It’s been a long wait and the world has changed irrevocably since we first floated the idea of offering 4WD tours to exciting destinations back in 2019 how our lives have changed in the ensuing four years. Landing in Ulan Bataar bought an immense sense of familiarity, the sense of space, the clarity of the skies, the green of the Mongolian steppe and the reigniting of wonderful friendships, it all left me feeling some sense of normalcy had finally returned.
Veronica and I had arrived at UB to collect our 76 series Landcruiser to run the very first research trip for our 4WD offerings and we were excited to be exploring destinations within Mongolia that we don’t take the bikes to – it’s simply too tough on a bike if you’re not a Dakar god, but in a 4WD the wild tracks of this immense country are ready to be explored.
Leaving UB we were soon in the countryside at the breathtaking Terelj National Park, via the immense Chinggis Khan statue, the largest statue of a horse and man on earth. We had engaged the services of a local drone pilot to capture some 4WD action footage and he soon had us charging up single track passes and running along lofty ridgelines, so awesome were these tracks that we have kept them in as part of our Mongolia 4WD future tours. After exploring parts of Terelj National Park where no other tourist goes, because we got lost, we ended our first day at the superb 5-star Terelj Resort.
Turning south we entered the Middle Gobi, a region we had never explored, and turning off the tarmac we entered a magnificent world of utterly empty steppe save the occasional ger camp with a solitary family fattening their stock in the brief summer months. We were convinced we were lost again but in fact we weren’t but couldn’t believe the lack of any sign of human activity and drove amongst epic valleys following a barely discernible track that threated to peter out into nothing at any moment. The track did indeed lead us somewhere, the incredible rocky landscapes of the Baga Gazarin Churluu National Park where we had our first night in a ger, how we missed these ger camps, it was wonderful to enjoy these simple camps always located in impossibly scenic places.
Travelling south the green steppe abruptly ended being replaced with the empty landscapes of the mighty Gobi. We sped along, at 60kph, across the vast empty desert landscape that stretched onto into seemingly, eternity. It was utterly magnificent being the greatest expression of freedom while driving left on earth, we had the entire desert floor to choose our path, as we headed west! We eventually arrived at the best ger camp we have ever experienced and watched a blazing red sunset sink below the horizon ending another magnificent day in Mongolia.
We spent a day out on the golden sands of Khorghoryn Els, a 100 kilometre long, 20 kilometre wide and 350-metre-tall line of sand dunes sandwiched between the Khorghoryn River and the stark black mountains. The river forming a wonderful green oasis where camels & horses grazed and drank with the towering yellow sands as a magnificent backdrop. We ran into some cameleers as they transport salt across the dunes to far off destinations, as they disappeared over the dunes, we realised we had just witnessed a tradition stretching back millennia.
Leaving the sand dunes behind it was only a four-hour drive to perhaps one of the greatest dinosaur remains region in the world at the Flaming Cliffs, thus called due to the magnificent red colour they glow at sunset. We left the desert behind as we drove north along an utterly empty landscape of grassed steppe punctuated by occasional mobs of camels, horses & now yaks.
We arrived at Kharkhorin home to the earliest and greatest Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. Dating back to the mid 15th Century the monastery is built on the site of the former Mongol capital founded by Genghis Khan’s son, Ögedei, and has had an incredibly turbulent past including near total destruction by the Communists during the Stalinist religious purges of the late 1930s. It is again today a working monastery.
Turning west we reached the stunningly located ger camp on the shores of Tsagaan Nuur just before an incredible ink dark thunderstorm rolled though. The scene before us was almost surreal with the brilliant white gers being illuminated by sharp bolts of lightning on the left and the beautiful blue waters still basking in the days remaining rays of sunlight on the right, it was breathtaking.
Easily the most challenging day of the tour thus far saw us in low 4WD as we negotiated slippery deep mud tracks either side of shallow rivers and climb lofty passes negotiating deep washouts and rockfalls. This was remote wild Mongolia at its finest, it was this empty landscape populated by a handful of nomadic herders, that proved to be the very essence of Mongolia: wild & empty.
We couldn’t visit Northern Mongolia without dropping in to see our old friend Otgoo who owns a superb ger camp on the shores of the magnificent Khövsgöl Nuur. We have been staying with Otgoo since before Compass was even a thought, 18 years ago. I was in a melancholy mood as I bade her farewell the following day as I knew, as did she, that we would probably never meet again as my tour leading days ended and retirement is but months away.
Driving back to Murun via a reindeer herders camp, we visited the magnificent Deer Stones, a series of monoliths with carvings dating back to the bronze age. The stones stood on a lonely grassy plateau with a solitary ger some distance off, the only sounds being a gentle breeze and neighing of distant horses. There is something nearly spiritual about that place and a profound sense of solitude and wonder swept over us, it was magnificent.
We spent our last night in the best ger of the entire trip with ensuite showers and toilets, it was also nearby to the superb Hustai National Park what has been described as one of the worlds most successful “re-wilding” programs. In 1992 a small number of Przewalski Horses (the only truly wild horses that remain on earth) were sent from a Dutch zoo and introduced into the newly formed 50,000-hectare reserve. Numbers today stand at 450 horses and the endangered Red Deer, Argali Sheep & Grey Wolf. We did a four-hour Mongolian “safari” of the park early next morning getting good views of these elusive horses & red deer along with endless amounts of Siberian Marmots and their predators, the Golden Eagle. The park was all but empty seeing only one other car the entire four hours. A completely different story awaited us as we drove back into epic traffic jams in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Baatar.
It was my seventh visit to Mongolia, being back offered a sense of normalcy post covid and a wonderful sense of living life that Mongolia seems to bring out in people. Why not try it yourself?
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