Did you know that the Gobi Desert is only 20% covered by sand dunes?
Of that 20%, the Khongoriin (Khongor) Els sand dunes are some of the largest and most spectacular in Mongolia.
The other 80% is sheer, dry flatness. Either grassy or barren earth.
Somewhere in that 80% we had our first breakdown. Yep. Our trusty reliable Soviet van had had enough of the relentlessly bumpy terrain. In fact, it was only due to another random “get out and stretch the legs” break that our driver discovered we had sheared two of eight bolts on the front left axle. If he hadn’t inspected it, we may have hit a bump and our wheel would have fallen off!
Now stranded in the middle of the Gobi Desert at the height of summer, the three boys spent the next hour or so “MacGyver-ing” two new bolts from random bolts our driver had in his ‘spares’ stash to make them fit. Out of nowhere, a friendly local herdsman came past on his motorbike who was searching for his lost flock of sheep. We pointed to a flock in the distance, but he assured us they weren’t his. Then he just left us there.
Eventually we had success (we hoped) and were on our way again. Our first glimpse of the Khongoriin Els sand dunes was strange. From a distance, they looked like a thin strip of yellow-white nothing. Known locally as the Singing Dunes, due to the wind blowing musical tunes across the sands, they can be up to 300m in height, 12km wide and stretch some 180km in a long strip between open plains and distant barren mountains.
Yeah. They were big.
We got a closer look during our smelly and uncomfortable twin-humped camel ride.
(Fact: Mongolia has the highest population of twin-humped camels in the world.)
But at least we notched up another Bucket List item!
Andrew’s grand idea was to go sandboarding on the sand dunes. After he found a sheet of wood, punched two holes in it and tied a strap from the driver’s bag, he was ready to tackle the dunes.
Sand is no fun to climb as you seem to go two steps up while sinking one step down, making the ascent exhausting and strenuous. Ditching our heavy hiking boots midway, we made for the top barefoot, now under the hot afternoon sun. Andrew won the race to the top, much to the amusement of a bunch of British tourists watching on from the summit.
Even our tour guide, Tulga, was impressed.
Unfortunately, we had to leave the awesome vista behind and head down…
What a massive highlight of the whole trip!
Visited 13th August 2014.