“Words can’t describe the wonder” of witnessing a solar eclipse from the slopes of Mongolia, said Pamela West in The Washington Post. More a nomadic pilgrimage than a cushy vacation, my adventure to the “Land of Blue Sky” was motivated by the prospect of what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Only one person in 1,000 ever experiences a total solar eclipse,” and I was determined to be the lucky individual. Lake Khoton, “deemed by NASA a prime eclipse location,” was my destination. A “pristine” and desolate oasis amid the “five snow-capped peaks of Tavan Bogd Mountain,” the area resembles much of the Mongolian countryside. A communist country for most of the 20th century, Mongolia only opened its doors to travelers following the democratic revolution of the 1990s. It may be the “last bastion of unspoiled wilderness in Central Asia.”
After a few days in the capital, Ulan Bator, I took a four-hour flight at dusk to Olgiy, the westernmost province of Mongolia. As the sun sets, everything turns shades of pastel: “A pink lake, frosted wedding-cake mountains, twisting, entwining trails, and a river of shiny syrup” spread out before me. The sun finally disappears “behind a hilltop caravan of two-humped Bactrian camels.” I awake the next morning to a camper’s breakfast of bread, tinned sardines, and fresh omelets with hot dogs. Horses graze in the distance. Goats and yaks drink beside me. En route to our base camp, I encounter every kind of terrain, traveling through a “desert with rocky ridges” and “bouncing across hillocks” until reaching the perfect campsite.
The next afternoon, a mass of clouds sweeps over the sun. Peeking at the sky through a cardboard viewer, I see the moon emerge, taking a “small nibble on the right side of the mottled sun.” Then comes another bite, the sun resembling “Pac-Man.” As darkness encroaches, the sky doesn’t turn pink as with an ordinary sunset. Colors just fade until only a “sliver of sun” is left. “A dazzling diamond of white light pierces the sky, and then we are plunged into darkness.” A glowing “halo of white pearly light circles the orb of the moon” and every faint star begins to radiate. “Two minutes and four seconds of Twilight Zone darkness: priceless.”