Golden Age Backpackers in Mongolia

story and photos by Doreen and John Berg

Mongolia, the soul of central Asia.   It’s a country of uniqueness, both in people and in countryside.  It’s bitterly cold in the winter and much of the country is desert, yet it may catch your soul …  most certainly did with us. Here is our story.

We travelled to Mongolia in October 2011 via the Trans-Siberian Moscow-to-Beijing Train stopping at Ulanbaatar (usually referred to simply as UB), the capital.  The story of our complete train trip appeared in the last edition of TTS, but we broke our journey in UB in order to take side trips into the Gobi Desert, staying in family gers.  Here, now, is a more detailed account of that fascinating experience.

A beautiful sunrise had appeared over the horizon when a driver from our hostel met us off the train and drove us to the Khongor Guest House.  Once we settled into our room (with metal bunk beds and a small refrigerator tucked into a corner with a T.V. above it!) we decided to explore a little, ending up at the strangely-named Amsterdam Café for coffee and apple pie.

One of the reasons we had decided to stay at Khongor House was because we had read good reviews on the tours they offered.  Through them we had arranged to have an English-speaking tour guide, a cook and a driver take us on a six-day tour of the Gobi Desert in a Toyota 4×4.  Such a trip for two is more expensive that going with a group, but we could choose our own schedule and stop when we wished so we considered it worthwhile.

Next morning, Guide Hurlee met us in the office, ready to travel.  Since she had just finished another extensive tour, I asked her if she was tired, but she said “No”, and after observing how she organized our departure I was confident she was ready to hit the road again.  I think it’s a fact of youth!  Before we knew it, we were packing our bags into the back of the vehicle, along with boxes of food and cooking utensils which the workers helped bring down to the vehicle.  Sumiya, our driver, had a large spare petrol tank behind the back seat which he covered with a cloth before loading the boxes of food, five-gallon water bottles, a stove, sleeping bags and backpacks.  We were loaded down, but Sumiya was very organized and prepared for our desert safari.

We were off on our Gobi Desert Tour by nine o’clock on 6 October 2011, and then got caught in traffic for over an hour, trying to skirt the busy area of Ulaanbaatar.  Finally free, it truly felt different once we were out of the city.  The sparse rolling hills lay before us as we entered the Gobi Desert.