Heidi Martin discovers The Mongol Rally and illustrates how it changes the path for travellers, taking them on a real adventure. Photography by Oliver Martin.
With the boom in global communication and budget airlines, travelling appears, due to its convenience, to be in danger of losing its fundamental appeal. Adventure, and I mean real adventure, can be hard to find, with nearly every country being cushioned with internet connection, a Starbucks on every corner and a handful of Irish pubs. Our news feeds are filled with tanned ‘travellers’ wearing hareems and pictured downing buckets of bootleg vodka on a Thai beach (a fine past time though that is). Our idea of adventure has taken on a modern malaise where comfort is easy to find and risks are minimal.
To this, the Mongol Rally proudly extends its middle finger.
Set up in 2004, it lets participants embark on a true adventure, where endurance is pushed and survival not guaranteed. Teams pile into their vehicles, normally completely unsuitable for the expedition, and head for Mongolia. The route? Unplanned. It isn’t safe, easy, or familiar but opens your eyes up to a world you never knew existed.
In 2011 my brother and three of his friends embarked on this rally, all willing to take on a journey unlike any other. He warned us before they set off that ‘Death… is something you have to consider’, and although he had hitch hiked around Spain, explored South America, South East Asia and most of Europe and Russia, this rally opened up scenes and obstacles that even after careful planning he couldn’t predict. Naming themselves ‘The Return of the Yak’ they set off from Good Wood on their eight week journey, passing through eighteen countries in a modified Skoda with a giant model Yak sitting on the roof. Acting as a catalyst for smiles and friendship, the Yak transcended all language barriers, became a throne when speeding through the deserts, and worked well to disarm border guards. With them they took camera equipment; documenting changing scenery, extraordinary people and adventures that are almost unimaginable.
After starting from the UK and travelling eastward through Europe, teams can either head north through Russia, or south through Turkey and numerous countries ending in ‘stan’, before embarking on an arduous off-road struggle through the barren Gobi Desert towards the finish line in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital.
Across the 10,000 miles between England and Mongolia, the team passed through vastly different countries and climates; ranging from sweltering deserts, spectacular mountain ranges, and, finally, endless steppe as far as the eye can see. Many of the countries they visited had been rebuilt since either the fall of communism or, in the case of Iran and Iraq, from the devastation of war and internal revolt. Despite these turbulent pasts, The Return of the Yak team were treated with universal generosity and hospitality that overrode religious dogma and the corruption of the political elite.
The rally has seen teams fall by the wayside, yet with the occasional crash in the desert, and lost passports leading to being bullied through numerous different official bureaus in Iran, The Return of the Yak team came home safely, with mountains of footage to dig through. Through their filmmaking the team are hoping to change the way young people see travel. They want to show that it doesn’t always have to be tedious and predictable, and that there are parts of the world that are just waiting to be explored.
Subscribe to their YouTube page here (which has reached over 60,000 views and has been featured on the Huffington Post). Return of the Yak will be completing a full-length documentary later this year.