Taming the Gobi Desert has never been more exciting and accessible. Picture yourself stepping off a flight across the Pacific and onto Mongolian soil. Far beyond the beaten path, this vast country offers everything a true world-traveler could hope to find, and the most diverse of climates, wildlife, and outdoor activities that could possibly be fit into a single country. Yet even in such a remote corner of the world, amenities abound with the region’s premier outfitters, Nomadic Expeditions. Imagine a place where you can ride camels, see some of the first fossil excavation sites in the world, explore dunes the size of mountains, and stay with a culture that has remained untouched for centuries. While this may sound like difficult trek, luxury is actually right at hand with all these natural treasures. On our journey, we flew from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, out to a small town on the edge of the desert. Following a ride across the open land in a Russian jeep that can only be described as vintage, we arrived at the cradle of hospitality, and our base camp for striking out across the sands on our adventures, the Three Camel lodge. Jalsa Urubshurow, the founder of Nomadic Expeditions, and his team completely designed this oasis in the desert to cater to travelers and to promote green travel as best as possible.
Ecotourism is a burgeoning new style of both visiting and preserving the beautiful precious regions of the world. Mongolia is taking great strides to ensure that the Gobi is well-preserved, and the balance of human impact is mitigated through solar energy, water conservation, and leaving only footprints in the sands while you experience this incredible landscape. All lights are solar powered, windmills are used for the generators, every building was made by traditional Mongolian handicraft, and almost everything you’ll see in the buildings and in your ger (the round tent-like dwelling you’ll stay in) were made by locals.
Though this may sound minimalist, the services at Three Camel stretch far beyond most hotels elsewhere. At the towering lodge you can enjoy fresh meals all day, sit on the carved swings and enjoy the immense view with a drink, or go down to their spa for a massage after a day of hiking and riding. Many of the staff are hospitality majors in college, working for the summer break, and they regularly put on shows of the traditional folk music they study. This ranges from Tuvan Throat Singing to local instruments like the horsehair fiddle. It’s an incredible cultural display, and wonderful to see the youth of their nation so active in preserving such unique talents. After seeing the grounds and meeting the incredible local staff, it’s almost difficult to want to leave, but many sights await you in the wide open desert.
The Gobi is famous for paleontology, and many digs are still active, producing some of the best complete fossils in the entire world. Locals sell all sorts of wares in the area, and love to talk about their lives in what would seem like such a foreboding climate. However, they thrive in small groups, and tended herds dot the sands where families have kept sheep herds and camels for generation after generation. On our trip we made several excursions, including an overnight camping trip, to take in the richness of the area.
For a full day we rode Bactrian camels across the dunes with a local guide, stopping for traditional meals of kebabs, dumplings and yogurt, while soaking in the still silent expanse all around. With all the hustle and noise of the modern world, it really makes you think about how life was in the past to be so removed from humanity. Still with so many sites and monuments, and a skillful guide that knows all the lore and history of the area, an otherwise solemn desert can open up to a vibrant world of legends, conquest, and kinship, both with a people that are as kind and open as they are enduring, and with a land that offers more color and discovery than any place you could imagine. Mongolia is certainly rich in history and exploration even today, and the opportunity is just waiting for you in the great Gobi. For more information visit: www.threecamellodge.com www.nomadicexpeditions.com