Nomadland: A Bikepacking Adventure in Mongolia (Video)
“Nomadland” is a video from Ricard Calmet that takes viewers on a bikepacking journey through Mongolia’s serene mountains and painterly steppe. From feeling completely alone on remote tracks to being embraced by hospitable locals, their 1,800-kilometer ride was packed with unforgettable experiences. Find the 13-minute video with photos and a written perspective here…
Last summer, we embarked on a bikepacking adventure in Mongolia, covering 1,800 kilometers of diverse countryside. Our journey included navigating various paths, enduring inclement weather, facing thunderstorms, pushing our bikes for kilometers on end, climbing 3,000-meter passes, and crossing deep rivers.
Mongolia, with its stunning landscapes, wasn’t all sunsets and tailwinds. However, it proved to be a truly spectacular place to ride. As seasoned backcountry bikepackers who have explored over 50 countries, both of us consider Mongolia among the best. With only 10 percent of the roads paved and half the population residing in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, we often found ourselves accompanied only by herds of sheep, goats, horses, and yaks.
Our journey commenced in the Khangai Mountains, where we immersed ourselves in the Mongolian landscapes and culture. On the second day, amid thunderstorms, we experienced the hospitality of a nomadic family who generously offered us food and a place to rest. Sampling “orom” (clotted cream), “aarul” (dried milk curd), and robust “suutei tsai” (milk tea), we were captivated by the warmth of the Mongolian people.
Cycling from the Khangai Mountains to Lake Khövsgöl, we transitioned from steppes to alpine landscapes with towering Siberian larch trees. The tracks became tougher, and the climate turned wilder. Still, hospitality found us again when an elderly woman welcomed us, filling our stomachs with “tsuivan” (stir-fried noodles with meat, onions, potatoes, and carrots). Mongolians, with their warm souls and hospitality, assisted us during scorching heat, relentless thunderstorms, or simply offered their warmth. Despite the language barrier, we felt welcome in their nomadic daily life, symbolized by yurt doors always open.
The real adventure awaited us in the Khoridol Saridag Mountains. Treacherous as it was, the beauty of the place was indescribable. We questioned the worthiness of the compromise, the reality of the risks, the looming black clouds, the seemingly eternal hike-a-bike, the depth of the mapped river, and the possibility of encountering bears. Crossing the Khoridol Saridag Mountains was indeed wild, but the views grew more and more spectacular. The descent wasn’t as rewarding as expected, involving a challenging walk along a river bed, but we safely reached Ulaan Uul before sunset.
Continuing our journey toward Uliastai, nearing the Russian border, where a special permit is needed, we observed the landscape changing into a desert, accompanied by increasing heat. Taking a much-needed break in Uliastai to recover, we then pedaled toward our final destination around Otgon Tenger Mountain, which included the highest pass of our route at 3,000 meters. Otgon Tenger Mountain, sacred at 4,031 meters, is forbidden to climb as it’s considered the spiritual home of the gods. Surrounded by green velvet mountains and rivers, it’s a truly special place.
More than the endless landscapes, cold river swims, remote pedaling, and nightly camping under the stars, it was the Mongolian people who stole our hearts. Mongolia surpassed our expectations to such an extent that we’re already planning a return trip to scout a new route there.
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