We were standing on the tallest dune when the storm hit. The wind swept across the top of dunes, spraying sand everywhere. I could see no more than a few meters ahead.
It had been calm and silent when we arrived in the pre-dawn dark. I was on assignment in Mongolia with Canon Master Photographer, Richard I’Anson. Our plan this week was to photograph the iconic landscapes of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
Khongoryn Els (aka the Khongor Sand Dunes) was our third stop. Swept here by desert winds, these shapes form at the base of a granite mountain range. It’s a spectacular sight from afar but from the top of a dune, the size and expanse of this place is breathtaking.
The tallest dunes here reach over 300m (984ft) and our climb to the highest peak was challenging. We were tired from days of travel and weighed down by our equipment, and the sand was incredibly soft.
When we finally reached the top, all we could hear for a moment was our own breathing. The silence was broken when our phones started beeping and buzzing. After a few days of being mostly out of range, we were now high enough to have a few bars of reception. I took the opportunity to post a quick Instagram Story, a TikTok Video, and reply to a few messages from family back home.
We spent the next hour or so photographing and waiting for sunrise. It was still and quiet, and we were the only ones there.
Now a storm had blanketed us in wind, rain, and sand. I struggled to find my bearings as I made my way down from the peak. I was scanning the surrounding dunes to get a sense of where I was when I saw Richard.
He was still taking photos.
It was an unbelievable sight. His figure was shrouded by a haze of wind, rain, and sand. I grabbed my phone to record some video of him before joining him.
I’m not sure how long the storm lasted. It felt like an eternity but just like it came, it went. It was suddenly quiet again. Although I was thankful the storm was over, there was something awesome and special about being out there while it was happening.
A gentle light now rested on the dunes before us.
Richard continued to photograph and we spent the following hour shooting from different angles, observing markings and patterns left by the rain, and taking in the beauty of Khongoryn Els.
As we eventually made our way down, I heard children’s laugher. I spotted a local family at the top of the tallest peak, where we were moments before. Their kids were taking turns sliding down the perfect dunes.
Our itinerary on this World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship trip was put together and led by Discover Mongolia.
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