27 July 2013

Summer In Mongolia - What To Expect

Read about Mongolia and for almost certain, the weather / climate will be mentioned. As we prepare to welcome a trekking group and are hoping for blue sky days, just what can you expect from a summer trip to Mongolia? 

Blue Sky Treks
Summer is one of the busiest times of year for Mongolian herding families. In July and August, summer rains bring fresh grass growth and livestock are moved looking for the rich summer pasture so they can fatten, enabling them to survive the harsh winter. Summer is also known as the White Season due the processing of the livestock's milk into other dairy products such as airag (fermented mare's milk), orom (clotted cream) and aruul (hard cheese).

When it does rain I always ask our guests to see it from the perspective of a Mongolian herder - rain is a blessing as it helps to rejuvenate the grasslands and bring fresh rich pasture.

Turuu and I recently travelled with the Touchton family to the Gobi on their Wild Family Explorer. The father asked us on the last day how I felt they had packed for their trip.  The problem is that you have to be prepared to bring everything or at least be prepared to purchase on route anything that you suddenly require - from a large sunhat to thermals or wellington boots. He had forgotten his waterproof, so I happily leant him mine - a Russian chemical warfare coat beloved herders out on the steppe.

For those planning on coming to Mongolia, I recommend the  Weather Wunderground website - I provide a link to it in our Pre-Departure Guidelines so clients can analyse the weather in Mongolia prior to their arrival.  However, whatever the weather, these short summer nights make this a truly perfect time of year for exploring the stunning natural environment, the incredible landscapes and for witnessing summer on the steppe - even if it does sometimes come in wet.

We're looking forward to some blue sky days at Khovsgol!

22 July 2013

Small Town Life In Mongolia - Don't Dismiss It

Often towns in rural Mongolia look bleak and unproductive but communities, both stationary and nomadic, have existed in these locations for centuries. 

Most travellers have a desire to experience the ‘real’ Mongolia – and that means the people and culture as much as the spectacular landscapes and the diverse wildlife that inhabit the landscapes.

However, Mongolia is a country where culture, history and landscape are inextricably entwined. Due to their lack of a ‘touchable’ history is it easy to be persuaded that Mongolia’s small towns are short on history. They are most definitely aren't but they only offer a hint at the flow of peoples and the culture that have preceded modern 21st century Mongolia.

Local life - Bulgan
Often towns in rural Mongolia look bleak and unproductive but communities, both stationary and nomadic, have existed in these locations for centuries. For most of those centuries, the only major permanent settlements were the monasteries - they were considerable institutions – often sited at the juncture of trade and migration routes or at summer pastures - the centre of an ecclesiastical estate of pastures and flocks.  

Amarbayasgalant Monastery - providing a hint of Mongolia's history
During the communist era, the administrative centres of the negdels or herder’s collectives were often based within the communities that had been created around the monasteries (destroyed in the political and spiritual purges of the 1930’s) and became the towns that our guests now experience.

 Our trips focus on supporting ‘local’ and a stop in a town to stock-up the food supplies (the most recent purchases in Mandalgobi in the middle Gobi were a few kilos of mutton straight from the steppe, some fresh homegrown Gobi tomatoes and cucumbers , a watermelon from Khovd (the best watermelons ever), a couple of peppers, a few kilos of potatoes, carrots and onions (all Mongolian grown), as well as some raisins and apples for afternoon snacks at camp), to use the community shower house (brilliant invention!)  or even to spend a night all help to put money into the local economy as well as providing a glimpse into a community’s way of life.  

Certain towns on certain routes provide natural stop over points and Mongolian small town life provides a distinct contrast with nomadic life on the steppe - I always thoroughly enjoy the juxtapositions that small town life creates.

11 July 2013

On The Road Update

On the road review of our Journey Among Nomads and Untamed Mongolia small group trips

I write this on July 10th. We are en-route back to UB on the road from Ogii Nuur on our Journey Among Nomads itinerary. 1t's 0800, we've been on the road an hour and have already spotted a Little Owl, a Saker Falcon and a Rough Legged Buzzard.

Our Journey Among Nomads Mongolia small group tour has taken us slowly through the Khangai Mountains, passing through the landscapes of Ovorkhangai and Arkhangai. Staying with the Adyasuren family at Khogno Khan, with Gaya in Kharkhorin, with the Tomorbat family at Ulaan Tsutgalan and Jargaa and Batbold at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, we eaten the food of nomads - feasting on yoghurt, orom (clotted cream), banshtai shol (dumpling soup), khuurshuur, buuz, mare's milk, shimiin arikh (yak milk vodka), khorkhog and suutei tsai.

The last trip we led was our Untamed Mongolia - 20 days of travelling through and camping within the Gobi, Khangai mountains and northern Mongolia including sacred Lake Khovsgol. The trip review could be divided into calendar dates:

We did our bit and with rubbish sacks and rubber gloves we cleaned the litter lying throughout Dungene Am in the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.

Ready for action!
June 10th - 
We were staying at Tsagaan Suvraga, with Zorgio and his family. In the 2013 Lunar Calendar, June 10th was an auspicious date and the family were busy preparing for what is called ‘Ber Guikh’

(In brief, the parents of Zorgio’s eldest daughter’s boyfriend were travelling from UB to the southern Gobi to ask Zorgio’s permission for his daughter to enter into their family. Tradition states that Zorgio can be asked three times and refuse on each – accepting on the fourth request. A khadag is also presented as a sign of honour but again can be refused.)

Family life with Zorgio
June 25th -
No other reason than driving to the Selenge River we spotted a Grey Wolf (Canus Lupus) loping across the steppe. Wolves feature heavily in Mongolian culture - The Secret History of the Mongols states that:
 'There came into the world a blue grey wolf, Whose destiny was Heaven's will, His wife was a fallow deer.'
 For a Mongolian man to see a wolf is considered good luck and a source of strength. For an English female that spotted the wolf in question first – I’ll let you know!). In fact, it was quite a trip for wildlife  - as the sunset on one of our Gobi camps we were joined by Siberian Ibex and Lammergeirs - we had already travelled parallel to groups of White Tailed Gazelle.

En-route we watched the local population turn out to vote (just over 66% voted and Elbegdorj was re-elected for a second four-year term. Although the President must resign from their political party, Elbegdorj represents the Democrats.

Elbegdorj delivered the following speech on his re-election:
'Thank you my people. Thank you my mother and father. Thank you the eternal blue sky and the Lord Chinggis Khaan. I will work loyally for my nation and for my Mongolia. I will strive to make my people feel freedom and happiness, and I will strive for justice and for a better future of Mongolia by intensifying the country’s development and achieving greater accomplishments.'
 June 27th - 
Naadam horse training event - the Sungaa. This is when race horses complete medium distance training - meant to develop the horses's breathing pattern and to determine the results of the training. We were lucky enough to watch the four year old horses - Khyazaala who during the Naadam race cover a distance of between 15-17 km.

Training on the open steppe
 And that brings us up to July 11th and 12th, the dates for the Ulaan Baatar national Naadam Festival. I love the atmosphere, the crowds, the noise and the colour - it is a true Mongolian celebration of ordinary people taking pride in their country and century's old tradition melded together. I'll be posting a Naadam update both here and on our Facebook page so feel free to stop by and pay a visit if you have the time. For now, thanks for listening and I wish you - 
Saikhan Naadaarai!