29 June 2016

Mongolia's Parliamentary Elections - Your Guide

My (very)  brief insight into Mongolia's June 29th Parliamentary Elections

OK. I admit. Not the most eye catching of blog post titles. But, today, June 29th, Mongolia is holding it's parliamentary elections. Mongolians are heading to the polls to elect the 76 members of the State Great Khural, Mongolia’s parliament. 

I'm not an economist or a social commentator but I'm here working in Ulaanbaatar. Today is a public holiday. The vehicle registration limitation has been lifted. But the streets are quiet. Maybe something to do with the start of three days of no alcohol sales? But subdued streets are seen as good - especially after the 2008 election protests that led to violence.  

Parliament House, Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar
Image by our guest Frank Jones

In the last parliamentary elections (2012), 65% of those entitled to vote did - the lowest turnout since the initial elections in 1990 (98% - Institute For Democracy And Electoral Assistance). The turnout for today's election is expected to be even lower. In the words of a recent article in Reuters:
'Turnout at the polls is expected to be at an all-time low, amid widespread perceptions that the older generation has hung on to power to further its own interest at a cost to the rest of the country.'
The median age in Mongolia is 27.6 years. That means a large percentage of the population are roughly the same age as the democracy in which they live. However, it's this younger section of the population that feel that their vote won't matter and won't change anything.  As with other sections of Mongolia's population, they're fed up with the current economic status and the traditional established political parties such as the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and its main opposition, the Mongolian People's Party (MPP). They're fed up with the same people running the country as ten years ago and making the same mistakes, when they feel they could do it in a better and  fairer way - specifically without corruption

President of Mongolia at the Ice Festival, Khovsgol 2016
The current President of Mongolia (Elbegdorj) at the opening of the 2016 Ice Festival in Khovsgol Aimag. The Presidential elections will be held in 2017. Elbegdorj is Mongolia's first president to never have been a member of the former communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party and the first to obtain a Western education

A total of 498 candidates are standing for parliament - from 12 parties, 3 coalitions and 69 independents.  This includes State Honoured Sportsman and Gold medal Olympic champion N.Tuvshinbayar who is running for the  office for the Democratic Party in the Gobi Aimag of Bayankhongor. (Tuvshinbayar is reported as saying by Montsame (the Mongolian News Agency) that his 'political debut will not interrupt his training rhythm for the forthcoming Olympics because the election campaign will last for only 18 days.'

Those 12 parties includes the Mongolia's People's Party established in 1921 through to the Ard Tumnee Hairlay (Respect the People Party) established in April 2015. The Mongolian National Audit Office has stated that up to 3.4 billion togrog can be spent by each party and coalition on their campaign.

As I'm writing this I quickly checked if any of my Mongolian EL team were online. One was and this is her opinion on what she would like to see come out of the election:

'I'd like to see more individuals than any other political parties as a way of stoping the interdependence between politicians and political parties. Also meaning that more changes and voices would be heard at the parliament level so that small changes can be made one step at a time.'
Voting finishes at 10pm (although the one hour time difference between Ulaanbaatar with the western provinces of Bayan Ulgii, Khovd and Uvs makes it 11pm). A total of 1,912,901 voters are eligible to participate. Watch this space.

If you're considering a trip to Mongolia and are interested in getting a more real insight into the country then please get in touch. You can explore more about my philosophy that drives EL at the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website.

* July 1st update...The Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) claimed an overwhelming victory over the ruling Democratic Party (DP), winning 65 out of 76 seats in Parliament. Only one independent candidate and one member of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) won seats. The other 9 went to the Democratic Party.  The percentage of voters was at 72.1 percent nationwide (out of an eligible 1,912,901).  Forty out of 76 members of the new Parliament are newcomers, with many of the representing the public for the first time.


23 June 2016

Planting Trees In Mongolia's Gobi Desert

Sustainability in Mongolia and a (very brief) introduction as to why it is part of my business philosophy

I've been out on the Mongolian road with my Mongolian female trip assistants - leading them on a training and personal development tour.

As well as a few kilometres, we covered everything from the philosophy of travel through to remembering to always have muesli on the breakfast table. We also talked about the focus of EL.

Supporting local is a major part of my philosophy behind what drives EL and is at the heart of what I do  and at the centre of each experience I offer. Why do this? It helps to support the rural communities through which we travel and working directly with the local people allows us to source local knowledge leading to a more personal style of holiday for you.

Because of this philosophy I have got to know some remarkable Mongolian people working for change at a grassroots level. One of those people is Byamba who established the Gobi Oasis tree planting project in 1975 in Dundgobi Aimag's provincial centre - Mandalgobi. I took the EL team there for a visit as part of their training trip.

Byamba of Gobi Oasis in the middle Gobi, Mongolia

 Anyway. I can hear some of you thinking. Trees? In the Gobi? Yes!

Although trees in Mongolia have a long growing period (Mongolia, on average, experiences only 90-120 frost free days a year) they help to bind the loose soil and thus are effective against erosion, help reduce wind, dust and desertification, attract rainfall and help build suitable conditions for biodiversity - all very important in the (increasingly) desert steppe environment of Mandalgobi.

The EL Trees 2011 

(Planted by Turuu and I. We've been in competition ever since. I'm known as 'Boss 1' and he 'Boss 2') 

A small sapling in the middle Gobi, Mongolia

The EL Trees 2016

Mine is (obviously!) definitely (ahem!) the one on the right. The biggest one. 'Boss one!' 

Eternal Landscapes trees growing in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Here's my brief guide to two main species of tree growing in the Gobi:


If you're going anywhere near Bayanzag in the southern Gobi, then you need to know about Saxaul. 

Saxaul growing in Mongolia's Gobi Desert

Saxaul trees (Haloxylon ammodendron or saksaul) only exist in Central Asia. Known as 'Zag' in Mongolian, this a one of the most important vegetation features of the Gobi - with one quarter of Mongolia's  forested area being covered by this woody shrub. 

Especially in areas of desert and semi-desert, saxaul forests protect the soil from erosion, provide diverse habitants for animals, fodder for wildlife and livestock, and firewood for people.

The saxaul ranges in size from a large shrub to a small tree. The wood is heavy and coarse and the bark is spongy and water-soaked. The leaves of the tree are so small that it appears to be without leaves, giving it a dull grey appearance. However, the branches of young trees are green and it has small yellow flowers. 

It is effective against erosion because it sends out horizontal roots in addition to very deep roots to reach the underground water. Those plants that have reached an age of 25 years are the most effective for erosion control. 


Elm trees in Mongolia's Gobi Desert

 Elm trees are scientifically known as Ulmus Pumila. Ulmus is the ancient Latin name for elm and Pumila is Latin for dwarf in reference to the small leaves. 

The type of elm trees that are found in Mongolia are Siberian elms in shrub sizes and actually originate from Mongolia, Turkestan, Eastern Siberia and Korea.  They usually grow between 10 and 20 metres high with a trunk of about 80 centimetres in diameter. In colder areas like Mongolia, the Siberian elm features deciduous leaves. 

The Siberian Elm are resistant to drought, severe cold, and disease such as Dutch Elm Disease which affects many of its counterparts. They form a great habitat for bio-diversity and are used as windbreakers in the dusty windy steppe terrain. 

Since 2011, our EL guests have planted over 60 trees between them. Each EL team member also plants a tree. Some are planted in memory. Some of my team members are from the Gobi themselves so plant with the opportunity to help their home environment. And just like a proud mother would say, 'all are doing fine.'

If you would like the opportunity to learn more either about the tree planting project or other sustainability projects in Mongolia then let me know. In September, I will be personally leading our Sustainable Mongolia conservation and research small group trip. Why not join me as I travel through the middle Gobi and remote Khangai Mountains, meeting the local Mongolian people we work directly with. Learn more about the challenges they and their home environment face and what they are doing to combat these challenges. There is plenty of freedom and flexibility for private exploration as well. And a fantastic party with community members of Tariat!

In need of a shower but happy to be winning against 'Boss 2!'

Founder of Eternal Landscapes next to her tree

7 June 2016

Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - Thoughts By Jess

Where I, the founder of EL, write a few personal thoughts about Eternal Landscapes Mongolia. As requested by a few friends and colleagues. This is for them.

OK. A blog. If you run a business it is suggested that you also keep a blog. It helps drive traffic to your website. It helps establish authority. It gives your company a voice. 

But. No-one tells you how personal should it be. Or how professional? What's the magic balance? So, I typically err on the side of caution - more informative than personal.

But. I had lunch today with someone I met here in Ulaanbaatar on a recent research trip I took part in. I mentioned that I wrote personal notes about the business but didn't think they were interesting enough to form part of the blog. Also, that although I am the founder of the business, Eternal Landscapes is very much about my Mongolian team (my Mongolian family as I call them). That's why I typically write about 'we' rather than 'I'. My lunch date told me that the 'we' makes Eternal Landscapes sound much bigger and impersonal than we (!) actually are. It also doesn't convey who EL is or what the philosophy is that drives my belief in the business.

So. Because it was such a great lunch I feel that I owe a debt. Here is one of my first 'Jess notes' that I wrote about EL. 

(If you read advice about writing a blog, it is suggested you keep your writing to around 400 words. Also, you use images to break up the text and to emphasis your subject. You're also meant to consider SEO, link back to your website and  finish with a call to action. Sod that. These are my personal thoughts rather than a 'business blog post'. You can have one picture though, just so you know who is writing.)

Thoughts From Jess

Back in late winter, I travelled up to London for the Adventure Travel Conference. The main focus was 'today's adventure traveller - trends, challenges and opportunities.'

We were provided with a delegates list. When the sponsors were promoting their Andorra video to us, I was looking through the list.  Most of the delegates were representatives from larger adventure travel companies sent to take notes and network. 

I guess I did the same. I sent a representative (myself) and I networked although it appears I am diabolical at networking. Note to self, seriously need to work on the networking.

Lyn Hughes (co-founder and Editor In Chief of Wanderlust magazine) and Derek Moore (co-founder of Explore) both gave talks. I mentioned  to my colleague Greg  later that evening that I had found these talks motivational. Greg told me that my story was motivational. That someone would benefit from me writing this down. Personally, I am not convinced.

I’m English. I’m female. I’m from a small rural community. I come from a family that is not known for self promotion.  That’s why it’s taken me so long to get business cards. At least I now take them with me. Next step? To remember to actually hand them out. I'm also just one of the 7 point something billion of the world's population and what makes me more interesting that anyone else? 

But. There I was heading back down to Devon on the 501 National Express (I am a firm believer in supporting public transport). I was somewhere south of Taunton. It was of course raining. Having read the Saturday paper and my SEO Audit and Action Plan, I needed something to do to help my slightly wired mind. 
And here we are…

Why has it taken me this long to put it into digital form? For as many different reasons as you can think of. All coming back to the sentence above...’I'm also just one of the 7 point something billion of the world's population and what makes me more interesting that anyone else?’

Where will it go? I don’t know. But, just as Greg has promised me to look at job prospects in Dubai and New York, so I said I would ‘try’ to put something into words. 

Let's be clear, I am certainly not writing this with the idea of becoming a travel writer (who can compete with Bruce Chatwin?), or an influential lifestyle blogger. It’s just a promise. If nothing else, it will help me put my thoughts into order and I can use it as a 'reminder’,  as an ‘alternative’ business plan for Eternal Landscapes.

If you pressed me about what would I like to see from it? That people see that my love for Mongolia is genuine rather than a business decision. Also, that my travelling responsibly philosophy is not a quickly joined on band wagon for 'selling' purposes, but a real belief that as travellers, we have to make bigger steps to make sure those steps have a positive impact. Not  just on us doing the travelling but to the destinations and the people,  environment, culture and traditions of those destinations. And to inspire my younger Mongolian female trip assistants that they can achieve their goals, dreams and desires.

That's what's worth writing for. 

Thanks for listening. Love Jess x

6 June 2016

Mongolia, The Olympics And You

An opportunity to try something completely different. Spend time at the буудлага спортын төв клуб in Ulaanbaatar. The training ground of some of Mongolia's 2016 Olympic shooting team.

What do you know about Mongolia and the Olympics? 

Firstly, that Mongolia has  National Olympic Committee? Those of who have been to Ulaanbaatar may have passed it by at Olympic House on Chinggis Avenue without realising.

Did you know that they won their first gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics? (Judo, men's half heavyweight (100kg) won by Naidangiin Tüvshinbayar). 

Tuvshinbayar Naidan celebrating his semi-final victory (FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Tuvshinbayar Naidan celebrating his semi-final victory (FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Or that their strongest medal tally comes from boxing, wrestling archery and shooting?

Or, for those that like a little trivia, that Mongolia was ranked seventh in terms of medals per capita in the 2012 London Olympics?

As with other countries worldwide, Mongolia's sportsmen and women are preparing for Rio 2016. Mongolia has currently earned 37 quotas for the Rio Olympics in judo, freestyle wrestling, boxing, shooting, archery, weightlifting, taekwondo and athletics.

* As of July 1st, 49 Mongolian athletes will head to Rio - 13 in Judo, 9 in free style wrestling, 6 in boxing, 4 in track and field athletics, 3 in shooting, 2 in swimming, 1 weightlifter, 1 in recurve archery, 1 in Taekwondo and 9 to represent Mongolia in the Paralympics. Also, three referees.

This includes Отрядын Гүндэгмаа -  a Mongolian sports shooter who won a silver medal in the 25 metre pistol at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mongolian sports shooter Отрядын Гүндэгмаа
Image from http://www.champ10n.com

For a lot of travellers, Mongolia is mainly about the nomads. Those that know me know that I am constantly striving to provide travellers with a realistic portrayal of Mongolia in the 21st Century. Yes, there are nomadic herders. But, there are also musicians, armed services, athletes, those with disabilities, teachers  and accountants and miners and geologists and drivers and shop owners and construction workers and street cleaners - they are all Mongolians living in present day Mongolia.

So. When an opportunity was presented to me a short time ago, I thought how great. For those looking for a different sort of experience or opportunity you can now practise at the буудлага спортын төв клуб in Ulaanbaatar - where members of the Mongolian 2016 Rio Olympic team, O.Gundegmaa and Ts.Monkhzul, have both practised and trained. 

Interested? Get in touch for details. You could also look at my Mongolia one-day tours / experiences as wellOne day? What can you hope to experience in one day? Ditch the guidebook and the recommended highlights and come along and see. All our one-day experiences are private, flexible and fluid and designed to get you just that little bit closer to daily life and give you a more local aspect.  Including the training ground of some of Mongolia's 2016 Olympic athletes.