It is unpleasant to spend a day in a car. To spend a day in a four-seat UAZ (which came as a replacement for our broken one), traveling across Mongolia, with five people inside, was very unpleasant. We did it twice, on 28th and 29th.
Mongolian landscapes are changing slowly when you drive by, especially in the Gobi Desert where everything is so huge that the mind refuses to believe it. For two days I watched the first season of Prison Break, glancing out the window, recalling the map and wondering – is this already the desert? And now? Meanwhile the hills were creeping further and further apart, gers (or yurts) became less frequent, and sheep and horses were replaced by camels. By the way, I never understood what’s the use of camels, except that they are bad transport. The colors outside were changing chaotically. The dominant, of course, was yellow, but there were red and white, and almost black in any combination.
The fist stop was at the Red Rocks. That rocks are like a step in the desert, from its edge you can clearly see an endless plains on the both sides — but that plains differs in heights for about 30 meters. Besides, the red rocks themselves are rather packed sand than actual rocks; there, on that rocks I understood how fragile is the material of which the world is made. There, on that rocks you can feel almost like a god, the only living creature for hundreds kilometers around (this is not quite true, in the photo on the left you can see two ger camps, but from where we were they seemed a mere ants).
Yesterday evening we got to the “real desert” — to the huge sand dune, arrived just in time to climb it up and meet the sunset there, golden sun on the golden sand.
In the morning we had a camel ride — thank Gd, only an hour long. Everything was exactly like those Dutch said: they reek badly, they look at you as if you’re shit, they do not go faster than a horse (which is damn slow) and have very shaky pace. In other words, the experience not to be missed. But right at the foot of the dune the river flowed along it. That is strange by itself, a river in the middle of the desert, but there were a lot of grazing birds, the birds of passage obviously — I do not believe in ducks living in the Gobi. And it’s very beautiful when in absolute silence of desert a huge flock of birds is spinning above you, rustling wings and talking. Then there was another boring and exhausting race to the next point, but this time I was in the front seat; it was much better there, I didn’t even get bored, wondering landscapes. This part of Mongolia is very similar to the highlands of Indian Himalaya, only the hills are sparser.
The place we drove by was not even a pass, just a bend of the hill, but from there I could see an endless, lost in the misty distance plain, a little concave between two ranges, 50 kilometers away from each other (or 15? Or 150? Mongolian distances can not be even roughly estimated). The desert consisted of a perfect, beautiful nothing – small black pebbles (although too small to be called pebbles), or even coarse sand (although too big to be called sand) and from time to time there were tufts of yellow grass; every random place could be used as a runway, so flat it was. Then, in an hour and a half, the plain was over and the hills began, even more like the Himalaya. The road, winding between the hills, rocks on opposite sides.
In these very hills was the Ice Valley, famous for the fact that there is still ice in July. In October, though, there was quite a bit of ice, and it was new. Two-hour walk along the creek in the valley, and our race continues.