Departing the JLR showroom in Ulaanbataar
Wearnes - StarChase Mongolia Land Rover Defender Experience : All Roads Lead to Roam
Gobi Desert, Mongolia - The dust storm kicked up in the wake of our passing formed a large amorphous cloud that all but conquered visibility.
However, this barely slowed our progress as we charged across the Gobi (yes, as in the Gobi Desert!) in our fighting-fit horde of indomitable, ‘go-anywhere’ Land Rover Defenders.
We’ve joined a customer-only experience organised by Wearnes-StarChase Mongolia, which brought passionate Land Rover / Range Rover owners from Taiwan, Singapore and Mongolia together.
The aim? To experience and exploit the extraordinary all-terrain prowess of the Land Rover Defender over all sorts of terrain in one of Mongolia’s harshest regions – the Gobi Desert.
The intense, 1700+km three-day overland expedition would take us from the capital of Ulaanbaatar (or UB for short) to bask in the splendour of the White Stupa (or Tsagaan Suvarga) on the first day, which was once the floor of an ocean!
Three Camels Lodge
Our first night would be spent in a ger (a traditional light, strong and easily portable round structure that can be quickly assembled) at the award-winning Three Camels Lodge after the day’s 700+km distance covered.
In many ways, the ger is like the iconic Defender – functional on the outside, but warm, welcoming and very comfortable on the inside as it provides much-needed shelter from strong winds, the heat of the day and the bracing cold of the mornings and nights.
The Defender 110 V8 we piloted not only delivered plenty of punch (525hp / 625Nm) from its supercharged 5.0-litre (and a charismatic soundtrack reminiscent of an evocative Mongolian Long Song), but the air suspension was also tuned for a supple, pliant ride.
This meant we could doze-off between driving shifts… even when the going turned rough as we trundled off-road.
It’s hard to think of another environment better-suited to the Land Rover Defender than Mongolia, especially since we would be rolling and rumbling over shifting sands, rocks, ruts and rubble as we traversed the expansive and very arid Omnogovi (Ömnögovi) and Dundgovi (Dundgobi) aimags (the Mongolian word for tribe or provinces).
As a side-note, aimag should not be confused with airag, or fermented horse milk, which could also lead to a different sort of rolling and rumbling!
Paved roads (of sorts) do exist in Mongolia, especially leading in-and-out of the capital of Ulaanbaatar, but for the most part, meaningful travel to the wildest (and most scenic) reaches of the country occurs over relatively unmarked stretches of the Gobi.
With no real landmarks and endless stretches of sand in every direction, you’re probably wondering how the locals navigate.
Well, they certainly don’t use the stars, even if the absence of light pollution in the vast openness of the desert plains lets you appreciate the constellations in all their glorious majesty at night.
Basically, the general idea is to blaze a trail in the direction one needs to head towards, thus creating a pathway for the rest of the convoy to follow… should it choose to.
With our convoy’s fleet-footed passage rousing all that dust in its wake, it was better (visibility-wise) to forge one’s own path than to play follow-the-leader.
Besides, there was ample space for the entire group to drive abreast yet keep the lead car in sight!
When driving in the dust cloud was inevitable, the Defender V8’s Air Quality Sensor and Cabin Air Ionisation with PM2.5 filter was made to work overtime.
It let us keep an eye on particulates, as well as helped preserve the air quality in the cabin.
Traditionally a nomadic culture, Mongolians are skilled in improvisation and have learned to be fluidly adaptable in response to the ever-shifting elements and changing circumstances, much like the Defender.
We reckon the Defender is perfectly suited for a nomad’s lifestyle, thanks to its towing abilities and ‘go-anywhere’ credentials, which enable it to experience nature in all its unfiltered glory.
Khongoryn Els, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park
With the Defender’s excellent Terrain Response system left in automatic Off-Road mode, it ably tackled a diverse assortment of terrain.
The stellar quality about any modern Land Rover is how seamlessly and effortlessly it stomps irregularities into submission… with little fuss and fanfare to boot.
It came, it saw and it conquered, just like Chinggis Khan did 800 years ago (although you might be more familiar with the ‘Genghis Khan’ spelling of his name).
After a relatively easy 200+km, the second day would see our group make camp in the shadow of the Khongoryn Els (also known as Duut Mankhan or ‘Singing Sands'), a sea of sand dunes (that extend over an area of 965 square kilometres) that lies within the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.
If you’re up to the exertion, the highlight is a trek up (on foot!) through the soft sand to one of the tallest dune peaks, which lets you catch a magnificent sunset with the sun’s rays bouncing off the peaks of the ‘Dune Sea’.
Backsliding in the soft-sand with every step we took only made us miss the Defender’s sure-footedness, which delivered rocksteady composure even under extreme articulation.
Of the final day’s 900km (we started at 8am and only got back into UB around midnight, with just a few quick stops in-between), the last 300+km were the most gruelling, especially once night fell and everything was plunged into darkness.
The roads alternated between paved to pockmarked to potholed at a tiring consistency, which meant frequent forays into the adjoining off-road portions and the accompanying oncoming traffic.
This included large trailers and the like, so both man and machine had to bring their 'A Games' or you could end up as a bug splat on one of the mega-wheelers!
The Defender’s size created enough of a road presence so as to be easily spotted and the ease at which it segued between road and rough was awe-inspiring, as was our three-day intensive immersion into Mongolian culture.
By the end of our expedition, the Singapore crew was tired but happy, because there’s a sense of satisfaction in using a tool like the Defender the way it was designed to be used.
In a post-drive meet-up, the general consensus was that most owners would be willing to pay for a drive slot in future expeditions, because this wasn’t an off-the-rack tour package.
Moreover, as the authorised dealer for Land Rover in Singapore, Taiwan, Mongolia and various other countries, Wearnes-StarChase can tap on the respective markets to create vibrant driving experiences to showcase the beauty of each market, as well as the abilities of the Range (no pun intended!).
Ultimately, above and beyond the unbridled freedom of forging trails into the wilderness in the Defender are the bonds of fellowship forged between the participants… and this is something you can’t put a price on.
PHOTOS Wearnes - StarChase Mongolia