Bayan-Gobi means “the rich Gobi” – it’s a particular part of the Gobi Desert that happens to be richer in wildlife, a little scrub grass or saksaul-plant – which makes habitation here fractionally less harsh than other parts of the Gobi. But the main reason for coming here is not all these things (although they are pleasant to enjoy) – it’s to visit the great Buddhist Monastery ofErdene-Zuu, built on a site which was once the location of the Great Kuriltai… the “gathering of all the clans” which chose Chingghiskhan as the Supreme Khan.
Accommodation here will normally with local nomads. You’ll stay in a separate ger – all guests would usually be offered this anyhow. But you eat and drink alongside your nomad hosts, and share their lives for a few days. Please note that this stay doesn’t offer any concessions to western lifestyles – toilet facilities are completely rudimentary, and there are no kind of showers (although you can have a bucket of cold water to wash with).
Erdene-Zuu is the second-most important Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, and is located in the Gobi Desert. There is a small town nearby, but don’t expect many or any amenities (for example there are no banks, or shops that sell things you would really want.. they are catering more to local nomads, who need jeep-tyres or saddlery items). Nearby on a hilltop (we’ll take you up there by road) is the only authenticated relic of Chingghiskhan in Mongolia – a turtle statue known to have stood at the Great Kuriltai that took place on this spot. (There is also another rock nearby, which is – ehem – in the form of a penis. We’ll tell you why later, but just trust us on this one).
The area around Erdene-Zuu and Bayan-Gobi is especially rich in desert wildlife, and it’s worth bringing binoculars if you are interested… although the local vultures are so unbothered by you that they might just land so close you won’t need the binoculars.