Day 11: Ulaanbaatar - Erdenedalai

Edernedalai Travel Blog

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and then came the snow...

When I opened the curtains of our room in the morning I was in for a shock: snow!
And not just a little bit, no, the streets and roofs were covered in about 20 centimetres of snow. We had seen the weather forcast where they had predicted an extreme drop in temperature (just like we'd experienced in Irkutsk/Baikal) but yesterday it had been sunny and some 25 degrees, not at all like the 10 degrees and rain that was forecasted. But the weather man was right after all - the weather had followed us from Siberia, and our desert trip was to start in the cold snow.

Whe took a cab to the UB guesthouse, where we met up with the German couple, Nathalie and Bertram, and with Maciek.
We met Nora, our Mongolian driver for the next seven days, and his car. Nora spoke about five words of English, but none of that mattered - communication turned out to be fairly easy.

start of Gobi desert trip
To give an example, each night he would tell us what time we would leave in the morning, simply uttering: "Morrow: eight!", or, "Morrow: nine!" In the rare case where we got to sleep in he looked a bit troublesome when he didn't know the English word for 10 o'clock, so he simply wrote the number 10 in the sand. Easy communication, that is what I like.
Other useful phrases were "stop: shop", "stop: photo" or "stop: pee"
If Nora was a wonderful character, his car was perhaps even more so! I always like to travel through a country using some form of 'classic' transport, and his battered 'Uaz', a Russian four-wheel drive army vehicle was perfect for our desert trip in every sense. It just had so much character, that the van became by far the most photographed object of our trip.
freezing in the desert

We set off and it looked more as if we were going on some wintersport trip than a desert trip, though that didn't lower our spirits: the surroundings were beautiful!
The lightbrown desert floor surrounded by snowcapped mountains reminded me of the desert in the Andes between Chile and Bolivia - even the icy cold wind felt the same!

Bobby, the owner of the guesthouse, had recommended us to start the trip in anti-clockwise direction, because then we would have the longest and most boring drive on the first day. Boring? Where did she get that impression? Our noses were literally glued to the windows all day long, staring at the wonderful surroundings as we passed through an ever-changing landscape.
Gobi means 'desert' in Mongolian, but actually the Mongolian language knows 33 different words for 'desert'.

Gobi desert in the snow
In the following five days we would see pretty much all 33 different types of desert the Gobi has to offer, with at least 10-15 different types of landscape on the first day. We started with brownish sand desert and snowcapped mountains, then came hills, rocks, mountains, yellow steppe, gravel and what else. Every hour or so the landscape just changed completely!

And to our big surprise the Gobi is taming with wildlife as well! The Gobi desert is the least densely populated part on earth, with only 0.5 people per square kilometre, yet it supports so much wildlife. Of course there are goats, sheep, yaks/cows, horses and camels everywhere, as the Mongolians are traditionally nomadic herders, and some 35% of it population is still nomadic and roaming the steppes in search of grazing grounds.

roadside restaurant
And as expected the border between wild and domesticated is pretty blurry with these herds.
But we also saw a herd of gazelle running away from our car, and we saw thousands of little desert rats scurrying to their holes, avoiding to get run over. Slightly less visible, but also roaming the gobi are wild ass, snow leopards and even an endemic bear!
And apart from mammals we saw many, many birds. Some very big cranes wandered the desert floor; finches flew in front of our car, as if leading the way; huge golden eagles soared in the sky; and I even saw a rare falcon, which disappeared as soon as it noticed my camera :-(

We had lunch in a little roadside restaurant, where we saw the first 'ger', a traditional felt tent (yurt) which is still used by a majority of Mongolians as housing.

Damba Darjalan Süm monastery in Edernedalai
The restaurant gave us our first experience in Mongolian cuisine, serving the infamous "soup with food", i.e. a watery noodle soup with mutton. And when I say mutton picture every possible part of a sheep cut in pieces and chucked in your soup. Half of the stuff floating in my soup resembled stuff I'd always sworn never to eat...

Late afternoon we arrived in the village of Edernedalai, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere consisting of no more than a couple of sandy streets, a handful of concrete buildings and a bunch of gers around it. Surprisingly enough the village also houses a beautiful Buddhist monastery, Damba Darjalan Süm, built in the 1800s, which was one of the very few monasteries to survive Stalinist purges by becoming a warehouse and shop.

local kid in Edernedalai

Some 20 kilometres outside of Edernedalai we stayed the night with a nomadic family, sleeping in their spare ger. The place was literally near-perfect: beautiful surroundings (pretty much the middle of nowhere, and I have to say that nowhere is stunning!), a lovely decorated ger (which all of us forgot to photograph), very good food (miles better than the bland lunch we'd had) and an outhouse with a sit-down toilet (which as we would later find out is a rare luxury in Mongolia).

A brilliant first day of our trip!

 

nobaddays says:
I agree with Noel (vodkaphix)I need to start taking better notes in my logs and try to share as you have. You have mastered the technique to feel like I'm there also as I'm reading.
Posted on: May 10, 2009
vodkaphix says:
Loved your decription of Nora, PMSL!! I would love to go somewhere with you, i think it would be a HOOT!(fabulous time).Love your story telling and words/phrases used.LOL! I am hooked on this blog, I must do mine daily instead of Bi annually. lol
Posted on: Apr 21, 2009
pms70 says:
Nou ben ik toch wel heel benieuwd naar dat eten! Deze tocht klinkt geweldig in ieder geval, veel spectaculairder dan een groot deel van de ervaringen in Rusland. En wat een verschil vriendelijke mensen kunnen maken is ook wel heel duidelijk...
Posted on: Oct 28, 2008
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and then came the snow...
and then came the snow...
start of Gobi desert trip
start of Gobi desert trip
freezing in the desert
freezing in the desert
Gobi desert in the snow
Gobi desert in the snow
roadside restaurant
roadside restaurant
Damba Darjalan Süm monastery in E…
Damba Darjalan Süm monastery in …
local kid in Edernedalai
local kid in Edernedalai
Gobi desert in the snow
Gobi desert in the snow
Edernedalai
photo by: Biedjee