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Footprints in Mongolia's Gobi Desert

- Karishma Revankar

The 5th largest desert in the world - the Gobi is the most expansive arid region on the Asian continent. The desert spans two countries, covering parts of northern and north western China and up into southern Mongolia.  The most interesting pockets of Gobi happen to be in Mongolia, making it convenient for travellers to explore this elusive desert.

G E T T I N G   T H E R E

Accessibility map of Mongolian Gobi Desert
Gobi is a vast landscape and is accessible by road and flight. Travel Time by road varies between 8 - 10 hrs while flying time is only 1 hr 30 mins.

S I N G I N G   D U N E S   O F   K H O N G O R Y N   E L S

Khongoryn Els - which stretches 185km across the gobi desert and covers 925 square km. From afar the dunes look painted on the south horizon in front of those gorgeous granite mountains. The Khongor river flows along the sand dunes and has given birth to beautiful oasis. The sand dunes change colour with each hour of a day, from yellow to silver to rosy red at dawn. Sipping your favourite drink at the sunset with the picturesque Khongor Sand dunes against the evening sky or just a romantic evening with your loved one on a full moon night at the Khongor is an experience to cherish. The sand dunes with perfectly contoured shadows of ripples and undulating crests, have always been a favourite subject of photographers. And what better way there is to experience the Gobi Desert than riding through these towering sand dunes with ever-changing attractive curves on a Bactrian camelback? If you’re feeling too adventurous, why not try climbing one?

Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes with Altai Mountains in the background in Mongolia
Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes

Y O L I N   A M   G O R G E – S H I M M E R I N G  

G R E E N   A N D   I C Y   O A S I S

The dramatic rocky cliffs and narrow, heavily shaded canyons that allow sheets of blue-veined ice to survive well into the summer and heat of Gobi Desert in what is known as Yolyn Am Gorge. One can discover endemic plants and rare animals such as bearded vultures, snow leopards, manul cat, beech marten, and Mongolian Saiga antelope. This deep and narrow gorge can be found in the Zuunsaikhan Mountain. The scenery here is beautiful as this mysterious green valley with cool wind blowing through makes you think as if you’re just walked into a magical land.

F L A M I N G   C L I F F S O F   B A Y A N Z A G

W O R L D 'S  D I N O S A U R  F O S S I L S  H O T S P O T

Bayanzag Red Sand Cliffs or Flaming Cliffs is well known in the paleontology world. This area is where the first dinosaur egg was discovered. It’s a classic desert of rock, red sands, scrub, sun and awesome emptiness. The cliffs look to be formed by great rifts in the earth, like a layer cake torn open, offset by the surprisingly green valley below.

Why the name Flaming Cliffs? The cliffs look like they're burning when the sun falls thanks to the glowing reddish tint in the soil.

Red cliffs at Bayanzag Valley in Mongolia
Flamings Cliffs of Bayanzag

T S A G A A N   S U V A R G A  

T H E   M O S T   S T U N N I N G   M I N E   I N  


Jigsaw of white-sand cliffs, striped pastel shades of purple, orange and red – look down, and you'll see more of the same. That's the scene awaiting you at Tsagaan Suvarga, a sight similar to Bayanzag, but with much more colour and a sliver of the tourism footprint.

Colourful cliffs at Tsagaan Suvarga Mine in Mongolia's Gobi Desert
The mines of Tsagaan Suvarga

I K H   G A Z R Y N   C H U L U U

From afar, the remote Gobi nature reserve Ikh Gazryn Chuluu looks jumbled and its jagged peaks part of a close-knit mountain range, but drive closer and you'll see independent rock formations, some rounded like giant boulders, others elongated and stacked like abstract totems, as if the gods themselves worshipped Picasso. There are over 40 caves in the area, and they are easy to access and close to each other, making it ideal for hiking. One of the caves named Olgii, according to local people used to be full of mysterious books and scriptures.

Weird Rock Formations at Ikh Gazaryn Chuluu
Rock Formations at Ikh Gazaryn Chuluu

No wonder it's one of Mongolia's top-draw regions, promising colossal sand dunes, ice-filled canyons, dinosaur fossils, camel treks, and hospitable nomadic herders who will shower you with warmth, and more than a little milky tea. So, choose one of those criss-crossed two-wheel tracks and follow it ever deeper into the mystery.

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