There are no road signs in the Gobi Desert. Part 3: Snow
After our fun frolicking in the Khongoryn Sand Dunes, another day in our little Soviet van beckoned. We would be heading to Yolyn Am, a rocky canyon to the west. From the dunes we travelled through the wide valley, the dunes to the right of us stretching off as far as the eye could see. The valley opened out wider to become a flat, verdant plain, the dunes were beginning to thin out. We were covering some miles along it when the van’s accelerator cable snapped. Bata, our driver, managed to temporarily fix it with a scrap of wire, this gave him enough play so that he could drive it to the nearest ger we came across. This ger seemed quite permanent, it had a substantial porch, a fence and a wooden shed behind it. The family, three generations off, very kindly invited us in so that we could eat our lunch. Grandfather sat in the ger preparing offal. The smell was a little overpowering. While Badmaa prepared lunch we were offered the customary milk tea and fried bread nuggets. The mother kept the bread nugget bowl filled up from a plastic bag full of them, pre-made by herself. The offal was transferred to a large wok-like pan set onto the stove by the mother where it bubbled away. Grandfather offered out chunks of liver wrapped in stomach lining which Bata was happily devouring. Sophie and Severi enjoyed some, I of course declined, Badmaa explaining that I didn’t eat meat. I’m sure they thought I was crazy but they didn’t let on!
This was a most homely ger, the family hadn’t moved for thirty years. It was cluttered with homely things, heavy carpets hung on the walls, the spokes of the roof were painted but unadorned. There was a fridge, solar power providing electricity, and a prettily painted kitchen unit, pots and pans filled shelving to the side of it. They must get a few people stopping on the way through the valley as there was a small selection of goods for sale on top of the fridge, complete with neon price labels.
Outside, some way from the ger, was the privvy. A simple drop affair with planks, but a decorative wall around it that wowed us all, it had been constructed out of empty beer bottles. It opened out onto the valley, a loo with a view! It made a change from just wandering off to find a quiet spot as was the norm.
The cable was fixed and we were back on the road, we eventually reached Yolyn Am just before sunset. Yolyn Am is a narrow, dramatic gorge and translates as the Valley of the Lammergeiers, Lammergeiers being a vulture. We stayed in a spare ger belonging to a family camped at the entrance to the gorge, they farmed goats and we had to wade through these soft fluffy goats to reach the WC, this one had a door, privacy at last!
At night the goats became a sea of tiny lights, their eyes reflecting in the torch light. Many of the goats we came across on the tour were farmed for their cashmere, they looked as soft and cosy as a sweater. The nomadic family move to the gorge’s entrance at winter as it provides shelter.
The ger was attractively decorated with painted folk designs of animals and mythical creatures on the spindles and roof supports, there was no fabric covering the walls thus revealing the heavy wool felt packed under the frame. We slept on painted wooden cot beds, they were ramshackle and a little uncomfortable but looked so pretty.
The stove had been lit before we woke yet we rose to a chilly ger, we could see our breath. A blanket of snow shrouded the world outside the ger, it fell silently and lightly though the hole around the chimney in the roof. It was a cold trudge out to the toilet.
After breakfast we wrapped as warm as we could, in as many layers of clothes as we had, for the hike in the gorge. Bata drove us in as far as he was able, there was an icy wind blowing towards us.
It was so cold and heavy grey clouds obscured the tops of the rocky peaks. Bata felt I hadn’t dressed warm enough for the conditions and proceeded to envelop me in his thick Mongolian nomad coat, cinching me in at the waist with a contrasting rag of fabric. I felt like an extra from Lord of the Rings!
We walked into the wind down the canyon, a black and white scene punctuated by my lime green waistband. My toes went numb very quickly making the walk rather uncomfortable but the drama of the gorge, the rocky peaks and the snow more than made up for it. The trail wove through the gorge, zigzagging across a small icy stream, we had to shuffle like penguins to cross it, slipping over it’s glassy surface.
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Vultures and eagles soared above our heads, the ravens cawed from rocky outcrops as we past. On the drive into the gorge Bata had stopped so we could photograph some yak grazing near the entrance, now they really did look like they were dressed for the weather. Small hamster-like creatures peeked out of burrows momentarily, they never paused long enough for identification. Yolyn Am is famed for its wildlife but the weather was against us for the most part, I imagine it is beautiful in summer, Badmaa says it is one her of favourite places.
The gorge narrowed to a crack, barely wide enough for two people to pass though, we terminated our walk here and turned back after some posing for photos. The return journey was much easier with the wind behind us.