26 May 2013

Essence of Mongolia - On The Road Update

It is still possible to experience the 'essence' of Mongolia, with only 24 hours in the country

On April 10 we welcomed our first visitors of 2013 to Mongolia. Although our clients were travelling on the Trans-Mongolian and could only manage a brief overnight stop, they spent their evening enjoying the hospitality of Turuu and his family on our first city homestay. I promised an update, and what better way than through the photographs taken by our client?

Trans Mongolian Railway
Travelling through the vast expanse of Mongolia

We collected Aucan and Luli from the train station - the morning had been arranged so they could refresh themselves and explore UB using our personal recommendations, guidelines and maps. However, Mongolia is very much a divided country - the division is as simple as Ulaan Baatar and the rest of the country. To give our clients a 'taste' of what lies outside of UB, we arranged for them to visit Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.

Landscapes of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
The wild landscapes of Gorkhi-Terelj

En-route to Gorkhi-Terelj, Aucan and Luli visited Tsonjin Boldog - the 131-foot high statue of Genghis Khan that dominates the Tuul River and significantly faces east to his place of birth in Khentii Aimag.

(Genghis Khan is holding a tashuur - a form of whip used by Mongolia's herders and horsemen. It is said that the statue is located where Genghis found the golden whip that inspired his future conquests (one legend states that he found the golden whip when he was travelling to the Khereid tribe to ask for help. Genghis felt this was a message from Tenger (the god of the Eternal Blue Sky) and it motivated him to achieve his wish of becoming ruler of the Mongol clans.)

Tsonjin Boldog, Chinggis Khan Statue, Tuv Aimag
Genghis Khan overlooking his homeland
Gorkhi-Terelj shares a common border with Khan Khentii and the two reserves are a single geography of a diverse and wild landscape comprising of mountains, river valleys, forest, rocky summits and wildflower meadows. The rivers and streams that flow through the region lead to it being known as the 'museum of natural wealth' by the locals. During the summer months, the rainfall in this mountainous region brings life to the pastureland - providing grazing for the livestock of the herding families who make this region their home.

Steppe landscapes, central Mongolia
Rural spring time landscapes
 Although Gorkhi-Terelj is the closest national park to Ulaan Baatar and well-developed for the tourist industry, it is still a stunning area of magnificent alpine scenery (esepcially outside of the summer months when the park receives fewer visitors). However, at any time of year, the dramatic Mesozoic rock formations are what make Gorkhi-Terelj famous, and hiking within them provides spectacular views.
As the sun set, so our clients returned to UB where they spent the night with Turuu and his family. Part of the evening was spent making Mongolian dumplings and it looks to me as if a good job was done by all?!

Learning to make Mongolian dumplings at a homestay
Making Mongolian Buuz
When Aucan first contacted me and expressed his wish to experience Mongolia but then mentioned the month they would be visiting and how limited their time was, I was a little worried. However, as with all itineraries, I started with a blank piece of paper, a pencil and the experiences that the potential clients were looking for during their time in Mongolia. I wanted to provide them with an 'essence' or a taste of Mongolia.

I took into account that they would be  travelling to Mongolia during the spring,  and reminded them that herders and their livestock will be coming out of the long, hard and tiring winter period (although this does not tend to affect the attitude of the Mongolian people as they are used to the conditions and welcoming no matter what).  I also mentioned that although dry, arid and wind-blown, the landscapes at this time have a light covering of the first precious shoots of spring grass and there is a sense of awakening and possibility.

I created what was essentially a self-guided itinerary.  Why do it this way? It offers greater freedom and works well for a short introduction to Mongolia. But what did the clients think?

'It was a superb experience. I'm so glad that we got in contact, we were only 24hs there but thanks to your help and the kindness of your team we squeezed every minute and came back with a lot of experiences.
At the beginning we thought that the 'eternal blue skies' was a metaphor, because it was very cloudy and snowing, but throughout the day it changed for a beautiful blue roof.

The best part for us was when we headed to Turuu's house and met his family. We felt as guests and not as customers, and that makes a big difference. We cooked together Mongolian dumplings, that happened to have some similarities to an Argentinian dish, so we exchanged some Argentinian-Mongolian ways of cooking.

The evening ended playing Shagai and, of course, Turuu won but just give us some time to practise and we'll play again - they gave us some bones to take home so maybe we can become the Argentinian national team! For us, this evening was probably the highest point of our stay in Mongolia and one of the most memorable of our whole trip.

Next morning Turuu took us to the train station, we left UB very happy to have decided to take this path, and convinced that meeting you and your team was the best think that could have happened to do it.'

View of ger in Ulaanbaatar
As the sunsets over our city homestay
And so, as our first clients have returned home to Argentina (the long way round) and our second clients are currently on the train to Beijing so our third clients have arrived and are now hopefully enjoying their welcome drink and a panoramic view of UB in the one of the city's sky bars. We leave Ulaan Baatar on May 27th and I'll post a quick blog before we leave. For now, as always, thanks for listening and spending time with Eternal Landscapes.

Even if you're short on time, you can still experience the 'essence' of Mongolia. Why not have  a look at the Mongolia short tours that I offer?!

24 May 2013

Mongolia's Glorious Open Steppe - Why One Of Our Guests Loves It So Much

We've just returned to Ulaan Baatar from a 20-day tailor-made itinerary that visited the Gobi Desert and the central Khangai Mountains. An update is due and will be posted over this weekend.  However, having driven back through the  changing 'eternal landscapes' of the central Mongolian steppe I returned to the following blog post provided by Emer Levins.

(Eternal Landscapes is all about Mongolia - a country that gets under your skin and into your heart. As part of the EL Blog, I have invited our clients to write their own posts about their experiences and their thoughts on this boundless land where all have experienced its magical combination of time, freedom and space.  These are the words of Emer Levins describing the Mongolian steppe.)

En-Route through Arkhangai 

The steppe conjure up images of Mongolian hordes thundering through the landscape with bow and arrow in hand and the sturdy horses working as one with their riders. The days of Genghis Khan and his descendants may be over but the legend definitely lives on and the tenacity, wit and traditions remain, albeit with some modern additions.

The nomadic lifestyle is absolutely alive as well. These days if you come across a migrating nomadic family, you will not only see the traditional yak pulling a hand-made cart but also a vehicle of some description with a couple of generations and all their wordly possessions piled high. One of the more amusing sights to see is those who have satellite dishes tucked into their luggage or someone on a motorbike busy herding the livestock while on a mobile phone, signal permitting.

Previously, when I asked Emer to describe one of  her favourite experiences travelling in Mongolia, she mentioned the following. I very much felt the same today on our return trip to the colourful madness of Ulaan Baatar.

'Travelling in the van. You don't need to worry about the time or the day. I find it the best cure for cutting myself off from my life at home. I don't need to think about work. I don't need to worry about the bills. I don't have to worry about anything. I am totally carefree and can let my mind wander as the countryside goes by. There are no fences and nothing is penned in. Free landscape - free mind.'

Freedom of the open steppe