After these 2 months full of surprise in China, we are heading for Mongolia, a destination that particularly attracts us. We start with good news for our budget, by finding a combination to make the trip Beijing / Ulan Bator cheaper (6 times cheaper than the transmongolian, for the same route). The 27 hours of train (in 2 times) connecting the two capitals allow us to gradually soak up more and more desert landscapes.
At this stage of the trip, we have 2 months left and the idea of departure was to spend 1 month in Mongolia and 1 month in Russia. This was without taking into account the current geopolitics and the impossibility from now on to request, for a European, a Russian VISA outside his country of residence (and less than 3 months in advance). Obtaining a transit VISA is however possible and we therefore adjust our departure plan, especially as the extension of the Mongolian VISA seems easy: it will therefore be two months or almost in Mongolia and 5 days in Russia, the time to cross it in transiberien.
The extension of our length of stay in Mongolia thus offers us the possibility of discovering the country a little more in depth. Also, if the initial idea was to start with a 10-15 day road trip in the country, we incorporate a few additional drop-off points and we also plan more breaks. We then finalize a 23-day itinerary through the Gobi desert and the mountains of central Mongolia ... itinerary that will ultimately change every day or almost according to our desires, the sympathy of the families encountered, the hot weather, festival dates, etc.
On this basis, we then had to decide on how to complete this road trip. Doing it alone seems generally not recommended and doing it in fully organized mode does not attract us too much, not to mention the incompatibility with our budget. We then opt for the solution consisting of having a car with driver: so we left for a journey of more than 3 weeks, with our Russian super van and our no less super driver, Soyoloo (says Soïdae). who will quickly become more than a driver: cook in his spare time, uncle, friend etc
We will not let the suspense last ... this road trip will simply have been sensational. It is recommended to anyone who appreciates the great wilderness, solitude, authenticity in human relationships, the discovery of traditional lifestyles, ... and provided, however, that you are a bit adventurous at heart (c is tough anyway!) and not to be too much on comfort (sleeping on the ground, no running water, rarely toilets, a shower every 5 days in public baths, ...)
Once is not custom in this trip, it is the meetings that participated in this new favorite for the whole family. By starting our trip with 3 days in a family of nomads, we were able to appreciate their legendary hospitality and quickly soak up the simplicity of nomadic life: bring back the lost herds in the steppes, bring up the well water for the animals, milking cattle, killing a sheep, making homemade pasta, white foods (milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, milk alcohol), ... The best way to immerse yourself (and put yourself, same occasion, in the shoes of our grandparents) will have been to put the hand in the dough and to thus take part in the various daily summer tasks, in particular with the draft.
Within this family and other families of nomads with whom we stayed, sometimes asking for hospitality, the welcome was always made with simplicity and with much kindness. Without really showing us their emotions, we regularly felt that our presence pleased them and, with smiles and a few words, beautiful relationships were established with certain families. We were therefore regularly invited to the family yurt to share milk tea, yak or goat yogurt (depending on the region), a few glasses of vodka, etc. We will notably remember the royal welcome from one of the families near Lake Shireet, with adorable kids and an unforgettable grandma.
When we left the families on several occasions, we were invited to return to their homes as soon as we wanted, meaning that "the house is open for you!" Knowing the reserved nature of the Mongols, it is with great emotion that we received these invitations. It remains to be seen if we will follow up ... Before changing the subject, a few last images of one of the nomad families with whom we asked for hospitality. It was the first time that they welcomed foreigners and the exchanges were thus very intense.
A trip to Mongolia, especially among nomad families, is also inseparable from living in a yurt, the traditional habitat par excellence in the country. Outside the capital, it is effectively the main habitat in small towns and especially in the steppes, where the "real" nomads and the settled nomads live. Life in a yurt is a perfect illustration of the Mongolian way of life and their attachment to a free and nature-oriented life. Here again, our immersion in the families of nomads allowed us to imbibe the rules inherent in life in a yurt and in the organization within it.
Beyond the human and life in a yurt, it is obviously the natural setting offered by Mongolia that seduced us. Starting, of course, with the Gobi desert and its rather incredible diversity of landscapes: sand dunes, oases, canyons, multicolored rocks, deep gorges with ice at the bottom, ...
One of our favorites was the very isolated canyon of Khermen tsav, where we will stay only one night due to the overwhelming heat. We did not regret the big detour, which allowed us to find ourselves alone in the middle of this colorful canyon. Magic !
After 10 days in the Gobi, in very mineral landscapes and in the heat, it is with great pleasure that we changed scenery in the middle of the trip. Indeed, central Mongolia is more mountainous and it is therefore in the middle of green landscapes, high lakes and invigorating rivers that we spent the second half of this journey. It is certainly less impressive than the Gobi, but it was extremely pleasant to find alpine pastures, especially in the middle of the flowering season (in the 1st photo, the camp of the nomad family with whom we were staying)!
And, between the desert and the mountains of the Center, it is essentially steppes as far as the eye can see that "punctuate" the landscape. Some find it monotonous; we never got tired of it, there is always a different light, horses running, a vulture flying over us ... and then, the long stages of road in the middle of the steppes are conducive to meditation, and it feels good to let your mind wander in the vastness of the steppes ;-)!
If we mainly crossed Mongolia by Russian van, it is especially on foot, via magnificent hikes (often aiming for a summit), but also on horseback and camel that we could appreciate all the richness of the Mongol landscapes. The feeling of immensity and freedom was quite phenomenal each time because no path, no barrier, no fence comes to guide the steps or the spirit. We also felt this freedom by setting up our tent in the middle of nowhere.
And it is in this vastness, mostly alone, that we were able to observe biodiversity in peace. The contrast between the rare plants that manage to grow in the desert and the floral explosion in the mountain pastures was quite striking and interesting, without counting some beautiful observations among the flora of the mountains. Fauna side, if we regret not having observed a wolf (even when getting up at 5am ;-)), we still consoled ourselves with gazelles, steppe foxes, marmots, raptors (eagles , vulture, vultures, etc.) ... and the local star, Prewalsky Horse, the only wild horse still alive on earth, with its small population of 350 individuals !!
We will end the overview of our road trip with the events and festivals in which we participated. Each year, in fact takes place in mid-July, the Naadam, Mongolian national holiday. During the event, three sports competitions are linked: archery, horse racing and especially wrestling, sport # 1 in Mongolia. If the main Naadam takes place in Ulan Bator, where most of the foreign tourists go, all the villages and cities of the country organize their Naadam. Also, it is in one of them (Uyanga), that we could take part in the party. It was quite exciting to observe, especially the wrestlers, all the ritual surrounding this sporting practice (costumes of wrestlers and referees, eagle dance before and after the fight ...).
Outside of Nadaam, we also had the chance to observe an ossicle shooting competition (not sure there is a French name). There too, beyond the competition, it is all the folklore around the event that was interesting to observe: traditional costumes, diphonic songs during the shooting,
And here we are, we wanted to be synthetic but not certain that we got there ... At the same time, summarizing 23 days of exciting trip, it's not so simple ;-) We hope in any case that this story has you made you want to discover Mongolia, its incredible landscapes, its traditions still well entrenched and its people "true" and welcoming (although only rarely showing their emotions). For our part, this trip to Mongolia has been perfect to succeed our favorite Chinese. The two countries are completely incomparable, but just as exotic, although for different reasons. Finally, we thank Russia for having refused us our 30-day VISA, because it now gives us an additional month to continue to discover Mongolia !!