10 September 2017

Photo Essay: The Beauty Of Wild Mongolia

This summer we were joined by Swiss guest Deborah Furrer on a 19 day trip to Khovsgol Nuur National Park and the Darkhad Depression. These are her images.

Deb booked onto one of our small group trips. There were two travellers but we keep our maximum group size to six anyway. Why? To limit our impact but also it provides a more flexible and individual experience.

The 19-days experience included two separate horse treks both focusing on local life. Why two?  Because then you experience two distinct ways of life and get a basic understanding as to the diversity of the way of life and landscapes in Mongolia. One took place in Khovsgol Nuur National Park (including the Khoridol Saridag Mountains) and the other in the Darkhad Depression. 

As I've written before, our horse treks are different in that we leave the route entirely flexible and in the hands of the herder guide / horse wrangler as this leads to a more organic and Mongolian type of exploration.

Instead, the focus becomes getting to meet and know the Mongolian herder guide / horse wrangler riding alongside them in the areas where they consider home. 
By not pre-planning the route, it means there is flexibility to explore the hidden valley you just came across or even to spend half the day at the local kindergarten that you pass en-route.

There was even participation at the local Renchinlumbe Naadam. Our guests stayed for the two-day celebration - staying overnight in the local community. Deborah took third place in the archery competition. Yep, that's right. Third place. 

So what did our guests say?

'The tour gave me very deep and authentic insight to the country and I loved every part of it.'

'A wonderful and incredible trip. I've had the most amazing time, and I want to thank you and the team at eternal landscapes … for making this trip a time of my life I'll never forget.'

Of course. It can't always go to plan. This is Mongolia after all.

Mongolia is a country of contrasts. It is not an easy option. It is a country that will challenge you. It is a tough country and the local people have learnt to adapt to this tough way of life. Adventure travel is always a bit unpredictable due to the nature of the terrain and the experiences we seek. Sometimes, the forces of nature or a change in the dates of a festival will require some changes in the plan. Flight schedules may change at a moments notice, or muddy ground may make a route impassable. But if you're willing to forego some of your creature comforts and pack your flexibility along with your thermals and suncream, then the rewards will be huge.

And of course, if you're interested in getting a more local insight into Mongolia, then have a look at our Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website for a more realist introduction to the way of life in contemporary Mongolia. 

4 September 2017

Life On The Steppe - Mongolian Dogs

Pick up a guide book to Mongolia and glance at the section on the culture. You'll probably find that gers are (obviously) mentioned as are the Buddhist traditions but rarely do dogs get a mention. However, dogs are an integral part of Mongolian rural life.

The last Mongolian census (2010) highlighted that the average family size is 3.6 people. What is not mentioned is that most families own a dog. Or two. And dogs in Mongolia are considered part of the family

It's All In The Eyes

Dogs have always played a major part in the lief of Mongoin herders.  Look no further than the traditional greeting when approaching the ger of 'hold the dog.'

For those that have been to Mongolia, think of what you know about a ger and how the space is divided. The north portion is where the family khoimor (altar) is located and typically where the senior man and honoured guests sit. Men typically have the west side of the ger, women the right or east side and less-important people place themselves in the doorway area. Dogs are also part of this ger circle - with their position outside the ger and to the right of the door to protect the hearth and its family inside.

And protect they do. 

Very rarely are the dogs in the Mongolian countryside fashionable, small, pedigree dogs as traditionally the role of dogs in Mongolia was to alert it's owners to the arrival of strangers arriving from the wide-open steppe, herding the livestock when families moved to new pasture and guarding against the threat of wolves.  Some dogs are chosen for their eyebrows  - considered four eyes - these additional 'eyes' look into the spirit world and help the dogs in their protection of their charges.

And yes, as an overnight visitor to a family ger, earplugs are recommended to drown out the steady barking throughout the night. 

It's All In The Name

Dogs are the one animal in Mongolia given their own nameMongolians are not at all sentimental about their animals so it might seem strange that dogs are given a name when their horses are not but the giving of a name is a sign of honour and part of Mongolian belief that dogs are the last stage before humans in the reincarnation process. 

Freedom Of The Hills

When a dog dies, the owner whispers in the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a human in his next life. Why whispered? Because when a new dog joins a family they whisper its new name into its ear  so as not to draw the attention of evil spirits who might give bad luck or cause the dog or family harm. It's the same for when the dog dies.

The dog is buried high in the hills so that people do not walk on their remains. Also, so they are closer to the sky making it easier to travel up to the spirit realm.

The tail is also cut off. Why do they do that? The tail is removed so that on returning as a human, the person does not have a tail. It is also thought that removal of the tail aids the helping spirits in understanding that a dog is really a human and therefore must come back as a human. 

A piece of meat or fat is cut off and placed in the dog's mouth to sustain its soul for its journey; before the dog is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high open steppe for as long as it would like.

And for sure, the family will eventually choose a new dog to welcome into herding family life. What happens then is that the family will feed it milk and whisper its name into its ear. Milk is thought to bind the dog to the soul of the family; the life blood in a way. 

So as a visitor to Mongolia, should you be scared of the dogs? No. But read a guidebook before coming to Mongolia and it will warn you to be 'aware' of them. Dogs that belong to herding families are loyal to their charges and protect them with their lives. Hence your arrival can result in a large, loud and aggressive looking beast climbing your vehicle wheels! However, once you've entered into the space of the family ger, the dog will typically ignore you.

If you're interested in getting a more local insight into Mongolia, then have a look at our Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website for a more realist introduction to the way of life in contemporary Mongolia.