Guide To Crossing The Gobi Desert– Mongolia
Updated: Oct 25
Gobi Desert, Mongolia
The silence of the desert engulfs me as I sit alone, atop the highest sand dune I could find. Shades of gold, purple and black paint a picture across the dunes as far as the eye can see. As the sunset unfolds, the picture begins to change, but the silence remains. In the distance, herds of Bactrian camels graze on the vibrant, desert grass. Beyond, more massive towers of sand and black mountains dominate the darkening, blue sky. This place, so remote and so silent, etches itself in my mind forever. Suddenly, I am consumed by thoughts of the arduous journey that lays ahead. It will test all my skills and experience as a traveler. I am about to cross the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.
Camels on the sand dunes in the Gobi Desert
Guide to Traveling the Gobi Desert
Planning Where to Go
The Gobi is really big! Planning on where to go and how long it will take can become very confusing. It’s best to do lots of research on the Gobi, and decide what areas interest you the most. The Gobi has everything from motor sports and dinosaurs, to hiking and camel riding. Uncharted adventure will be had. So spend the time before you go to plan things properly, as visiting the Gobi is a unique travel destination unlike anywhere else.
Ger for tourists
Accommodation in the Gobi Desert
Finding accommodation was incredibly easy. Most towns have some sort of a guest house that always has rooms available. They are not luxurious by any means. All of the other sights have gers* for rent, and usually a host family will cook for you. Tour companies will tell you that, without a tour, you will not be able find any of this for yourself. This is, of course, not true, but, it would be more challenging.
*Ger: This circular house is quite possibly the one thing that you will remember most about your trip to Mongolia. Today, most of the population still lives in this fashion. The round, wooden frame is covered in felt and wool. The top of the ger is left open for smoke to escape. These houses can be seen all over the country as they are very transportable. This is essential, because most of the population in Mongolia still lives a nomadic lifestyle.
Many times throughout our journey, when we were in very remote areas, our only option was to stay with local, nomadic families. Thanks to Jugga, we were able to arrange this very easily. Staying with families can be very rough, however. You will sleep on the floor, usually next to curing meats. After the fire burns out, it gets very cold. On the upside, every ger doubles as a distillery, so you usually drink yourself asleep and stop caring about the ger’s cleanliness.
Sample of a Remote Ger Home stay Option
Now I am about to get very real with you. Mongolian food was, by far, the highest hurdle to overcome. Mongols have primarily survived on livestock and hunting. They consume copious amounts of meat and milk.
All beverages, including alcohol and tea, are made from either goat, camel, or horse milk. If you are lactose intolerant, like my friend Adam, then life will be a constant struggle.
As for eating with the locals, the usual meal consists of cured goat meat, and usually fried noodles or rice. Every so often, we would see dumplings or empanada-like things filled with goat fat…. Yes, I am warning you, the food here is something else. The odd time we would find spicy ketchup; that was an absolute treat.
“What’s a vegetable? It’s like a goat that grows in the ground.” – Adam Delman
Nomadic family Ger
Entering a Ger
The first thing you must know before entering a ger is that you must be wary of the dogs. Yell out for residents to hold the dogs before leaving your vehicle. When it’s safe and you are ushered to enter the ger, the first thing you should do is greet everyone in Mongolian by saying “Sain Bain uu.” The elder will usually will break out the snuff bottles – powdered tobacco which you snort up your nose. It gives you quite the buzz!!
The next step is to eat the dried meat they hand you. It’s usually goat meat or organs that have been fermenting. If you cannot do this, then I suggest you don’t visit Mongolia. Respect the culture. Next, tea is served and food will be cooked. Sometimes the tea is left out and instead hard alcohol is substituted. Getting extremely intoxicated with your host is not just good manners, but is expected!
Tsagaan Suvarga in the Gobi Desert
Getting to the Gobi Desert
From Central Mongolia’s Orkhon Valley, the dirt road winds through the sunlit, bare, green hills south. My crew which consisted of my two friends, Jacob and Adam, from British Colombia. Our driver Jugga, a Mongol crazy enough to tag along for the epic journey that lay ahead, was gearing up in the early hours of the morning.
Our plan was to drive our old Soviet van through the Gobi desert, all the way to Western Mongolia. This is not a journey that is to be taken lightly. After the first part of the journey the road ends abruptly. So does all forms of modern civilisation.
Van fully loaded, we said goodbye to our Nomadic home stay in the Orkhon and headed south. As the hours passed by, we forded rivers, twisted along muddy roads in dense forests, and eventually came to a bare, lunar like landscape. The road ended. Every so often, some horses could be seen; grazing on the shrubs that miraculously grow in this inhospitable place. Four hours of being thrown around like a rag doll in the van passed before we finally found the tarmac.
It wasn’t even an hour after that before we hit the first city, Arvaikheer, en r