24 September 2015

Mongolia's Lunar New Year - Join Us!

Have you ever considered experiencing Mongolia's Lunar New Year?


As well as our Tsagaan Sar Insight, we are offering a range of winter small group experiences. Book onto one of our winter trips (running through to the end of March) and you'll receive a 15% discount pp. Why? You're helping us to promote tourism in Mongolia outside of the main season. 

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Mongolia’s Lunar New Year is known as Tsagaan Sar - White Month. It is one of the most important and traditional of celebrations in Mongolia and falls on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. 
Tsagaan Sar brings together family members and lasts a minimum of three days. In 2016, the year of the Blue Horse will finish and the year of the Fire Monkey start. Tsagaan Sar also marks the end of winter as well as the beginning of a new year's cycle.
During our Tsagaan Sar Insight you will spend time meeting the rural families we work with in the Middle Gobi (including family members of the EL team) and experiencing the immense landscapes. Before departing for the Gobi, you will purchase your Tsagaan Sar clothing – including a winter deel in Ulaan Baatar (where you will be hosted by a member of the EL team). You will also purchase gifts for the families you will be staying with.
You will stay with the Zorgio family at Tsagaan Suvraga for ‘Bituun’  - the day before New Year (helping the family prepare for the occasion such as making dumplings and helping to clean the home). Having observed sunrise, you will then spend ‘New Year’ (Shiniin Negen) with the family – observing the rituals.

Sunrise on Shiniin Negen, Tsagaan Suvraga
This description is from Ross who joined us during our Tsagaan Sar Insight in 2015. It describes his arrival at the family ger on 'Bituun':
'On to our hosts, the Zorgio family.  We are invited into the main ger, it is beautiful.  Centre at the back of the ger is the Tsagaan Sar feast.  A stack of large biscuits, 9 high topped with dried cheeses, dried yoghurt, white sweets and sugar cubes.  Around this are plates of buuz, potato salad, pressed mutton, salami and gherkins, pickled vegetables, a large bowl of sweets and beverages.  The eldest daughter serves us individually, milk tea first followed by airag (here it is fermented camel milk, I like it) followed by all the dishes and beverages ending with a shot of vodka.  The hospitality is marvellous.'
Turuu and Ross in Erdenedalai with Turuu's family

Again from Ross:
'Shine Negiin (New Years Day) sees everyone together for zolgokh, a ceremony to show respect and support for your elders. The eldest person is the mother of the Zorgio family, she has pride of place and I, being the second eldest, sit beside her.  The rest of the family form a line around the inside of the ger in age order and start by greeting the mother first and then me.  Being the eldest we are supported at our elbows, the greeting amar mend uu is exchanged, and we kiss the cheeks of all the others.  The line folds on its self until everyone has greeted each other, the younger person with their hands under the elbows of the older.  I feel very honoured to be included in this very Mongolian ceremony.'


Sharing snuff in the Gobi
And if you're wondering what to expect?

Winter is a wonderful time to experience Mongolia – as scattered layers of snow and ice form a wintry blanket so a peace settles over the landscape, offering a sharp contrast to the busy summer season.  The ger becomes very much the nucleus of the way of life with herding families bringing their livestock closer to the homestead for protection. Because of this, as a visitor, the families’ way of life is brought closer to you. Winter in Mongolia is a time of year when rural families have more time to spare and are freer and more relaxed. 

Travelling in the winter in Mongolia is as much about experiencing the landscapes and meeting and spending the time with the locals rather than hard-core adrenaline activities. Yes, there are companies that offer dog-sledding but we don’t. Instead of competing with other travellers  to see who can have the most ‘authentic’ or ‘challenging’ experience in the furthest, highest, remotest, or the most off the beaten track location just come and enjoy being part of a minority who visit Mongolia in the winter and actually interact with the local people and enjoy slowing-down and seeing and experiencing Mongolia like few other people get to do.

And to finish (once again) in the words of Ross:
'I have enjoyed this trip immensely. Turuu and Enkhee have taught me so much. I have a greater understanding of Mongolia and the people.  I have observed the closeness and strength of families and see the strength of Mongolia.'

Interested? Curious? Not too sure? Just email me (jess@eternal-landscapes.co.uk) - I'm always happy to be of help and all advice is free with no sales pitch. 

3 September 2015

Mongolia's #Хог Bucket Challenge Campaign

Have you heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge? In short, it's an activity whereby someone dumps a bucket of ice water on someone's head to raise funds for charity.  It was started by ALS Association to raise awareness for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) a progressive neurodegenerative disease. 

Well. Mongolia has adapted this campaign and turned it into the #Хог Bucket Challenge (Waste Bucket Challenge).

It started this year in time for Naadam  (Mongolia's major sporting event - Erviin Gurvan Naadam - The Three Manly Games). Started on Facebook it was a nationwide challenge.

The rules were simple. Three people were called on by a challenger and they had to collect three bags of waste in any location of Mongolia within three days. They should then call on the next three people to continue the challenge. If they could not  fill three bags and post about it within three days, they were encouraged to give the rubbish collectors employed by  the Public Service Authority a domestically produced product that costs no less than 20,000 MNT (US$10).

One participant - six-year old Tengis called on the advisor to the President of Mongolia O.Chuluunbileg, Press and Public Relations advisor to Chairman of the Mongolian People’s Party J.Jargalsaikhan, and CEO of MNG Event Mng Daka to take part. They accepted the boy’s challenge and posted photos of their efforts in cleaning up litter on their Facebook pages.  The challenge was also taken up by Mongolian companies such as Luxoil, Khan Bank and even the Mongolian Landcruiser Club.

Images from #Хог Bucket Challenge Facebook Page

Those of you who have been to Mongolia will be aware of the litter issue here.  Mongolia is always advertised as being untouched and pristine (mainly by tour companies) but discarded rubbish is a major issue for the local rural communities as many of them lack the funds and resources to collect the rubbish. Over the years there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of rubbish that is discarded without thought by others. A majority of our clients commented on it so I decided to do something about it. 

From this...

Selenge River, August 2015

To this....
Selenge River, August 2015

Last year  Turuu and I arranged and facilitated a trial clean-up in 2014 at the Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.What we didn't want was it to be a western company cleaning up on behalf of Mongolians. We wanted it to be a long-term educational project. If you're interested, you can read more about it here. We picked Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur due to the strength of our contacts there. We wanted a community involvement and Jargaa and Batbold (our hosts at White Lake) are at the centre of their local community.

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, October 2014

And here we are in 2015 and preparing for our own Waste Bucket Challenge. We will be returning to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur on September 5th. This time we'll be working for three days not two and a couple of the classes at the local school in Tariat Sum will be coming along to learn about what we're doing. 

We're armed with industrial strength gloves and sacks. We'll be purchasing a large weight in potatoes, mutton and noodles to feed everyone who joins. We have also created a sign for the side of the rubbish truck - not to advertise what we are doing, but to remind Mongolians to learn to protect their natural environment.

We were at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur in mid-August and are happy to report that since last year there has been a noticeable reduction in the amount of litter discarded throughout the area. Hopefully this year by using the sign and including the local school, we can spread this message further.

So yes. One of the future blog posts will basically be full of images of rubbish and a rubbish truck!