Mongolia in October is Spectacular!
Mongolia in October is spectacular! It is still possible to get out into the Gobi Desert. Those wide open landscapes look incredible in the clear October sunshine, think long shadows and golden afternoons.
The weather can be very changeable, from glorious sunny days to snow in the blink of an eye, so wrap up and pack your warmest clothes.
I hope these photographs inspire you to visit Mongolia at any time of year, I can wholly recommend October!
Arrive by Train
The trains from Russia and China are far less busy out of season, the rails cut through sublime scenery that urge you to step off and explore.
In Ulaanbaatar – the capital – you can prepare to head out into the desert. If you are lucky it may coincide with the celebrations for Chinggis Khan’s birthday, it’s a national holiday and there is some pomp and splendor. The date varies year to year – like Easter –, falling on the first day of the first winter lunar month.
Get Some Transport
You need transport to get out onto the wide open plains. Once you leave the main highway that dissects Mongolia the tarmac disappears and rutted tracks fan out to the horizon.
You need someone who knows those tracks like the palm of their hands, a driver that can read the landscape.
Many tours and drivers use old Soviet UAZ 4×4 mini buses. They often break down – which can lead to fantastic adventures – yet they are simple to fix. And there’s no denying how cool they look!
Find Your Accommodation
Accommodation in the desert is snug and nomadic. Mongolian ‘gers’ – ger is the Mongolian word for yurt – dot the landscape, moving with the seasons.
These circular tents are built around a wooden frame and lined with heavy felt. Often carpets are hung around the walls too for added warmth and decoration.
A central stove is usually fuelled by dried animal dung, an endless resource from the livestock out on the plains. A tall chimney pipe funnels the smoke up and out of the ger.
Admire the Interior
The wooden frame of the ger is usually painted, sometimes with lovely patterns or imagery. Electricity is generated by solar panels and sometimes windmills, and stored in car batteries to run TVs, lights and refrigerators.
During the day light pours in through the circular window at the top of the ger, at night stars can be seen twinkling.
Inhale the familiar smell of ‘ger’: a smell of farm, of old milk, of meat stewing, of the smoky scent of the dried dung used for fuel.
Cosy Evenings Playing Cards
Regardless of the temperature outside, the ger is surprisingly cosy. The central stove fills the tent with warm air that has little chance of escape with all the covers, felting and carpets.
When darkness falls they become blissful retreats, shed those heavy clothes and bask in the warmth.
Meet The Livestock
The nomadic Mongolian farmers have horses (used for milk, meat and work), camels (transport), goats (cashmere), cows (milk and meat) and abundant sheep (meat and wool). There are Yak too (used for milk, transport and work).
The horses roam the plains in semi-wild large herds, they are small and hardy.
The gers have dogs, to guard and herd the animals. They aren’t always friendly: shout ‘Call off your dogs!’ when you near a ger!
This is what you come to Mongolia for: the spectacular open vistas of the Gobi Desert. When the golden hour comes these are views you will never forget.
Don’t imagine that the desert is dry and empty, these landscapes change and vary as you travel though them. There are stunning sand dunes that sing to you, vast grasslands that are alive with birds, geological wonders and dinosaur eggs – if you are lucky at the Flaming Cliffs.
It Might Just Snow!
Snow turns everything to magic, the landscapes look even bigger! Rocky gorges close in under the dark heavy clouds and trickling streams freeze over.
The livestock become dusted with frosty powder.
Don’t worry, the ger is still warm.
Some Things Are Permanent!
There are small towns, with permanent buildings and monuments.
There are old temples – ornate and vibrant in the emptiness.
The Night Sky Is Full Of Stars
Light pollution in the desert is zero, there are more stars in the night sky than you can possibly imagine.
It’s A Sad Day When You Have To leave.
Your heart will yearn to come back to Mongolia.
We visited Mongolia in October ’13 as part of a longer independent overland rail trip to China from the UK, travelling on a small budget. To get out into the desert we booked a tour through the hostel we stayed at when we arrived (Sunpath).
When booking our hostel in Ulaanbaatar we didn’t check the accommodation reviews, we checked the reviews for the tours they did instead and based our stay on that. We joined up with three other people, two of which we’d travelled from Russia with, to make a small group of 5.
Our tour comprised of one night at a tourist ger camp, one night staying with a family in their ger and 4 nights staying in private ‘spare’ gers.
I’m a vegetarian and doing this as part of a tour meant I was able to eat – Mongolia is quite hard for vegetarians and vegans: meat and dairy are the only sustenance out on the plains. Our tour came with a guide and a driver, our young guide Badmaa cooked for us giving me the food before adding the meat for everyone else. It was a lot of pasta in various brothy guises. There are vegetarian restaurants and menu options in UB.
It can get bitterly cold, pack warm clothes. I spent a lot of time in merino wool thermals under my clothing! The van and gers were super warm though.
In October the tourist ger camps were semi-closed and there was no running water, no running water anywhere. The only water we had on the tour was bottled water for drinking. This meant we didn’t wash for 6 days! I would recommend packing dry shampoo and cleansing wipes.
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Try these posts:
There Are No Roadsigns In The Gobi Desert: Part 1 Sleeping in a ger with a nomadic family, in the desert: magical!
There Are No Roadsigns In The Gobi Desert: Part 2 Our Soviet van breaks down! We are stranded in the middle of absolute nowhere!
There Are No Roadsigns In The Gobi Desert: Part 3 Waking up to deep snow at the valley of the vultures.
There Are No Roadsigns In The Gobi Desert: Part 4 Spectacular rocks and cards by candlelight.
Hello Mongolia! Arriving by train into Ulaanbaatar on Chinggis Khan’s birthday! How very auspicious!
Crossing Siberia By Train, Fulfilling a Dream Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk, and one very boozy Russian experience. Yes, we did sing Bohemian Rhapsody to two bemused Russians. Oh dear!