31 August 2016

How To Cross A Mongolian River

A brief post written from on the Mongolian road. We are currently in Khentii Aimag - considered the birthplace of Chinggis Khan.  We are in Dadal - close to the border with Russia, and exploring the spectacular Onon-Balj National Park. Today has been spent in the company of a park ranger…seeing the protected area from his personal perspective.

This is not the first time we have been in Khentii. We typically leave it alone for July and early August when the roads usually turn into a quagmire and the mosquitoes seem to have personal vendettas against all.

But, late August onwards is glorious - the roads are drying out and the autumn colours start to put on a show of their own.

I personally last passed this way in 2013. To get to Khentii you have to cross the Onon Gol and both in 2013 and 2016, we used the birvaz.  The what? The birvaz is one of my favourite inventions - a floating platform on a pulley system that crosses the river - used by locals with their motorbikes or in this case, by EL with our Furgon van. Tserendorj is the operator and crossing the river this way gives you time to discuss the weather, the state of the Mongolian economy and to count fish.

Also in Khentii is the small community of Binder. Back in 2012, a local decided to take us under his wing and show us his preferred way of crossing the Onon River. The tractor taxi. 

Of course, there's the traditional horse option as demonstrated here by Bambakh on one of our Khovsgol and Khoridol Saridag treks. 

 Then there's always a bridge.

 There's also the 'drive through' option. 

Or just waiting until it all freezes over.

There's an option for everyone. Our east trips take place from late August onwards. If you're interested in the EL way of travelling, why not have a look at the Mongolia Tour Calendar on my Eternal Landscapes website. You'll find in (almost) a nutshell a guide to the Mongolian seasons and the trips we operate during those seasons.

22 August 2016

Ecotourism and Responsible Travel In Mongolia - A Few (Useful?!) Tips!

Ecotourism, ethical travel, sustainable travel or responsible travel. What do you call it? Does it impact on the way you choose to travel? Are they just current trending 'buzz' words? Is it just a marketing sales tool used by the tourism industry?
However you feel, it is an important part of my philosophy behind EL. Why? I firmly belive that this is about our responsibility to Mongolia. Travel can, and should be, a positive experience for both you, the visitor, and for Mongolia – its natural environment, people, culture and traditions. I believe that travel has to be beneficial to all concerned - what's unimportant is the name you choose to give it. 

Another current buzz word is being 'mindful'. Mindful of the way we travel. Which basically comes down to being considerate. It doesn't necessarily mean an entire change of attitude as a traveller. It can come dow to some simple choices. 

Think How You Explore

Walking, biking or on anything with four legs have to be the best ways. All mean you notice the smaller details rather than everything passing by in a quick haze. 

 Yes, here in Mongolia, Khovsgol Nuur and Gobi Gurvan Saikhan are rightfully popular short loops. But, consider how you experience them. Don't just arrive and depart in and out on a domestic flight and miss out on the in-between places. 
From 2017, as well as the biking and hiking trips we offer, each EL vehicle will carry one mountain bike. As a completely free service. Why? It gives the opportunity for those that want to to go and explore the smaller details.   
Biking in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia

Travel Mindfully

Yes, our EL Mongolian experiences are heavily reliant on our Furgon vehicles. And yes, they cover a lot of distance and drink a lot of fuel. Not exactly sustainable huh? But, I still firmly believe that traveling by land through Mongolia can be one of the most fulfilling and memorable experiences with absolute freedom to visit the most off the beaten path spots.
So. The fabulous Mongolian drivers (my 'boys') that form part of the EL team are encouraged to make their vehicles as fuel efficient as possible - any additional fuel payment left over at the end of a trip they get to keep. This is in addition to their pay and annual bonus. 
But. It's still travelling by vehicle. So. All our vehicles carry a small mobile kitchen. This means we can break up the journey.  It means we can offer more freedom and flexibility as we’re not reliant on anyone else to provide meals. It also means we can have picnic lunches en-route so as we prepare them, our guests can be exploring the local landscapes or sitting and taking in the view. 

Picnic lunch in Mongolia's Gobi Desert
For itineraries that include domestic flights we try for our guests to drive one way  - taking in those in-between places that I keep mentioning! 

Search Out The Local Accommodation Options

In Ulaanbaatar, we don't have one fixed hotel we recommend. I provide all guests with details of as many centrally located options as I can. Mongolian owned businesses dominate that list. 
Even better has to be staying with local hosts or friends. From 2017, we will be offering our own version of Airbnb here in Ulaanbaatar where those interested can spend a day or two with a female member of the EL team in their family home. During the day you'll be free to explore (and join our free city walking tour of UB). During the evening, Selenge will accompany you - and show you what a typical evening is like for a UB citizen.
Give Back To The Local Community

 But what does this mean?
It’s hard to travel without creating at least a bit of carbon footprint. Trees are great - they're basically like lungs for the planet (no, I'm not a biologist, can you tell?!) so find an organisation that allows you to plant a free or fund a tree being planted on your behalf.

Tree planting in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

Planting trees in Mongolia's middle Gobi

Alternatively, take time to visit a local community organisation. One where you can help to make a difference (not by offering to teach English to children for an hour but by doing something practical that the community actually needs doing - such as sticking stamps on envelopes. Always remember that  the needs of the communities must be put first rather than our own desire to just ‘do good.’).
If you want to be of help consider joining us on helping to fund the new learning centre at the Nogoon Nuur community space located in the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar. It's not yet built but I'm encouraging our guests with the help of our EL trip assistants to choose Mongolian children's books that they then donate in person. Sometimes it can be about the small things.
A new website is in the pipeline but if you're interested in EL and the way we travel then please have a look at my current EL website for inspiration on Mongolian holidays and travel experiences. I look forward to welcoming you!

17 August 2016

Mongolian Experiences For Those Short On Time

With this brief post I'm going to go back to a theme that forms a centre piece of the EL Mongolian philosophy - it's not necessarily where you visit but how you visit. 

Within the travel / tourism market here in Mongolia,  I've noticed that there seems to be more and more competition at who can offer experiences that go the furthest, the highest, to the most remote off the beaten track location. Who can provide the most authentic, real and unique experience. 

That's great but as companies try to out do themselves  I thought I would just show what happens if you opt for a slower paced more immersive experience. 

Welcome to the Orkhon River Valley!

The Orkhon River, Ovorkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

The Orkhon River Valley forms part of one of Mongolia's World Heritage Sites (four in total for those asking). 

For those with a map available, its in Ovorkhangai Aimag in central Mongolia. Kharkhorin (the ancient capital city of Ogodei Khan) forms part of the World Heritage Site. In fact, this region is considered the cradle of Mongolian civilisation and an area rich in nomadic life as the Orkhon River provides as essential lifeline for nomads and their livestock. 

It's roughly 355km from UB (which in terms of distance in Mongolia is NOTHING) and very firmly placed in the guidebooks and 'tourist' maps. The family that provided these great photos had only a handful of days to spend in Mongolia. Yes, we could have arranged for them to fly on the ever popular Khovsgol  or Gobi loop but we are not a general travel agency and anyway,  they would have spent more time 'getting to' their destination rather than 'just being'.

They made the most of a three day trek with the Khangai Mountains forming a backdrop…with the EL vehicle coming each evening to set up camp. During the day they were led by Tumee on horseback - the head of one of the rural families we work with throughout Mongolia.

(No outside agencies for us. We go directly to the local people.)

An Eternal Landscapes campsite along the Orkhon River Valley

Handstands at sunset at the Orkhon River Valley

Sunset at Orkhon River Valley, Mongolia

Learning to make khuurshuur, Mongolia's mutton pancakes

Arm wrestling, Orkhon River Valley, Mongolia

Horse riding on the high steppe of Mongolia

And if you're interested in how they felt about their EL experience:

'It was so tranquil and remote and we really felt like we were having a real experience rather than going to all the main tourist attractions.'

I call our short experiences the ‘Essence of Mongolia’. Your time may be limited but this does not mean that you cannot experience Mongolia in a real way and return feeling you have 'touched base' with the country. If interested, please look at my Mongolia short tours on the EL website page for inspiration. I look forward to welcoming you to the freedom of the open steppe.