Here's my guide to the ultimate off-road vehicle in Mongolia - an ode to the fearless Furgon!
Yes, an entire blog post devoted to the Russian 4x4 Furgon van. Why? Because I love them. And OK, Turuu has just taken first at the Mongolian UAZ Club competition so I'm like a proud mother hen!
Here he is, the man himself.
In fact, we love our Furgons at Eternal Landscapes enough that we even make birthday cakes in the same design.
The Furgon is also known as UAZ (УАЗ) - an initialism for 'Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod' which translates to "Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant" (based in Ulyanovsk, Russia, the UAZ factory started production in 1941 as part of the Soviet war effort).
No matter how you approach the subject, Mongolia is large with a (slowly) developing infrastructure. Out of a total of 50,000km of roads in Mongolia (give or take a few km) only about 10,000km (20%) are tarmac (asphalt) paved roads and they don't have a long lifespan. A majority connect the provincal capitals / centres to Ulaanbaatar - the capital city. Otherwise, apart from mining development, nearly all other roads are gravel and dirt roads.
I'll just give you a little time to consider that statistic.
But, in your drive for efficiency, you will be missing out - missing out on the ultimate road trip. The Furgon / UAZ has obtained huge popularity among off-road enthusiasts and rightly so.
The Furgon/UAZ is produced in several modifications, with the main difference being the body type - the exact configuration varies depending on the specific modification. The Furgon/UAZ has reached legendary status thanks to its reputation as a very reliable and capable 4x4 with impressive off-road capability.
And of course, you'll get to spend time with men with names such as Baatar and Bold. Yes, your Furgon driver will probably be the 'strong and silent' type. And no, they won't converse in a multitude of languages. But, boy will they understand the roads and their vehicles. They're some of the best mechanics I have ever encountered and their ingenuity in the face of adversity (lack of spare parts, no towing services) deserves huge levels of respect.
They're extremely proud of their country and great, all-round men.
I do appreciate that for the modern traveller domestic flights or an air-conditioned Landcruiser may be a preferrable alternative. But, I do believe you're missing out on a little slice of something uniquely Mongolia.
Travelling in the Furgon across the vastness gives you time to think. It's during the impromptu stops where you'll connect with the people in-between that make their lives in the middle landscapes. You'll realise the power of the landscapes and the skill of your driver and you'll carry something of the vastness of Mongolia away with you. In the words of Susan Fox - American artist and inveterate Mongolian traveller -
'One of the most rewarding parts of travel is finding out how many ways there are to address the everyday challenges of life which are perfectly valid, but really, really different from how one does things at home.'
If you're interested in Mongolia, then why not pop across to the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and see what we're offering for 2017. Alternatively, just email me (email@example.com) - I'm always happy to be of help and all advice is free with no sales pitch.
And, unless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia you will also experience if you chose to travel with us.
Wherever the road takes you in 2017 - Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well