16 August 2013

Wild Family Explorer - Travelling With Your Family In Mongolia

From July 13th until the 21st, the Touchton family were travelling with us through the Gobi desert on one of our Mongolia family holidays. They have been kind enough to share their Mongolia blog post with us. Enjoy the journey!


We’ve been out of touch for a while because we have been almost in the middle of nowhere — Mongolia! Just a few days after landing in Shanghai, we took off for an 11 day trip to this amazing country.  Luckily for our readers, this trip was more about sights and sounds, so you get lots of pictures and less text!
We arrived in Ulaan Baatar, the capitol city, just in time for two big events:  Mongolia’s Presidential Inauguration and the Naadam Festival, their national games, which includes the “manly” sports of horse racing, wrestling, and archery.
We arrived just after the conclusion of the inauguration, but Sukhbaatar Square – the National Mall of Mongolia – was still very festive.  Thousands of people, including hundreds of dancers in their traditional dress:IMG_1261IMG_1263IMG_1282IMG_1233
This little guy was hilarious.  Don’t miss the stores in the background – quite a clash between the past and the present:IMG_1212
The Naadam Festival was quite a spectacle – this is the opening ceremony:IMG_1383
The horse racing was very well attended – here was our view of the finish line at the end of the biggest race:IMG_0138
We did get to see a later race, and it was very exciting.  If the jockeys look young, it’s because they are – some were as young as 4 years old!IMG_0437
The Naadam wrestling tournament is the Super Bowl of Mongolian sport:  512 competitors, single elimination, one winner.  Jack is considering dressing up like a Mongolian wrestler for Halloween…IMG_0433
Archery.  Again, beautiful traditional costumes.  Men and women both hitting targets from 75 to 100 yards.IMG_0071IMG_0086
Also while in Ulaan Baatar, we also got to see the complete T. Rex skeleton that was auctioned off illegally in the U.S. (for $1 million!) and just returned to Mongolia a couple of months ago:IMG_1189
After a few days in Ulaan Baatar, we set out with for the Gobi desert. We got to see some amazing views along the way. I expected Mongolia to have wide, open spaces, and it sure does! But there are also lots of mountains. Most nights we stayed in gers, or yurts, owned by local families, but also spent a few nights in tents:IMG_2105
Our guide was Jess, a wonderful British woman who runs Eternal Landscapes, a travel company focused exclusively in Mongolia.  Her #1 driver and partner is Turuu.  Both were amazing – if anyone is looking for a unique travel adventure, this is the place, and this is the team!  Here is a picture of Jess and Turuu with the kids:IMG_0490
We spent a LOT of time in our vehicle – an old Soviet van called a Furgon.  Not the most glamorous vehicle on the outside, but a groovy interior:IMG_0587
The exterior wasn’t as exciting, but it did get us through some tight spaces!IMG_0473
One of the revelations of our trip was that Ryan is quite the little adventurer.  He was always up for another hike or another climb.IMG_0463
Catherine loved the wide open spaces too….IMG_1556
…and so did Jack….IMG_1793
….but Jack didn’t like the enclosed spaces.  Here’s Ryan trying to talk him into his first trip to the outhouse:IMG_1424
Catherine met an adorable Mongolian girl at one of our stops. They became fast friends, even though they couldn’t understand each other. It’s really cool how much kids can communicate and play even in different languages.IMG_1938
Our last stop in Mongolia was at Khongoryn Els in the Gobi Desert. The sand dunes are stunning!IMG_0812
At the top of the dunes, looking back at the Gobi:IMG_0507
We can’t write a blog post about Mongolia without including a camel picture.  We’ll spare you from the pictures of the camel ride.IMG_1819
A grueling climb to the top of the highest dune just before sunset…but the view was worth the effort:IMG_0886
Finally, sunset over the Gobi:IMG_1939
We have now arrived back in Shanghai and have spent our first week wading through the logistics of the move.  More on that soon!

2 August 2013

Why Take A Camel Trek At Mongolia's Singing Sands - Khongoryn Els

Khongoryn Els are Mongolia's largest sand dunes - also known as Duut Mankhan - the Singing Sands. True, camel trekking is not high on everyone's agenda but here are a few reasons why I think you should consider it

Duut Mankhan - The Singing Sands
John Man is his book, Tracking the Gobi, mentions that ‘the Gobi offers a cross section of this sweep of earth’s history.’  I agree. The Gobi is an ancient land but it only offers a hint at the flow of peoples that have crossed it. For centuries, up until the 1920’s the Gobi was traversed by camel caravans – mainly on the trade route between Urga (UB) and Beijing.

En-route from Mongolia to China (http://www.camelphotos.com/camels_china.html)

(For centuries, the preferred method of packaging tea for transport was in the form of compressed cakes or bricks – this allowed great value to be packed into a smaller volume. Bricks of tea became a major component of the tea trade up to Russia.  Most tea was transported by mule or mule-carts from either the port of Tianjin or Beijing to Zhangjiakou (Kalgan), where it was re-packed and loaded onto camel caravans for the ride up and over the pass to the high plateau of the Gobi.)

I still think this is one of the best ways to experience the Gobi and as you trek in the footsteps of others you enjoy the sense of history and the vast majesty of the landscapes.  An extended camel trek is a truly ‘iconic’ Gobi experience - in one of the least densely populated areas on earth what better way to enjoy the feeling of freedom created by travelling through the sublime space of the Gobi.

Two of our guests have just returned to the ger of Baasankhuu and Maam having enjoyed a two-day trek. I met up with them on the dunes to watch the sunset (and the impending rainstorm that was moving in) and asked them about their experience. They mentioned the colours in the evening sky, the stars, the cool early morning climb of the dunes and playing cards with Maam who acted as their camel guide. Not a single mention of stubborn camels or sore backsides.

In case you're interested, camel treks can form part of any tailor-made itinerary to the Gobi - as the centrepiece or as a short extension. Not convinced? Maybe the words of the Danish explorer Henning Haslund-Christensen will help to inspire!

‘We rolled ourselves in our blankets and slept for the first time on Asiatic ground and under the clear sky of Asia. The next morning, whips cracked, the horses snorted, and the caravan rolled off on a new day’s march. We had to work hard at once, for the caravan mounted that day from 2400 feet to 6400 feet. We all helped, we pulled and lashed, we yelled and shoved...We climbed the remaining three hundred feet, which brought us breathless but exultant to the top of the pass. We stood on the threshold of the wide plateau at the entrance of the land of the nomads. We could not have  dreamed of a more captivating entrance to a new country, and when the sun sank upon that day, we felt as though born into a new life – a life which had the strength of the hills, the depth of the heavens and the beauty of the sunrise.’

Sunrise over the Gobi