A vast expanse of not-very-much, the Gobi Desert is both harsh and magnificent at the same time. A place where you can truly escape the modern world, the region ranges from towering sand dunes to stretches of barren rocks - it’s easy to imagine a time when dinosaurs ranged across the landscapes. Whilst this is one of the best places in the world to see fossils, you can also explore canyons and sand dunes, ride camels and stay in ger camps – what better place to find adventure.
Stretching along the northern edge of the Gobi Desert, Gurvan Saikhan is Mongolia’s largest national park, encompassing a huge range of terrains and features. It is here that you’ll find the dunes of Khongoryn Els, the canyon of Yolyn Am, breathtaking mountain vistas and a series of eerie landscapes that you wouldn’t find anywhere else – on this planet anyway! The park also has a surprising biodiversity, particularly plants, but is also frequented by rare and native bird species and the critically endangered Gobi bear.
Some of Mongolia’s largest dunes, the sands at Khongoryn Els rear up to 300 metres in height. Walking along the edge of the dunes the views are seriously impressive, but you can’t beat the ones from the top – the sands stretching off before you as far as the eye can see. Getting up there though is quite a slog! This area is also known as Duut Mankhan, or Singing Dunes, due to the sounds caused by the wind moving the sand.
An area of rugged cliffs and narrow canyons Yolyn Am has a particularly unusual feature for a desert – an ice flow. During the winter four waterfalls rush into the canyon, whose steep narrow sides and lack of sunlight create a freezing microclimate, forming an ice flow that it several meters thick and a few kilometres long. Sheltered as it is by the sheer sides of the canyon, this ice flow remains until as late as September before if finally melts away. Keep an eye out for a huge variety of birds soaring overhead, vultures and eagles particularly.
Called Byanazag in Mongolian, the flaming cliffs were so named by American palaeontologist and adventurer Ray Chapman Andrews when he arrived in search of dinosaurs in 1922. He found plenty, including the first ever dinosaur eggs; even the untrained eye will be able to spot a fossil or two as you wander through the canyons This striking formation of red and orange sandstone stands alone in a vast expanse of nothing and is particularly spectacular at sunset.
On a tranquil spot on a bend of the Ongi Gol River sit the ruins of what was Mongolia’s largest monastery, razed by the Communists in 1939. Bari Lam Khiid, built in 1810 sits on one side of the river whilst Khutagt Lam Khiid, built in 1760, stands on the opposite bank. In its heyday over 1000 monks lived here. A wonderfully atmospheric place to visit, after the fall of communism in 1990 a few monks set up amongst the ruins, building a new temple from the remains of the old and bringing life back to the river bend.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.