29 October 2016

Chinggis Khan's Birthday

On October 31st 2016 Mongolia will celebrate the 854th anniversary of the birth of Chinggis Khan

When you think of Mongolia what comes to mind? In the list surely has to be Genghis Khan? (Chinggis Khan as he is known in Mongolia).

He is known to have been born around 1162. The year is an estimate…the day and month unknown. So why does Mongolia celebrate his birth date when so much remains unclear?
It's called National Pride Day. It's a public holiday. And as a celebration it is still in its infancy.  2012 was the first year in Mongolia's modern history that the country celebrated the event on a national level.  The celebration was held on November 14th. So why in 2016, is it falling on October 31st? Because it is held on the first day of winter in the Mongolian Lunar Calendar…so this year October 31st. And for those counting, it is celebrating the 854th annivesary of his birth. That's a whole heap of candles.

And for those interested, yes, the LGBT Centre in Mongolia holds an annual Equality & Pride Day - as a way of  showing the visibility of the  community to the wider Mongolian public and and to illustrate what they stand for. It's typically in August.

On National Pride Day, the Mongolian government present the Chinggis Khaan Order - an award honouring the most outstanding national figures who have contributed greatly to the development of Mongolia. This year the honour will be presented to the State Merit Artist, opera singer G.Ariunbaatar.  

Will there be drinking, wildness and revelry?
Nope. No alcohol is permitted on public holidays in Mongolia (nor election days either for those interested).
So what can you do? Well. There won't be any live streaming of the event but if you're in Ulaanbaatar why not do one of the following:

Head to central Sukhbaatar Square for the raising of the national flag and the state banner.  True. It might not sound like the most exciting event but you can feel the sense of respect felt for Mongolia and the local pride in its many considerable achievements.

And then why not go to the wrestling palace where 128 state and province champion wrestlers will compete. 

And for those of you who aren't clued up on your world history, go out and buy a copy of Jack Weatherford's book - Genghis Khan And The Making Of The Modern World. 

Yes, he is known for bloodthirsty terror. But, between 1206 and his death in 1227, Chinggis Khan conquered nearly 12 million square miles of territory—more than any individual in history and still the largest contiguous land empire the world has known. Chinggis Khan also modernised Mongolian culture,  embraced religious freedom and created one of the first international postal systems. And as this blog post is about the man himself, I will leave you with three quotes by him - all can be found in the above book:

“Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.”  

“A leader should demonstrate his thoughts and opinions through his actions, not through his words.”  

“The vision should never stray far from the teaching of the elders. The old tunic fits better and it always more comfortable; it survives the hardships of the bush while the new or untried tunic is quickly torn.”

And just in case you're reading this and in Ulaanbaatar over the weekend without much to do, get in touch. We offer a great Mongolia one day tour of the city. It's informal and relaxed and provides a way of getting in touch with the atmosphere and character of UB and its local community. This day is not about museums or shopping – it’s about getting out and about and exploring and discovering. And, I'll make sure it includes a celebration for Chinggis Khan's 854th birthday anniversary!

And rememberunless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia you will also experience if you chose to travel with us. 

Thanks for listening as always. Jess

14 October 2016

Hunting With Eagles In Western Mongolia

Spend time with the Kazakh eagle hunters of western Mongolia 

Mongolia is a harsh land -  unforgiving and at times barren. Frequently windswept. Especially so in far western Mongolia. 

 Bayan Ulgii Province in west Mongolia
Photo by our guest - photographer Massimo Rumi
It is in these harsh and unforgiving landscapes of western Mongolia where you will find the ancient sport of  hunting with eagles.  Berkutchi is a form of falconry traditionally found throughout the Eurasian steppe - it is still practiced by the Kazakhs of western Mongolia. (Kazakhs are the largest minority group in Mongolia with approximately 100,000 living in the provinces of western Mongolia.)
A Kazakh eagle hunter
Image by our guest - photographer Marius Coetzee
If you want to truly experience the way of life of a Kazakh eagle hunter, then you need to be prepared for -40 degree temperatures. And no, that wasn't a slip on the keyboard. I really did mean -40.

Autumn in Bayan Ulgii.
Photo by our guest - photographer Massimo Rumi
Yes, it is possible to experience the Kazakh way of life in temperatures warmer than -40 but it is the deep winter that you would get to understand the bond between the hunter and his eagle. In the words of Australian photographer Palani Mohan:

'They have an extraordinary bond with the golden eagle, which to them represents the wind, the open space, the isolation and the freedom found at the edge of the world.'
Although tour companies advertise one day experiences, typically the eagle hunters go for longer - leaving their homes and heading into the mountains on horseback. 

It takes time. Eagle hunters have no where else to be. No time constraints. You wait. No-one typically talks. You listen to the sound of the wind. From a rocky outcrop, the hunters scan the landscapes looking for prints left by foxes or wolves in the snow. And then, like a bullet the released eagle descends on its prey. 

 The eagles are captured as chicks (eaglets) and trained by the hunters. After several years of hunting, eagles are released back in to the wild to breed and live out their final years in freedom. 

A female golden eagle flying
Photo by our guest - photographer Massimo Rumi
Winter in Mongolia is not for everyone. But it is a remarkable experience for those willing to take themselves outside of their comfort zone. Bring a down jacket and come and challenge yourself. Things will not happen on a perfect schedule and conditions will be very rugged - you will be required to step outside your circle of comfort. Winter expeditions can be susceptible to unforeseen problems which might result in last minute itinerary changes.  Please base your expectations on this important point.

Why am I writing this post? For the last few years we have offered trips focusing on western Mongolia - working directly and independently with local families  - not through an agency or representative of another company.

And now we can offer something just that little bit different. First you'll enjoy the hospitality and way of life of the Kazakh families we work with.

Yak milking

Morning duties at the winter pasture of the Dakhar family at Tsambagarav

Receiving Kazakh hospitality at the home of the Janatkhan family in Bugat district of Bayan Ulgii Province

And then, you'll undertake a four day expedition travelling alongside the eagle hunter. The expedition itself we leave entirely in the hands of the eagle hunter that hosts us - the arrangement of the hunting, the location and the families with which we stay en-route.  

What can you expect? Incredibly beautiful landscapes. Bitter cold and a biting wind.  Accommodation will be only with local families, leaving very little chance for any privacy. And you will be deeply affected by the solitude and space. Of that there is no doubt. 

So pack your thermals and come to Mongolia this winter and do something a little out of the ordinary. 
Sailaukhan - one of the Kazakh eagle hunters we work with
Image by our guest - photographer Marius Coetzee
Read any 'how to' book or blog post on how to write a business blog and they'll probably recommend that the end of the blog post there should be some kind of 'call to action.' Sometimes I even do that. Not this time. I'll just leave you with the above images and look forward to hearing from you if you're looking for something just that little bit different this winter.

As always, thanks for reading. Jess


5 October 2016

Watching Sunrise From Shiliin Bogd In Eastern Mongolia (it's good for the soul!)

Sunrise is a magnificent time of day. Shiliin Bogd in eastern Mongolia is a magnificent location to watch it from.

If someone asked me to describe Mongolia in one word, the one word that would spring to mind is 'vast' - vast landscapes, vast skies, and vast horizons. Shilin Bogd is located in one of Mongolia's vastest landscapes - the wind-scoured lowlands of Dariganga in south-eastern Sukhbaatar Aimag.

Here, at the site of one of Mongolia's most sacred mountains, the grasslands of the northern steppe and the expanse of the Gobi converge to create a unique landscape. A vast landscape. Have I mentioned that?

Think over 200 volcanic lava and cinder cones on an otherwise flat expanse of grassland. Close enough to the Chinese border that you can see their military vehicles on patrol. For those that need to know these things, the cones range in height from 25 to 300m, and vary from partially eroded to completely preserved.

The area is isolated, immense and stunning.

Look through a guidebook on Mongolia and Shiliin Bogd might get a small mention. But any mention doesn't really do it justice. The immense space, the pure air and the fact that you can’t see anyone or anything except the wilderness landscape, the boundless sky and the stretching horizons - all this conspires to restore your sense of the earth's immensity and your place in it.  It is very much as Stanley Stewart describes in his (excellent) book (In the Empire Of Genghis Khan) -
'From the air Mongolia looks like God's preliminary sketch for earth, not so much a country as the ingredients out of which countries are made: grass, rock, water and wind.'

In traditional Mongolian culture, mountains are the closest thing on earth to the Eternal Blue Sky and thus many are venerated and sacred. Mountains are the king of the area and given strong titles as their guardian spirits hold a direct connection with Tenger (the God of the Eternal Blue Sky). Tradition states that the soul of any man who climbs Shiliin Bogd will be renewed and filled with optimism and strength for the future.

Back in September, we camped at the foot of the mountain surrounded by silence and space. We watched the moon set as well as the sunset. We climbed up under a starlit night and as dawn broke the skyline, and the morning star slowly faded, so we circled the sacred stone shrine in the footsteps of those who had gone before us and made our offerings of rice, milk and vodka as we thought strong and positive thoughts. The Mongolian men present removed their hats to honour the sun as it rose over the horizon, an ancient tradition.

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.

And remember, unless otherwise mentioned, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia that you will also experience.

1 October 2016

In The Land Of The Gods - Mongolia's Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Take yourself off to Mongolia's 'Five Holy' Peaks

Mongolia is one of the highest countries in the world. Did you know that? Over 80% of the country is over 1000m. The whole region was lifted to very high levels by successive geological upheavals and as a result Mongolia is a deeply eroded mountainous country, with snow capped mountain ranges, forested slopes, open-high plateau steppe land…rolling into semi desert and then the desert in the south.

So. A lot of the country provides epic views. But if you're looking for a view of views then you may want to head to western Mongolia. More specifically to Altai Tavan Bogd.

The Altai Tavan Bogd Mountains are the highest mountains in Mongolia, with Khuiten Uul ('Cold Peak') at 4374m (14,201 ft) being the highest. These permanently snow capped mountains form a bowl around the Pontanii Glacier. The other peaks are Nairamdal ('Friendship', 4180m), Malchin ('herder, 4050m), B├╝rged ('Eagle', 4068m) and Olgii ('Cradle', 4050m). 

If you're not the type that's in to ice axes and crampons but who dosen't mind a vertical chalenge then you might want to consider Malchin Peak. 


Here's why!

Malchin Peak is considered a non technical climb. That means there's no special equipment required - just a prayer to the weather gods and a lot of puff and determination. Most climbers base themselves close to the 20km long Potanii glacier (the biggest of the glaciers in the Mongolian Altai and in the shadow of the ‘Five Holy’ peaks). It is a stunning setting from which to explore. It's around a 7 to 10 hour return trip from the base camp depending on your speed. The classic quote that tells you “not to look at the whole mountain take it one piece at a time” is something you will come to understand. 

For me, within this incredible region of cold permanently glaciated peaks, alpine lakes and hidden valleys you feel as if time is standing still – these vast and timeless landscapes will make you think and reconsider your priorities.

When you do make it to the peak you can rest assure that you are of few who probably make it up there and can revel in the epic beauty of the view which includes Russia, Kazakstan and China as well as Mongolia. If the weather gods listened to you that is!

Russell, one of our 2016 guests, climbed Malchin Peak in early September. Together with his Mongolian EL trip assistant Oyuha. These are her images.

Russell booked with us on one of our Mongolian trekking tours. Our treks are not tests of endurance or competitive races. Naturally, there will be some challenges but they’re mainly about seeing the world from a different perspective, new horizons and the joy of the great outdoors.

All treks are arranged through the families we work with - rural families who herd their livestock in the region and know their home area like the back of their hands.

And remember, unless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by guests of members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia that you will also experience.