Seeing as Cameron has done such an excellent job getting this site organised, I figured I should start writing something about this trip we’re apparently doing.
So, the plan is to drive from London to Ulaanbaatar, but there’s a number of general routes you can take. You can go the central route through Western Europe and then Russia; you can go north to Scandinavia on a ferry and then head south-east almost diagonally across Russia; or you can do what we’re planning and head through Western Europe, then south of the Black Sea, through the Middle East, north through Kazakhstan and then east across Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar:
Perth included for a scary comparison.
Western Europe should be reasonably straightforward driving-wise: after spending a week getting everything ready, we start at Portsmouth, drive east across the UK and then depart for France on a ferry from Dover. The ferry arrives in Calais, and we head north-east along the coast into Belgium, where we turn east and begin crossing Europe proper. We pass through Brussels, into Germany, through Frankfurt and Nuremberg and into the Czech Republic, where we meet other Mongol Ralliers for a party in a castle near Klatovy, in the south-west of the country. This is the third night of the rally proper, of our deadline of 29 nights before our flight leaves Ulaanbaatar.
Western Europe continues through Slovakia (briefly), Budapest in Hungary (source of all food-related jokes), Bucharest in Romania, and Bulgaria.
At this point we hit Turkey. Turkey is the start of the middle-eastern part of the route. There was initially a bit of debate on whether we should go north of the Black Sea, and across Russia, or south and through Turkey and Iran; this was chiefly due to the potential security situation in various countries around the route (Syria, Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan…). We ended up going for the southern option, partly because it’s an area you’re unlikely to see otherwise – some countries are very difficult to get visas for, and the rally makes that easier – and partly because it’s a route well-traveled by other Mongol Ralliers (even the Americans, though they seem to have a bit of trouble getting into Iran, for some reason).
We enter Turkey and head for Istanbul (not Constantinople), then continue east through Ankara right across to Iran. Google Maps has some pretty appalling maps for these areas, and wants to send us through the southern border crossing into Iran. With luck we won’t have to do this, and we can save some time and cross the border at Gürbulak. We then keep heading east, pass through Tehran just south of the Caspian Sea, and continue all the way across Iran to the border with Turkmenistan in the north-east.
We head north-east through Turkmenistan and into Uzbekistan at the border north of Türkmenabat. Uzbekistan is a quick few hundred kilometres before we hit the big one, Kazakhstan. Our trip north through Kazakhstan is roughly the length of the entire trip through Western Europe, and apparently on significantly worse roads. We head basically dead north, practicing our Cyrillic, until we hit Russia.
Google Maps has terrible road data for Russia, and no routing (though the excellent open-source OpenStreetMap project has much better data). Going on the satellite imagery, we should be able to head roughly east in a big circle through Omsk and Novosibirsk and finally into Mongolia. Russian roads are supposed to be better than in Kazakhstan.
Mongolia is another long trek, south-east across the country to the capital and our destination, Ulaanbaatar. Roads in Mongolia we expect to be poor-to-nonexistent, as for Kazakhstan. To meet our schedule we have to do 360km/day through Mongolia, which seems doable until you discover that some teams average 20km/hour across some of these routes. Here’s some satellite imagery of the main road across the north of Mongolia, that we plan to use:
So yeah. It’s going to be interesting, assuming we don’t break down in France and have to walk home. Stay tuned!