Burnham-On-Sea explorer and author Michael Turner has just returned from a ‘gruelling’ trek through Mongolia, which was the 90th country that he has visited.
The 63 year-old joined a 13-day Franco-Mongolian expedition through the fabled Mongolian steppes before descending in altitude to the legendary Gobi Desert.
He says the experience revealed why Mongolia is a niche traveller destination.
“Mongolia is three times the size of France with a population of only 3 million: a third of whom are nomads. Britain has a population density of two people the size of a rugby pitch compared to Mongolia of two per square kilometre.”
“Most of the country’s places of interest are not served by public transport and are scores of miles from paved roads.”
“The glaciated uplands, waterfalls, monasteries and sand dunes are only reached by using Mongolian drivers who know every bumpy, rocky, stony, gravel, sand and mud track, that are their B-roads, which lack sign posts.”
“Any adventurous car hire driver could easily become hopelessly lost, when another person might not be seen for days.”
“The non-descript towns are of Russian architecture. Hence the visitor is typically attracted to the nomadic culture of the unforgiving and harsh steppes and desert, that are also home to Tibetan, Buddhist monasteries.”
“The wayfarer will keep clean by bathing in rivers, dodging slabs of ice, who uses this water to wash clothes in a basin and to cook over a wood-fuelled stove in gers. These are the famous, portable, round homes in which the adventurer will stay for a night or two with a family before moving to another ger camp.”
“It is this domestic experience with families who heard: yak, cattle, horses, camels, sheep and goats that ensures Mongolia provides a unique visitor experience to the hardy explorer.”
“Mongolia may never upgrade to comfortable lodging with enough heated gers and hot showers that are vital to attract the older clientele.”
Michael says he only saw two other ‘older’ travellers who were in their late 50s, since the average age is 20-35.
Michael says the hardships provide a spiritual sympathy with folk who maintain a remote, nomadic tradition, dating back to the age of the revered Chinggis Khaan, which makes a visit to Mongolia worthwhile.
“Life in the countryside is so harsh with its bleak and barren landscape, shrouded with an icy wind from Russia, that most city dwellers hardly venture into the mountains, steppes or desert.”
“Typically, they may overnight in the local Terelj National Park or visit a distant town by bus or car. Hence, I saw more of Mongolia than the average Mongolian because I covered 3,000 kilometres.”
“Literally speaking, the high point of the expedition was when I was one of the oldest men to scramble up the country’s highest dune in the Gobi Desert. Half way up the 300m high dune, the packed-sand becomes loose; therefore, it was one step and three down.”
Michael adds that he’d never seen a range of dunes so high that stretched 100 kms.
“My reward was to sit straddled across the ridge, gazing at the plethora of shapes of the lower dunes. I did not have time to travel hundreds of kilometres to the annual eagle festival that was a must for all culture vultures.”
Michael adds that the journey was so therapeutic that returning to the resort of Burnham-On-Sea is going to be a long holiday. Time will be spent uploading his 30 videos to Playlist, Turner’s Travels on Youtube, which he hopes will receive many views and comments from local readers.