the view while he was climbing.
Time got the better of him and he had to return to camp.
On the way back to camp we were lucky enough to see some black tailed gazelle. A mother with 2 fawns.
We are now about 200km from the China border so have pretty much travelled from the top to the bottom of Mongolia.
Just before a late dinner we had a beautiful sunset in the Gobi.
This morning we set off and travelled another 220km which took almost 5 hours. We followed the sand dunes for some time.
Slowly the dunes reduced to flat sand patches.
We once again stopped for coffee. This was the view.
While we were there the drivers spotted a plant that they boil up and drink. It is apparently good for diabetes. So, they picked bags of it. Baatavaa picked the most.
We also found another lizard.
After around 4 hours we returned to tarmac. This is a new road. As they have commenced mining in the south Gobi they have built a road there.
We still marvelled at the way they transport their horses.
Once again, the scenery changed dramatically.
Once over the hills we again came to a flat plain.
We saw some more cranes.
We ended up at the edge of the Gobi Desert at Yolyn Am. The Ger camp is near Gurvansaikhan (Three Beauty) National Park where we get to spend 2 nights. We are still in the South Gobi.
Later that afternoon we went and learned how to play some of the Mongolian knuckle games. We learned 2 games, horse racing and farming. Each knuckle bone has 4 sides and each side represents a horse, camel, goat and sheep. With the horse racing you have 10 knuckles in a row. You throw 4 knuckles and how ever many show the top as a horse is how many moves you make. The first one past the 10 knuckles wins.
The second game involves throwing lots of knuckles on a table. The trick is to then use your fingers to flick a matching pair of knuckles. If you do this successfully you keep the knuckle. The game continues until only one person has all the knuckles. We really enjoyed playing them. A little girl even joined in and she was very good at flicking.
This morning while we were waiting for breakfast Shane spotted a brown rabbit. It was just grazing in the paddock next to our camp.
After breakfast we went into part of the Gobi National Park. The park stretches for 2.7 million hectares.
We were on the lookout for the local wildlife. Within a short time we had found some mountain ibex, they are a wild goat. You can see how high up they were.
I was able to zoom in to see them better. They continued to climb the rocks.
We also had the opportunity to view the stunning scenery of the famed Eagle's Gorge or Yolyn Am, which is the native name. We did a lovely hike.
We saw lots of wild life along the way. We found these cute Mongolian Pika's.
They were even sprawled out in the hot weather.
A gerbil in his burrow and outside.
We even came across a snake.
We were even lucky enough to spot a second group of ibex.
As we got to the steep walls of the 2km long Yolyn Am Canyon, there is a stream which freezes in winter and it is possible to walk along the ice, but it had well and truly thawed this time of year.
Returning to our vehicles there were these birds nesting in the wall of the cliff.
This one looked like a finch.
We headed back to camp for a farewell traditional Mongolian BBQ lunch as we would be saying goodbye to the drivers tomorrow. It was totally different to the Mongolian BBQ we have at home. It was big lumps of boiled mutton meat, with boiled carrots, potatoes and cabbage.
It was tasty.
After lunch we had a fun afternoon finishing off another bottle of vodka and then doing some karaoke. We also shouted the drivers a few beers.
The quality of the pictures is poor, not sure if it was the vodka or the excitement of the afternoon.
Here is Marla with Baatavaa, Uujgii and Turuu.
Turuu got us up to dance.
I sang Guantanamera with him.
Shane sang Abba’s thank you for the music. We laughed all afternoon.
We had a couple of hours rest before dinner. (not that we were that hungry) and got our bags packed as we are off back to Ulaanbaatar tomorrow.