21 April 2017

Celebrating Earth Day - April 22nd

April 22nd is Earth Day. That's great. What is it? 

Earth Day began in 1970 as a day to celebrate the planet and encourage people to be more environmentally friendly. It is widely regarded as being the start of the modern environmental movement.  

There are various activities associated with the day with people worldwide getting involved.  On the list includes raising awareness about the environment - recycling or energy use as an example, planting trees and volunteering for green projects. 

OK. So why are you writing about it Jess?  

Mongolia. For centuries, the traditional nomadic way of life helped to sustain the natural environment. By nature of their lifestyle, herders have an in-depth knowledge of conservation practises which was key to limiting any ecological impact.  That knowledge has been a fundamental ingredient of the herding way of in Mongolia, even into the 21st century. 

But, more and more challenges face the country. Mongolia’s rich oil and mineral deposits have caught  the interest of developers.  Environmental problems include desertification due to excessive grazing, inadequate water supply, and air and water pollution

So in honour of Earth Day, I thought I would highlight four ways you can make a positive contribution to the philosophy of Earth Day during your time in Mongolia. And highlight what we're doing as well. 

* I can hear murmurings from the back.  What's the point? Is one day of the year enough to make an impact. Well. I'm an optimist. And I don't carry out statistical studies so can't be put off by facts. So yes. I do believe it can -if it helps to get some sort of message across, to draw attention to the issues raised by Earth Day. Yes, you've heard them before. Yes, you'll hear them again. Is is worth repeating them? Yes. 

Get Outside

Leave your tablet, your SmartPhone and any other modern life technological must haves behind and go unplugged.  It will mean you see things from a different more refreshing perspective. Take a deep breath and exhale. 

Don't treat any walk as an exercise regime - that's best left for the gym when you get home.  Instead slow your thoughts down and just observe the world around you.

What are we doing? 

My EL trip assistants will be heading to Khustain Nuruu National Park for conservation and ecology training with the Association Goviin Khulan NGO. As part of that training they'll be reminded that part of any outdoor experience is 'just being'.

Use Public Transport 

You're not going to get there quickly. But, It allows you to be part of the local community for a brief while and you'll see the area from a more local perspective.  

What are we doing?

We provide a free city nomads folding bike in each vehicle . As a completely free service. Why? It gives the opportunity for those that want to to go and explore the smaller details independently and to help break the reliance on the tour vehicle. 

Ditch The Plastic 

Whether it be a bag or bottle. Yes, it is frequently written and it almost sounds like a 'nag'. Well it is. Use that tote bag or bag for life. And a re-usable water bottle. 

What are we doing? 

The Mongolian Quilting Centre  is known more formally as the New Way Life NGO - established in 2005 to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged and unemployed women.  They are trained in the art of quilting, textiles and embroidery and  use their skills to generate income for their families by crafting products to sell. We provide a tote bag made by the NWL NGO to each of our guests as part of their welcome pack.

Go Local

Choose to explore the local markets and shops. Choose eating options that are appropriate to the area where you are. Support that local independent rather than the chain. 

What are we doing?

The key focus here is local produce. We provide most meals on an EL experience. Pineapple? Brie? Oranges. Sure, they taste delicious but but one thing is for sure, they're not native to Mongolia. I encourage my EL trip assistants to  think about what they're buying and its country of origin. We look out the locally produced sweet tasting tomatoes and cucumber. There's also great local salami, freshly made bread and smoked fish. And later in the year, delicious watermelons (yes, really).  

If I've inspired you to do your part for Earth Day during your visit to Mongolia then please get in touch.  2017 is the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development so let's make this year count. Let's make a positive impact through tourism. Visit our Eternal Landscapes Mongolia Who We Are page to find out more about the philosophy behind EL and why I set it up. 

Thanks for listening, Jess 

16 April 2017

Mongolia's Khustain Nuruu National Park

Khustai National Park is one of three locations chosen for the re-introduction of the endemic Przewalski horse (Equus przewalskii)– the only wild horse to survive in modern times and known as Takhi in Mongolian. Here's my brief guide:

What's the motivation behind this blog post?

Between April 14th and 21st, the Blue Moon Art Gallery in Ulaanbaatar is hosting a photography exhibition on behalf of the International Takhi Group - celebrating 25 years of the reintroduction of the takhi into the  Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. 

There are three locations where the Takhi have been re-introduced:

  • Khustain Nuruu National Park in Tov Aimag
  • Takhiin Tal - in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area
  • Khomiin Tal in the buffer zone of the Khar Us National Park

Roughly 17% of Mongolia's landmass has some form of national environmental protection. A further 10% has local protected area status. Khustain National Park is one of the success stories of environmental protection in Mongolia with a population of 300 Takhi - although it does face frequent challenges. 

Khustain is actually managed by a dedicated NGO - the Hustai National Park Trust (HNPT)*  - established in 2003 and specializing in nature and environmental conservationTakhi’s stay in harem groups with a strict hierarchy, dependent on the age and relationship of the individual horses. Each group has its own range within the NP.

* You will see Khustain written as Hustai and Hustain

Time for some statistics

Part of Khustain's appeal is its accessability  - located approximately 100km from Ulaanbaatar. 

The reserve covers an area of 50, 600 hectares and is located on the southern fringes of the forest-steppe zone. It has a diverse ecology and habitats include  sand dunes, open steppe, a river valley, birch forest and mountains.

It has an elevation of between 1100 - 1840m - which leads to some incredible look- out points  over the distant Moltsog Sands as well as the partly forested Khustai Mountains. 

Read a guidebook and you will see it recommends visiting Khustain at sunrise and sunset. Why? This is the key time to see the wild horses. However, it’s also peak visiting time and you compete with large tour groups and vehicle dust. So. I recommend approaching things a little differently. 

How To Visit? Hike and Bike

This is how we prefer to do it. I believe it helps to provide you with a better understanding of the biodiversity of Khustain - its people, landscapes and wildlife.

You'll use the bikes on the tracks and explore the ridges on foot. 

Drive to the NP and then having visited the information centre, hop on your EL mountain bikes and explore. 

The stars of the show are obviously the Takhi which are free ranging through the hills and mountains of the national park. As with all wildlife, there is no guarantee of catching a sighting but we try - whilst keeping within the strict rules and regulations of the NP. However, there is also a reasonable chance to see red deer, corsac foxes, Siberian marmots, black vultures and other numerous raptors such as eagles and falcons. Not to mention the wild flowers.

You can also explore the  archaeology  in the southern region of the park - close to the Tuul River including Neolithic graves (roughly from the 6th or 7th century A.D).

For those that want to stay overnight to extend the biking exploration, the herders in the buffer zone of the protected area are part of a community based tourism project where they open their homes to visitors.  Alternatively, we are permitted to camp in the buffer zone and I dearly love the view from our campsite.

Whoever you choose to visit with, make it a responsible visit
  • View all wildlife from a safe distance and remember that if the animal interrupts its behaviour then you are too close. Use binoculars and a long lens
  • Take all rubbish with you and do not leave any trace - including toilet paper
  • Yes, you will want to document your visit but remember that the welfare of the Takhi and the other wildlife are far more important than your photograph

Interested? Curious? Not too sure? Why not have a look through the Mongolia conservation tours that we offer at Eternal Landscapes. Alternatively, 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. 

Unless 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.

Pack your bags and come to Mongolia and do something a little out of the ordinary. We look forward to welcoming you.


11 April 2017

Hunting With Eagles In Mongolia - Your Seasonal Guide

If you're interested in experiencing the way of life of a Kazakh eagle hunter, this brief (ish) guide is for you!

Why visit?

Easy answer.

The Kazakhs are Mongolia's largest ethnic group with around 150,000 residing in western Mongolia -  even though the region of western Mongolia is physically separated from Kazakhstan by a 47-60 km mountainous stretch of Chinese and Russian territory. The largest group of Kazakhs make their home in Bayan Ulgii Aimag with a smaller group in Khovd aimag. There are also smaller populations in Ulaanbaatar and its surrounding districts. The Kazakhs represent 3-4% of Mongolia's population (Mongolia’s entire population is just over 3 million people). 

Moving on. Getting there

There are year-round domestic flights to Ulgii (provincial capital of Bayan Ulgii aimag) with both Hunnu Air and AeroMongolia. There are no daily flights and if you're considering travelling at any point either side of the two eagle festivals (Sept and Oct) then book those flights early.

You could of combine it with a road trip. Why? The  power of the landscapes is also an integral part of any journey to Mongolia. Time spent exploring and ‘just being’ in the landscapes can also be uplifting and enlightening element of a trip especially in the immensity of Mongolia's 'wild west.'

Why eagles?

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.

Most of the eagles flown in are female ‘eyasses’ - young female eagles taken from nests. Female birds are considered braver, fiercer and stronger. All the eyasses scream when hunting (known also as food-beg). This helps the  eagle hunter to keep track of the bird.

* Remember though that not all Kazakh families are eagle hunters.

What will you be eating?

Horse. And mutton. And mutton and horse. Seriously? Yes. Kazakh cooking is based on boiling with horse and mutton. It's fresh and delicious though. As is the barbecued shashlik.

* It's no problem if you're vegetarian or vegan but remember that hospitality is a key ingredient in the Kazakh culture. As Kazakh culture dictates, they are warm and generous hosts so you shouldn't refuse anything too forcibly.

Best time to visit?

Seasons are very distinct in Mongolia and each one brings its own unique challenges - and in relation to eagle hunting, its own perspective. Whatever time of year suits you best, I will put together an itinerary based around the Kazakh families that we work with - all relationships that we have personally built up over time. And plenty of Kazakh tea.


This is hunting season and a great time to accompany a Kazakh eagle hunter on a hunting trip.  For a more pure experience,  leave the planning entirely in the hands of the eagle hunter - the arrangement of the hunting, the location and the accommodation. Why? It makes for a more authentic style of trip.


Nauryz - the Kazakh celebration of the coming of spring - takes place on March 21st and 22nd with a great community parade on March 22nd in Ulgii. 

Kazakhs do not typically hunt with their eagles from March (as the prey such as foxes are carrying their young). However, it is a great time of year for a homestay as the livestock are giving birth and cashmere is being combed.


The eagles are being rested so there's no training, no flying and no hunting. But, why not explore on  a horse trek accompanied by the eagle hunter.  They can show you the location of the nests where they take their chicks, their favourite hunting grounds and a more hidden side to their home landscapes.

* There are many regions in which to horse trek - Tsambagarav or Altai Tavan Bogd are both popular. However, I always like the quieter less visited regions. One of my favourite regions for horse trekking is Tsengel Khairkhan in Sagsai sum. It makes a great 3-5 day loop. 

Experience one of the two eagle festivals - both held in Bayan Ulgii Province. The first is held in the district of Sagsai and takes place on the third weekend in September. The second is held in the provincial capital - Ulgii, and takes place on the first weekend in October. Both are sponsored by tour companies. 

Both festivals are very popular (expect a lot of visitors. And a lot of cameras). Combine a festival experience with a longer trip or fly into Khovd first or last and experience a little more of the landscapes to help put the culture and way of life of western Mongolia into perspective. 

Interested? Curious? Not too sure? Why not have a look through the Mongolia tours that we offer at Eternal Landscapes. Alternatively, 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. 

Unless 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.

 Pack your bags and come to Mongolia and do something a little out of the ordinary. We look forward to welcoming you.


5 April 2017

Conservation And Research Expedition - Gobi Desert 2017

Experience Mongolia differently on our 2017 conservation and research trip - in collaboration with the Mongolian Association Goviin Khulan NGO.

Supporting local is at the heart of what we do and at the centre of each experience we offer. Working in this way means we have have personally come into contact with some remarkable Mongolian people working at a grass roots level in conservation and wildlife protection. We have spent time experiencing their way of life as they show us the more hidden side to their home and the challenges they face. These people are the motivation behind our conservation trips. 

Since 2008 the Association Goviin Khulan has worked in the eastern part of Mongolia's Gobi Desert to enhance the protection of the Mongolian Khulan (Mongolia's wild ass) and its habitat in partnership with local protected areas' staff and communities.

Why Khulan?

Khulan as seen by our 2015 guests

The Mongolian Khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) is one of the 5 recognized sub-species of the Asiatic Wild Ass and represents the largest population of this species in the world. As a result, Mongolia is an important place for the conservation of this species. 

The Mongolian Khulan is legally protected and listed as Rare in the Mongolian Red Book and Endangered in the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species. 

Threats to the species include loss of habitat as a result of human settlement, and due to resource extraction such as mining. There is also degradation of their natural grazing land and competition for water sources. There is also fragmentation of the natural habitat and restriction of the Khulan's movements due to the Trans-Mongolian railway, and due to roads and fences associated with mining development. 

Conservation and Research Expedition - 2017

Travel with Anne Marie Souri - an ethnologist and founder and lead researcher of Association Goviin Khulan. A member of the SSC/IUCN Equid Specialist Group, Anne Camille has been studying the Khulan since 2004. 

You will gain an understanding of the ecology of the little visited Dorngobi (east Gobi) region. Also, Goviin Khulan practice people-centred conservation and you will meet the local people such as Buddhist monks, small market gardeners and  nomadic herders who are are partners in conservation. 

You will be trained to use several kinds of technology  such as trail cameras and all  data collected during this conservation expedition will be used as part of the conservation program  - continuing to protect the endangered Mongolian Khulan/Mongolian Wild Ass and its habitat. 

The Itinerary

Day One - June 17th - Ulaanbaatar

Our free (informal and relaxed) city walking tour will introduce you to life in Mongolia's capital city.  -Our walking tour provides a way of getting in touch with the atmosphere and character of the city and with the local community. This day is not about museums or shopping – it’s about getting out and about and exploring and discovering. Over 45% of Mongolia’s population make their home in Ulaanbaatar and and spending time within the city will give you a contrasting insight into their way of life, compared to that of the rural population.

Day Two - June 18th - Khustain Nuruu National Park

Takhi at Khustain. Image by our guest Marie Anne Fell. Takhi’s stay in harem groups with a strict hierarchy, dependent on the age and relationship of the individual horses. In scientific terms, the Takhi is a distinct species due to its 66-chromosome count; all other horses have 64 chromosomes.
Drive through the middle step to Khustai Nuruu National Park - noted for its successful reintroduction of the endemic Przewalski horse– the only wild horse to survive in modern times and known as Takhi in Mongolian. Khustain is one of Mongolia’s conservation success stories and this day will provide you with a better understanding of the biodiversity of Khustain - its people, landscapes and the distribution density and composition of wildlife in the area. 

Day Three - June 19th - Khamariin Khiid

Travel through to Mongolia’s eastern Gobi. You’ll travel through steppe to desert terrain and will start to get an understanding of the diversity of Mongolia’s natural habitats. You'll observe wildlife native to the Gobi - especially herds of White Tailed Gazelle. 

Day Four - June 20th - Queen's Spring - Research and Conservation Area

Queen’s Spring is located roughly about 150 kms from the border with China. This is the start of five-days spent in the Goviin Khulan research area. Examples of the activities that could be conducted in the research area are:
  • Observation of wildlife species including recording GPS positions for each species observed
  • Recording of the presence of each species observed including animal tracks, dung and scats.
  • Settlement of camera traps at strategic locations
  • Sampling of plants in specific areas
  • Record of carcasses found,
  • Meeting with rangers and families involved in the project
  • Cleaning of specific sites 
Day Five - June 21st - Golden Mountain - Research and Conservation Area

Officially known as Ergeliin Zuu, this is a protected natural reserve where dinosaur fossils were discovered in the 1920’s by Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions. Part of the day will be spend meeting a local family who work as ‘citizen conservationists for Association Goviin Khulan. 

Day Six to Eight - June 22nd to 24th - Native Mountain - Research and Conservation Area

‘Native Mountain’ is home to a Buddhist monastery - Ulgii Khiid - and here will meet with the community of monks and have the opportunity to discuss with them about their involvement in the Association Goviin Khulan conservation program and their actions and motivations towards the protection of the Gobi ecosystem.

Time will be spent exploring the region specifically focusing on the observation of wildlife to collect data for AGK. During your time here you will meet community members such as Gansukh and Otgon and families who are now involved in the khulan project as Citizen Conservationists. 

Day Nine - June 25th - Sainshand
Day Ten -  June 26th - UB

If you're looking for something that little bit different in your trip to Mongolia then get in touch. Discover more on our Mongolia Conservation tours website page.