This is Day 3 of our Seven Day Roadtrip into the Gobi Desert. Jesse woke Quan up at 6:30 AM to catch the sunrise after another 10+ hour of sleep for Quan, a new personal record.  Mongolia Ger sleep in sub zero temps seem to be formula for long restful nights. 

The sunrise started out with a lot of promise but after about 10 minutes the colors went away and Quan and Jesse waited about an hour to see the full colors of the sunrise that never came.
When we returned everyone was in great spirits after a much better night of sleep, which probably wasn’t so good but far exceeded expectations.  We got served breakfast which was hard bread and something we weren’t sure what it was.  As would be a theme for the entire day the Asians (Quan, Rinchen and Nidup) and the White people (Jesse, Ze, Elisa) did different things as the Asians decided to eat instant noodles instead of the prepared breakfast while the White people ate the breakfast.

Back on the road, we covered our faces with Quan’s scarfs (Jesse chose the more stylish pink color) as dust from the Gobi Desert gets into the car. We found face masks to purchase the next day

We drove about an hour to the site of the ruins of the Ongi Monastery.  The Ongi Monastery was built in 18th and 19th century and in its prime was the largest religious community in Mongolia where there were 28 temples accommodating more than 1,000 monks.  The temples were destroyed in 1939 during the Stalin Purge when over 200 monks were killed and the rest imprisoned.  During the Stalin Purge over 12,000 monks were killed throughout Mongolia. Some were able to escape into farm life but many more were imprisoned or killed for practicing Buddhism.

Ruins of the Ongi Monastery

Rendering of the Ongi Monastery before it was destroyed by the Stalin Purge


In 1990 after Mongolia was democratized 3 monks returned and started the restoration. They had studied as children in the monastery almost 60 years earlier. One temple has been restored so far with two small museums. There is also a tiny healthy spring which is believed to have healing powers.

The old Stupa on the monastery grounds

The single Temple on the grounds that the returning monks have so far rebuilt

There is still a lot to rebuild including the restoration of a river that dried up after the communists rerouted it to coal mines.  A website had been established for those interested in helping with the rebuild or contribution services. It was a sad stop as we walked amongst the ruins imagining the once thriving community of monks who studied and prayed next to the gurgling river which has now gone dry. 

Walking down from the hilltop overlooking the Ongi Monestary ruins, the dried-up river is located in the distance

After the ruins we drove to lunch. Unfortunately we arrived after two other groups and waited for a couple of hours as it’s the only lunch place in the village.  The sun was out and we waited in the town square where local kids were playing and we joined in on the fun:

​At the lunch the Asians had the instant Shin noodles and sat on a couch and the White people had the Kimche instant noodles nd sat at the table. This would become an ongoing joke for the rest of the trip. 

“The Asians” from left to right: Nidup, Quan & Rinchen comfortable on the couch together eating the Shin brand instant noodles

“The White People” from left to right: Jesse, Elisa & Ze sitting at the table eating the Kimche brand instant noodles confused about the cuisine

We then drove 1.5 hours to our Gers, which were owned by Sunpath our tour guide company.  It was the lap of luxury compared to other places, each couple/pair got their own Ger and there was a generator with electricity.  We quickly dropped our bags off at the Ger and went to the Flaming Cliffs which were only 3 km away.  These cliffs were vermilion red rocks canyon with magnificent views of the desert landscape.  In 1924 it was the site of a massive American dinosaur fossil excavation including the first dinosaur eggs ever discovered (until then no one knew that dinosaurs hatched eggs).  The Americans were able to trade those eggs as well as fossils carried out on 15 camels in exchange for one Model T Ford. Our guide described this somewhat whistfully as this discovery happened during the time when Mongolia was not as educated as today. These findings are now in the US Natural History Museum and are worth millions today.

We hike around the cliffs for an hour and captured an epic sunset along with a safer picture of our Sherpa balloon (Sherpa is the company we use to obtain our visas) from when we were on the horse the prior day.

Quan with the Sherpa balloon from the safety of being on the edge of a cliff instead of being on a horse

After leaving the cliffs as the sun had set, the Asians got in the car to go the 3 km back to the Gers and the White people decided to walk back.  After 20 minutes it became dark but with the stars guiding the way and after a 45 minute walk Jesse, Ze and Elisa found their way to the Gers where dinner was ready. Everyone ate dinner together, went outside to see an amazing red moon and headed off to sleep.

Jesse celebrating being in Sunpath’s luxury private Ger just with Quan

Day 4: Kashongor Sand Dunes