Stretching across borders and altering preconceptions, the Gobi Desert is as diverse in its offerings as it is large in size. Over 1.3 million square kilometres of intense beauty and barren landscapes occupy the southern region of Mongolia, and a substantial part of Central China. The image of iconic two-humped camels wandering at the foot of enormous sand dunes is synonymous with Mongolia. Travelling through the country without visiting the area would be a crying shame. Naturally, we were aching to take part in a Gobi Desert tour to see the place for ourselves.
While we usually prefer doing things independently, the Gobi Desert is a region that is best explored as part of a tour. There are countless tour operators in Mongolia than can run trips to the Gobi Desert, but we decided to team up with the sustainable tour company Selena Travel for your journey. We have a strict personal rule of only using companies that practice responsible tourism, and after a bunch of research it became obvious that Selena Travel was really trying to be the leader in their field. Locally-owned and run, and contributing to environment conservation, they are setting the standard for sustainability in Mongolia. Not only that but they provide a high quality of service and strive to meet all customer’s needs and wants throughout the trip. A wonderful experience that was hard to fault.
The Gobi Desert is a place of superlatives, and as with most places in Mongolia the photos do not do the place justice. Still we shall try, and here is our photo journal from our Gobi Desert Tour.
Camels are synonymous with the Gobi Desert. Despite seeing what felt like thousands of bactrian camels during our tour, the numbers of wild camels are thought to only be around 1000.
Found throughout Middle and Central Asia, the saxaul is a tree that grows in sandy deserts and in steppe landscapes. In the middle of the Gobi you can come across hectares of saxaul forest, breaking up the dusty terrain.
While history has seen Mongolia go through a whole change of cultures, today it is predominantly Buddhist. In the city of Karakorum (where Chinggis Khan declared to be the nation’s capital in 1220), the Erdene Zuu Monastery stands as the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia.
For the nomadic families of the Gobi Desert their livestock is worth more than anything else. They are completely dependent on the horses, goats, cows, yaks and camels that roam the steppe. Here the mother of a family we visited milks her mare. They do this five times a day, using the milk to make tea, cheese, curds and butter.
The sun sets over our first ger camp in Karakorum during our Selena Travel Gobi Desert tour.
We were lucky enough to have Joe as our guide during our Gobi Desert tour. Having started working as a tour guide in 2008, Joe now normally works in the office of Selena Travel as the sales manager. However when times are busy he gets the chance to step outside and do the thing he loves most – showing tourists the beauty of his country.
Our drivers during our Gobi Desert tour were like the favourite uncles you had as a child. Despite not being able to speak much English, they would joke around and laugh with all of the guests, ensuring everyone had a great time. Here Jack and Mhunkuu pose for a photo on a steep hill.
Defying belief, that is snow in the middle of the Gobi Desert. In the Three Beauties nature reserve it snows heavily in the winter. So much so that even in the dead of summer thick chunks of ice remains.
While driving through the Gobi Desert we pulled over at a well so we could see for ourselves how the locals collect water. There were a group of young nomads there, resting in between practice for the upcoming Naadam festival. Despite the vastness of the region, you can always find someone to talk to.
At times the expanse of the Gobi gave way for claustrophobic surroundings. Here in the Yoliin Am Gorge the drivers had to pass this narrow slit in the rock to continue on the journey.
The ruins of the Ongii Monastery are a harsh reminder of what the Soviets did during 1937. At this particular spot the Russians came through and destroyed the monastery, while also murdering 200 Buddhist monks. Today you can visit the ruins and pay respect to this tragic event in history.
One of the most popular sports in Mongolia is archery. On one of our last days at the Steppe Nomads Tourist Ger Camp we had a chance to try it for ourselves. Naturally, all of us customers were pretty average, however Amgaa, one of the Selena Travel drivers who met us at the end, humbly showed off his solid skills and put us all to shame.
A true oasis in the middle of the desert – The Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park, better know as the “Three Beauties of the Gobi”, is a large nature reserve that is lush and captivating. We went for a hike through the park and could not believe that we still stood in the middle of Southern Mongolia. A striking contrast to everywhere else we had visited on the tour.
Another stretch of beauty in the national park.
The skies in Mongolia are truly entrancing. Here we caught a sunrise near the Khongor sand dunes.
Of course we couldn’t come all the way to the Gobi Desert and NOT ride a camel…
The Khongor Sand Dunes are the largest ones in the country. Reaching heights of up to 800m and stretching for 100km, they are truly enormous.
On one of the many rest breaks we took during the long day’s driving, a young boy riding a motorbike with his two siblings saw us in the distance and came over to check us out. They excitedly practised their English and we shared our lunch with them. Afterwards they jumped back on their motorbike – all three of them together – and rode off back home. The level of responsibility granted to the children of Mongolia is impressive, especially when compared to the Western world.
Another sunset shot from one of our ger camps.
Horse trekking is a popular activity in Mongolia, and is something everyone should do at least once during their time here.
When the rains come, the region gets dubbed the ‘Green Gobi’; for obvious reasons.
Dropping in to a nomad family’s ger camp you are always offered a collection of milk tea, bread, cheese and curds. The nomadic culture dictates that anyone is welcome into their house and the owner will provide sustenance for them. A wonderful belief and tradition.
Our Gobi Desert tour and the experiences during it were made possible with the support of Selena Travel. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, our own.
Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award winning writers and photographers behind this blog, and we have been travelling the world together since 2008. Adventure travel is our passion, and through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook
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