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alled in by Russia and
China, landlocked Mongolia
might not look much in
your atlas, but beneath the
dense forests of the north,
and bounded by the Altai
mountains of the west, you will �nd within its
borders the Gobi desert. The coldest and most
northerly desert on Earth, exploring the Gobi
is the adventure of a lifetime.
Korean Air can get you from London to
Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, in 15 hours,
via Seoul. Those 15 hours are best treated
as an opportunity to enjoy what will not
be forthcoming in the desert: free-owing
Perrier-Jouët in elegant Riedel glassware and
Korean table d'hôte meals. Where I was going,
there would be no Champagne bars, no �ne
dining and no ushing lavatories.
More than one-third of Mongolia's
population lives in Ulaanbaatar. An economic
boom, fuelled by the mining and minerals
sectors, has transformed its skyline, with new
builds �lling in the gaps between the starker
constructions of the Soviet era.
Into the wild
My adventure really began the following
morning, when I escaped the city and ew
one and a half hours south to a small landing
strip in the remote town of Dalanzadgad, in
the South Gobi province of Ömnögovi.
My group of eight was met by guides with
Land Rovers and old Russian trucks piled high
with food, camping gear, mountain bikes,
kayaks and all of the other accoutrements
that would make us self-sucient.
We drove for an hour along rough roads to
the hilltop camp that would be our home for
the night. There were �ve traditional felt gers
(yurts), white and mushroom-like, and around
them only mountains and a spectacular
emptiness stretching for hundreds of miles.
We were briefed that afternoon: the idea
was to travel from Dalanzadgad to the town
of Bayankhonger, almost 400 miles across
the South Gobi.
After our brie�ng we visited a nomadic
family living on a neighbouring hilltop. As
we arrived, the skies opened and we were
ushered inside the warm, dry ger. Our host
kindly oered a glass of distilled, warm mare's
milk and some noisome, salty cheese. Not
one to oend, I pretended to eat it.
The entire family of four slept in the ger.
Red woven rugs covered the oor and a tin
stove sat in the centre, with a long chimney
running out of a hole in the roof. Against the
wall was an orange chest of drawers with a
mobile phone on top. Even that far out in
the Gobi, you can get reception.
Outside the ger was a tough-looking
saddled horse. They serve the same function
as a car and are kept in good working
order but, after breaking camp at �rst
light, it was into motorised vehicles
that we clambered.
Our convoy thundered across
the ancient desert, dwarfed by the
immense vault of the sky. The Gobi is
special: you feel a sense of discovery,
as if you are the �rst person to experience it.
River deep, mountain high
We drove along dusty and rutted roads,
through boulder-strewn steeps and deep
sandy riverbeds. We passed herds of twohumped
camels, windswept sheep, wild
horses and hungry-looking vultures. Mongolia
is the world's most sparsely populated
country - see one other car and you can
consider it a busy day.
We would often stop and haul down the
bikes for experimental roller-coaster rides
over the rugged, breathtaking terrain.
spaceDon desert boots to earn your nomadic stripes beneath
the stars and vast, clear skies of Mongolia's Gobi desert
WORDS LISA YOUNG
OUR CONVOY THUNDERED ACROSS
THE ANCIENT DESERT, DWARFED BY
THE IMMENSE VAULT OF THE SKY.
PHOTOS: LISA YOUNG, EXODUS