14 December 2012

Trekking Wilderness Trails in Mongolia - Trip Review

   'In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. The winds blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like falling leaves.'
(John Muir)

In 2012, we started the first of our yearly Mongolia trekking tours  itineraries. Mongolia is a vast and spectacular country and trekking gives you the opportunity to capture the true wilderness of the glorious landscapes that dominate throughout. There is a traditional Mongolian saying that ‘man’s joy is in wide open and empty spaces’ and trekking through Mongolia's incredible landscapes makes this saying ring true.Our 2012 trek took Eternal Landscapes and our four clients to Khovsgol Nuur National Park in northern Mongolia - a true nomadic journey with pack-horses carrying our equipment and nomadic herders acting as our local guides.
Northern Mongolia is dominated by Khovsgol Nuur - a national park with a beautiful fresh water lake at its core. Mongolians know Lake Khovsgol as Dalai Ej (Mother Sea) and its water is considered some of the purest on earth. The lake reflects the often-clear sky in shifting shades of blue - this is a truly stunning area.
Sacred Dalai Ej (image by Egon Filter on one of our 2009 trips)
Biologists use the word ecotone for places where different habitats meet - where a forest meets a meadow or a lake meets a shore. Khovsgol is an ecotone on a very large scale. The result is a wide range of habitats - wet meadows, shallow ponds, coniferous forest, steppe woodland, open steppe, alpine meadow, high mountains and the lake and lakeshore. Khovsgol Lake is surrounded by wilderness. This diversity of natural habitats leads to an incredible variety of wildlife and we  were graced with the company of elk, chipmunks and whooper swans to name but a few.
Shore side wildlife (image by Lee on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)
Our trek style at Eternal Landscapes is 'non-itinerised', which means that once we set off we don't follow a predetermined route - allowing us to make the most of whatever adventures may come our way and the local knowledge of the herders who always accompany us. This was a cultural trek - following a route that provided us with an insight into the nomadic way of life. We frequently followed a horse trail which was the  migration route of the local herding families from one seasonal pasture to another - passing herders cutting hay to provide fodder for their livestock during the long, hard and deep winter, stopping off in family gers for Mongolian milk tea and freshly made ger bread served with orom (clotted cream) and a coating of sugar. Travelling on foot allowed my clients time to really experience Mongolia and gain a true taste of its variety and diversity without feeling rushed or trying to cover too much distance in too short a time.  
Bambakh and Gerelt crossing the medicinal Khar Us - Black Water (image by Erin on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)
The remoteness of the area visited during a trekking journey in Mongolia influences the accommodation choices and therefore the amenities available. There were no showers or access to western style toilets. But even a hot power shower couldn't beat the feeling of freedom and the nightly camp fires under a blanket of stars.

One of the major highlights has to be spending time with our horse wranglers during the trek - Bambakh and his sister Gerelt. The people of Mongolia are well-matched to the land they inhabit and have a deep connection with the immense open spaces, the sacred landscapes, with nature and the elements. To gain a true understanding of the life of a nomadic herder it is important to witness and experience their daily life and the landscapes that they are dependent on and spending time with Bambakh and Gerelt very much allowed my clients to gain a true insight into this unique way of life. Especially the evening we spent in their home at the end of the trek - drinking tea, eating khuushuur, eating tsuivan, drinking tea, eating bread and cream, drinking tea......
En route through the Khoridol Saridag Mountains (image by Zeynep on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)

There were three distinctive parts to our trek - firstly, we followed the flat western-forested shore of Lake Khovsgol to Jigleg Pass passing lakeside lagoons - a major and unique feature of the ecology of the national park, which provide an important breeding and migration ground for many waterfowl. Jigleg Pass is one of the few routes into the interior mountains and the small town of Renchinlumbe located within the Darkhad Depression. 

Our route then took us into the  Darkhad Depression - a region of incredible natural diversity - an intricate system of wetlands, ponds and lakes surrounded by a broad expanse of open steppe along with deep coniferous taiga forest. This area is considered a sacred landscape where every hill, river, tree and stone is the dwelling place of a natural spirit. The Mongols practised ancestral shamanism (the worshipping of the Eternal Blue Sky and the spiritual forces of nature) and shamanism remains a strong element in the culture of this area.

Sacred ovoo at Jigleg Pass (image by Lee on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)

From the Darkhad Depression we trekked through the Khoridol Saridag Mountains - our route taking us over 2800m mountain passes and along gravel river beds. The Khoridol Saridag Range is primarily uplifted dolomite and the very barren, arid upland areas contrast with great beauty against the lower rich alpine meadows. 

Exiting the panorama of the Khoridol Saridag Range (image by me on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)

 This is not the kind of trek that has a definite goal in mind - such as climbing Tavan Bogd in the far west of Mongolia or achieving Everest Base Camp. It is the kind of trek when you remove your watch and follow the pace of the pack-horses. In the words of one of our 2012 Wilderness Trails clients, Zeynep Ozbek:

      'A trekking adventure in Mongolia is all about living the Mongolian nomadic way of life, sampling first hand a nomad's way of life. Living like the locals brings you in touch with nature, experiencing the joys of watching huge herds of animals on the move, flora and fauna in abundance everywhere and pristine lakes and rivers. The vast landscapes make you feel free and help you to forget the hurly burly of modern life. It is like stepping into a different way of thinking and living.'

Under the Eternal Blue Sky (image by Zeynep on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)
I would like to thank Bambakh and Gerelt  who alway do a great job and offer their hospitality with such warmth and kindness. I would also like to thank Zeyenp, Lee, Erin and Jon for booking onto our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary - it was a pleasure to share our Mongolia with you.

In 2013, the rugged Khangai Mountains in central Mongolia will form the stunning backdrop to our Wilderness Trails trek -  a wonderful, wild part of the world and one of the world’s reservoirs of biodiversity, a land of mountains, lakes and nomads. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join us on this adventure.

'Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.'
John Muir

Bambakh taking time out on the way to the Darkhad Depression (image by Lee on our 2012 Wilderness Trails itinerary)