Discover Luxury In The Wilds Of Mongolia
Getting away from it all. It’s the goal of just about every holiday we take, but just how far do you have to go? Because there really is a lot of “it all” about. Well, in modern terms, you need to go beyond the reach of mobile-phone service and far away from wifi signals, to a place like the Gobi Desert in far outer Mongolia.
Out there your mobile-phone goes though a magical transformation from being the leash that ties you to everyday life to being nothing more than a camera you use to record some truly unique memories.
Unfortunately, no photo – and I took hundreds – can capture the scope of the vistas you’re struck with in this incredible landscape. With nothing growing higher than your knee, anywhere, and no trees at all, it really does feel like you can see to forever, in every direction.
You experience the kind of humbling, 360-degree emptiness you can only feel in this much space, and gaze at vistas that make you wish you had eyes on the side of your head, like a bird.
The Three Camel Lodge, a solid eight-hour drive (or 90-minute flight) from Mongolia’s only large city, Ulan Bator, warns guests before they come that there is no internet access or phone signal on site, and resort director Undraa Buyannemekh admits that some people to struggle with it at first.
“I think we all live with this desire to check our phones now, all the time, even if it hasn’t beeped at you, because we’re so worried about missing out, but when you take that away, when you know there’s nothing to see, it’s very freeing,” she says.
“Even the weather; we’re so used to checking what tomorrow’s weather is going to be, but out here the weather just is what it is.”
While she admits Mongolia isn’t on anyone’s top-10 travel list, Buyannemekh says her Lodge attracts the kind of experienced travellers who feel like they’ve done it all.
“Typically, they’ve visited about 50 countries before they get to us, but they’re still blown away by what they find, because Mongolia is truly unique, it’s raw, it’s genuine, and it doesn’t have that feeling of having been squashed by mass tourism,” she says.
And she’s absolutely right, because I can’t remember the last time i went somewhere overseas that I didn’t see any other tourists, anywhere, outside of the lodge’s grounds.
What you do see are plenty of fascinating locals, some 1 million of whom still lead the kind of traditional, nomadic lifestyle that dates back thousands of years (don’t forget the Mongol Empire was the world’s biggest, back in the 1200s when Genghis Khan was big).
That means they pack up their incredible mobile homes – known as “gers” and made of latticed wood and canvas and packed with layers of felt made from goat hair – three or four times a year and move to fresher pastures, or to hide away in the foothills during the brutal winters here, which regularly see temperatures as low as -30C.
Which is they Three Camel Lodge doesn’t bother attempting to tempt tourists in winter, it’s only open from May to October.
One of the best parts of staying there – an experience so unique and culturally immersive that it’s one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World – is that you get to stay in a ger of your own.
It really doesn’t feel remotely like any other accommodation I’ve ever stayed in, with its walls held to the ground by counterweight boulders, and a real feeling of cosiness, and historic fascination. While guests get two conjoined gers each – one containing a giant bed with camel-hair blankets, the other a stone-floored bathroom – a home of this size would typically house six or eight people. There’s a lot to be said for body heat.
“Staying in the gers is one of the things people love most about coming here, because it really immerses you completely in the local culture, you feel like your’e living it,” Buyannemekh says.
Aside from hanging out in your room, or lying in bed looking up through the glass panel in the roof’s peak at the incredible stars at night, the Lodge offers plenty of tours and experiences, like riding a beautiful, long-maned Mongolian horses across the steppe, or exploring the various other regions of the Gobi, each with their own spectacular landscapes – from rocky canyons to sand dunes to rolling blue hills and endless plains.
Or if your only goal is to relax, far away from “it all”, and read a book while a few thousand camels, horses and goats graze lazily by in all that space, then the Three Camel Lodge really is a proper get away.
There are various ways to fly to Mongolia from Australia, none of them direct, and prices for a three-day adventure at the Lodge start from $2680 per person.
Published 10 August, 2018