After the public bath we drove towards the mountains, where temperature dropped sharply and we managed not to break out in a sweat for the next 2 days, thus preserving our post-bath cleanliness at an optimal level. This ger was more commercialized, with 3 guest gers while our guide cooked in the family ger. The term “tourististic” is all very relative in Mongolia though – we got the same kind of toilets, no shower, no water, and being swarmed by grazing sheep and goat at sunset and sunrise. In the middle of the night our door was flung wide open by the raging winds, and the entire ger shuddered while the misty cold air filled the space. To think we had been complaining about the heater being too good just a couple of hours before. The gers were in the middle of a valley, surrounded by gentle rising slopes. We took a morning walk up one of the slopes and were greeted by a sight to behold.
There was a natural history museum literally next to our ger but our guides offered to drive us instead (think they assume we can’t stand the cold). This natural history museum was filled with stuffed animals of the Mongolian desert while some of the animal skins were just stretched out and tacked onto the walls. Quite amusing. And there were three gift shops (in gers, of course) selling identical souvenirs outside.
After this strange sojourn (because by this time, we were convinced that travelling in Mongolia was just all about the nature and the unconventional) we went horseriding in the Yolyn Am valley. When I stepped out of the UAZ, Otgo gave me a top to bottom scan and told me to get back into the vehicle and dress more warmly. I was pretty spooked by that – eventually I discovered that he was right, it was freezing in the valley and I could barely feel my fingers throughout.
A simple meal cooked up by Otgo after the cold. We then journeyed on to the heart of the Gobi – the sand dunes! It was there that we saw the first other “tour groups” from Golden Gobi. One of the groups, we learnt, had spent the entire day at the camp as it was too hot to go out and only left to climb the dunes at 8pm, returning at midnight. We crossed out fingers and hoped that the same would not happen to us the next day…
Turned out, it rained during the night and the camels refused to step into the muddy steppes – one even fell. The camel owners instead suggested we ride the camels in the opposite direction away from the sand dunes. We had to wait until after lunch though, so we spent the morning taking a nap (lol) and just waiting for lunch.
Lunch was a special treat – Mongolian hotpot! Now their hotpot isn’t like the Chinese hotpot with a tasty broth and fresh food thrown into a mix. Otgo first heated up some rounded rocks with the charcoal, then threw it into a pot with meat, potato and carrots whole. And Otgo very kindly helped chop the meats into bite sized cubes for us.
Ok, so we didn’t ride through valleys or sand dunes, but it was still pretty awesome to ride on a Bactrian camel. Getting up on a camel might be scary for some because a camel is really tall and it gets up on its hind legs first, then it’s front. And during the summer the families would start shaving their camels – halfway in May, then fully by August. So some of the camels we saw were still pretty shaggy haired and those we avoided thankfully. Have you smelt camel fart? Well I did and boy was it…intense.
Thankfully the weather was cool enough for us to go to the sand dunes! This was also where we saw the most tourists in Mongolia so far outside of the capital. So many challengers of the sand dune peak, but not all succeeded. This was truly one of the toughest climbs I have ever done, mitigated only by its short duration. We reached the peak in an hour, even though we tried to challenge the record of 36 seconds. We were so weak that we had to rest every 10 steps by the time we reached the mid point because It. Was. Just. So. Steep! And it is a very defeating when every step you take, you sink half a meter into the sand and slide another half meter down and have to extricate yourself out and up. My sister threatened to give up no less than thrice. When we made it to the top we were pelted by the incessant wind which brough with it very fine desert sand. I am not kidding when I tell you that sand went into every orifice and nook and cranny of my body. Even my scalp was laced with fine particles (we didn’t get to shower that day).
I swear I needed a massage after that. A shower would have been great as well. But this place has the best sunsets. And the best memories.