Deep inside every one of us there is a nomadic dreamer. One whose worldly possessions pack into a meagre few luggage and with it wanders to which ever corner of the world as one likes, whenever one likes. Because life is defined by the journeys we take as oppose to the destinations we arrive at.
We rely on our four-legged animal friends, or vehicle in our case, for transport; we listen to the sound of rivers and lakes for our daily water supply; we look to the sky, the terrain and our compass for direction, for there are no chalk-marked roads for guidance; and to look the part, we dress in the fur of the animal we hunted to protect ourselves from the bitter cold. Here in Mongolia, our nomadic dream comes true.
As the 18th largest, but the most sparsely populated, country in the world, Mongolia is a very special country to visit because it is one of the only countries in the world where you can get a taste of unrestricted freedom. Freedom is a bittersweet dish and when consumed in the winter you better be prepared to stomach its unique flavour. But once you hold your nose and overcome the bitter part, which in this case are the unforgiving climate, harsh terrain and unvaried cuisine. Then you are rewarded ten-folds.
In Mongolia, during the months of October and November the warmest we experienced was zero degrees Celsius and the coldest to minus 20. This makes pretty much everything unenjoyable even if you are adequately dressed. Filling up our water tank from rivers and lakes, for example, was one chore we did not relish and one where we were in danger of getting frostbites each time. The terrain is also a challenge because only a fraction of ‘roads’ in the entire country is paved, which makes that long strip of black, flat, tarmac surface a luxurious commodity that we were close to tears whenever we saw one in the far distance.
Driving through the country is like completing a Tough Mudder obstacle course with your vehicle: you have to skirt around large potholes, have every screw in your car loosened just from the shaking on bumpy roads, getting out of the car on a regular basis to test the ground because it’s either covered by snow, ice or some other unclear substance, and not to mention dodging horses, sheep, camels and cows during daylight and nightfall. All the while checking your compass and the terrain to figure out which path is the best to tackle. Don’t get me wrong, it is incredibly fun and part of the adventure, but it does take up a lot of concentration, yet you only have old mutton and yak milk tea at the end of the day as a source of rejuvenation.
However, none of this comes close to dispiriting an adventurer to experience the sweet part of freedom. Once you step out of the smog-ridden cities, where you can breathe again, your nomadic journey begins. Nicknamed as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky”, Mongolia has 250 days of blue sky in a year, so you can always count on a familiar face. At night, it slips on its starry nightgown when it grows tired of its cerulean cape. This along washes down any hardship you might have experienced that day. Even a hair-raising icy river crossing, where we learnt a thing or two about what happens when a 3.5 tonne of metal supported on four wheels met with ice-bergs hiding under the water trying to obstruct its path.
Coming from Russia we entered Mongolia from the West through the charming Altai mountains. As we climbed up to around 2500m above sea level in a space of few hours our bottles of liquid, such as shampoo, grew bigger and bigger. When we eventually used them, they burst in our faces. After we got over this phenomenon that is only familiar to us from plane journeys, we saw the landscape is a marvel to behold. The terrain changes from flat arid land to snow covered mountainous topography to icy desert land. In the distance, the ancient mountains stand imminent and united, like an old couple who have endured the test of time, they adapt their shape and texture to match its other half – the terrain. The people are friendly, hospitable and curious. Do not be alarmed if you wake up in the morning, parked at where you thought was the middle of nowhere, with a head peering inquisitively into your vehicle. After all, freedom doesn’t belong to just one person but to everyone.
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