Day 11: Ulaanbaatar - Erdenedalai
Edernedalai Travel Blog› entry 12 of 34 › view all entries
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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!