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The Dunes-Mongolia

by Rensina van den Heuvel
(Carmila, Queensland, Australia)

Khongoryn Els  Mongolia

Khongoryn Els Mongolia

We're now travelling towards the sand dunes on a track, which would have to be one of the worst yet. Every twenty metres or so, there is a rough dry watercourse to cross. For hours we go from first to second gear then back to first and so on. It's very rocky and is extremely, painfully.... slow! Ten to twenty kilometres per hour, for the entire day.

By mid afternoon we are rewarded by our first glimpse of the dunes on our left and oh, they look so spectacular from here. The first ones look like gigantic, creamy croissants piled next to each other. The sun touches them, creating a glossy, peachy, honeyed glow. Contrasting dark, stony mountains stand behind, towering over the dunes.

Our search for water is so far, unsuccessful. Nothing but dry wells all day. In the distance we see a small lake. I'm already thinking.....swimming, washing...whoohoo!

Veering off the track, we drive closer to the dunes, till we are parallel, to get a better look. The hot afternoon sun reflects on them now, turning them into giant golden, pearly, lightly baked meringue peaks. Behind them, the mountains loom even larger than before, like giant dark sentinels. What a magnificent sight! On our right, there are also large extensive mountain ranges. Many of the watercourses run down from them, all the way to the dunes.

Before we arrive at the lake, we get to another little wooden shed. It may be a water well. Still hopeful of fresh, clean water, we find that it's also dry and long ago abandoned.

Walking on the edge of the lake, is like dragging your feet through thick melted chocolate. It's very, very sticky. A thousand animal prints are stamped into the oozy quagmire of mud and the water is dark brown. No swimming today! Two hairy camel legs lay in the sand complete with hooves. Cut off at the knees. Allen throws a large rock into the middle of the lake. The splash comes up thick liquid chocolate, like the sludgy stuff that's at the bottom of your cup when you finish your hot cocoa!

Our plan to stay by the next "water' for a few days and rest, wash clothes, write will not be fulfilled here. A nice hot wash with plenty of water would be a dream come true right now.

Strong wind gusts blow up again as we set up camp for the night, as close to the dunes as possible. Sand blows off in waves leaving perfect edges on the ever shifting mounds. Impermanence in stability. Like life itself.

Afternoon sunlight casts patterns of symmetrical shadows, honeycombed onto the soft creamy dunes. Majestic and serenely beautiful. My camera cannot and does not capture what I see.

Falafel and flat bread seem appropriate for tea, seeing as we both look decidedly Arabic with our Kaffirs. It tastes delicious, despite the sandpapery texture. Allen suggests we sleep outside tonight. I decline on the grounds that I don't want to be a "wee sand dune" in the morning. And...we would have been! Just after we eat, the wind cranks up a notch. Tons of fine sand, begins to fill the air at each gust. Hurriedly, we get into the car, to write diaries, the dishes left to the elements. The car is literally sand blasted all night with the strong winds.

Waking at 6.30am, the warmth of the sleeping bag is not enough to hold me. Scrambling from the car, I am totally inspired by the beauty, which surrounds me. Savoring the scene, I watch, spellbound as a red sun rises and spills her golden gossamer light rays across the dune's fluid shapes.

Wrapping my woollen scarf around my head like a Bedouin woman, armed with my camera, I begin my trek. The winds are still gale force and I am glad of my windproof (thank god I bought it) jacket. Gusts are so strong, they threatens to throw me into the sand where I will be buried forever. Oh that imagination!

Crossing the lower, small dunes, I begin my ascent, along the ridges towards the largest and most majestic dune. It is very difficult to judge distances in this environment. Looking back, the Land Rover has become the size of a matchbox car. Dwarfed by the enormous Mongolian landscape.

As I approach the matriarch of these magnificent dunes, it feels like sacred territory. Crossing into her vast valley to get out of the icy wind, an almost vertical wall of sand stands before me. Its hard going, as the sand is forever slipping out from under my feet. Combined with the altitude, it's difficult to breathe.

Stopping to gulp in some air, I see the Land Rover is now, but a dot in the 180-degree expanse of land, which lies before me. The next ridge offers me yet another peak to climb, to go even higher. Panting with breathlessness and pure exhilaration, my goal is in sight. Stronger blustery wind gusts threaten to blow me over as I climb higher towards the peak.

Almost at the top, I turn to see through the slits in my woollen scarf, a 360-degree panorama, which has no beginning and no end. To the East and West for as far as my eyes can see, there are dunes. A dune ridge, twelve kilometres wide and a hundred kilometres long. It's positively mind blowing!

Behind the dunes to the south are immense dark mountain ranges. Shadows play in the valleys and peaks of the dunes. They are soft, flowing and feminine, like a hundred women's bodies lying side by side. Sensuous, smooth, soft curves, gliding into hollow belly buttons, an arch of a neck, swelling breasts, an inner thigh, plump bottoms, dipping around calves and sleek, long legs. This place is female and pure in all her splendor.

Dropping to the sand, I sit, caressed in the cocoon of her mystical perfection. The beauty of the land saturates into my soul.....Connects me and permeates through my body until I am a part of this land's spirit and it, a part of mine. Raw primal emotions manifest from deep within me. Enchanted, I never want to leave.

Ed. Note: Rensina is the author of Russian Documents, Mongolian Dust, available at

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