24 November 2017

Alternatives to Black Friday - Mongolia

Today is Black Friday - synonymous with consumerism and excess. Yes, most of us still have to work and there is nothing wrong with making a profit but there is still an option to help make a statement against what Black Friday has come to represent. Even as a business, Black Friday doesn't just have to be about money, sales and the bottom line. 
So here's here's a few ideas on how to mark the day by doing something different. Using my beloved Mongolia for inspiration.
If you feel the urge to go online, then support local - Made In Mongolia 
Asral is a Mongolian based Buddhist NGO - founded by High Tibetan Lama, Ven. Panchen Ă–trul Rinpoche. The core aim of Asral is to help keep Mongolian families together thereby preventing children from ending up on the street. Their multi purpose centre located in the Bayangol district of UB houses many of Asral’s social initiatives, training projects and community activities.

This includes the base for Made in Mongolia (MIM) - an Asral initiative established to create employment for the women and to provide wider support for their communities. Three hundred and fifty women have been trained  by the MIM Project in sewing, embroidery and felt making in Ulaanbaatar and Underschil in the Gobi Desert. In the Asral Centre in the Bayangol district, there is a designated  space to house the felt making and sewing project and products include slippers, cushions, tablet or laptop holders and fabric toys. 
Read A Book - Make that mug of tea or coffee and sit down with a good book instead

The Association Goviin Khulan is a Mongolian NGO focusing on the protection and conservation of the Mongolian Wild Ass - the Khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus). It is one of the five recognised sub-species of the Asiatic Wild Ass and represents the largest population of this species in the world. As a result, Mongolia is a significant place for the conservation of this species.
The NGO also understands that the long-term success of a conservation project of an endangered species requires educating the local population. As part of their educational programme, the Association Goviin Khulan have written and published a conservation-based book The Lost Khulan of The Gobi with illustrations by a Mongolian artist Zolboo O. The funds of this book go back into conservation education carried out by the organisation in Mongolia.
It is a truly beautiful book. 
If you feel the urge to shop then shop ethical instead - Mongolian Quilting Centre
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. Not only do the women of NWL make everyday items such as tote bags and tablecloths but also individual pieces of fabric artwork made from discarded and recycled material such as their stunning quilts.
They don't currently have an on-line shop but head to their Quilting Shop on Seoul Street. Alternatively, get in touch with Tserendash Selenge the Director. 
I definitely want one of their brilliant fabric Advent calendars.
Put your wallet away and give your time - Volunteer instead
If you have time on your hands then volunteer for an hour or so at a local project. And once again I’ll bring up the Nogoon Nuur Community Space in Ulaanbaatar. As I always say, I love this place immensely. There are few safe community spaces within the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar - especially community spaces where children can play. But, Nogoon Nuur (Green Lake) is bucking this trend.  
The whole vision is made possible by a committed individual, Ulzii. Ulzii has been committed to renovating this public space since 2012 and over this time has planted over 500 trees and focused on creating a  healthy, green, public space for Mongolian people, especially children in the ger area. 
As well as making financial and equipment donations, we also like to donate with our time. So, when the cry went out for help, we answered and went along to  help plant more trees and with landscaping and the building of a composting system.  I arranged for my female trip assistants that were available to go along and help provide some (female) manpower.
To learn more about how we work with these individual projects, go to the Sustainable Travel page on the Eternal Landscapes website. For now though, go out and mark Black Friday by doing something different. 

17 November 2017

Photo Essay - Hunting With 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. Winter is hunting season and a great time to accompany a Kazakh eagle hunter on an extended trip. The following images were taken by our guests who joined us this September and October.

So I can hear the initial question.  Winter in Mongolia? Isn't it cold? Yes. But the cold is an important part of what makes Mongolia and its landscapes extraordinary at this time of year.   After 12 years of living and working in Mongolia (it is still my home), winter remains my favourite season. Winter in Mongolia makes the landscapes look even more vast. It seems endless. The beauty of it makes you catch your breath.

By EL Guest Antoinette Von Grone

By EL Guest Sam Reinders
Not only do the landscapes come into their own but the ger becomes very much the nucleus of the herders' way of life with the livestock being brought closer to the homestead for protection. Because of this, as a visitor, the families’ way of life is brought closer to you. Winter in Mongolia is a time of year when families have more time to spare and are freer and more relaxed. 

By EL Guest Sam Reinders
So that's the formalities over and done with.  

Why hunting with 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. 

By EL Guest Sam Reinders
The Kazakhs are Mongolia's largest ethnic minority 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. 

By EL Guest Meei Wong
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). 

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.

By EL Guest Antoinette Von Grone
Getting there

There are year-round domestic flights to Ulgii from Ulaanbaatar with both Hunnu Air and AeroMongolia. There are not daily flights but there's a good service. Ulgii is the provincial capital of Bayan Ulgii Province. It might feel a little like having arrived at the end of the road but it is worth spending time in - especially time spent exploring the black market. 

By EL Guest Meei Wong
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. Mongolian dishes are frequently found as well. 

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.

If you’re visiting a Kazakh family you will probably get to try the besbarmak - a dish consisting of boiled horse or mutton. This is is one of the most popular Kazakh dishes and is also called 'five fingers' because of the way it is eaten - using your hands. Traditionally, the chunks of boiled meat are cut and served by the host in order of the guests’ importance. Other favorite Kazakh dishes are kazy a traditional sausage made of fattened horsemeat  -  often part of a celebratory meal. 

By EL Guest Antoinette Von Grone
By EL Guest Antoinette Von Grone

By EL Guest Antoinette Von Grone


Well. If you like the idea of a memory foam mattress then probably look elsewhere. The same applies if you need a daily hot shower or an insulated flush toilet.

Kazakh eagle hunters offer their homes up for visitors to stay in. It is a homestay but also see it as a micro business - accommodation offered by individual families as a way of substituting their income as herders, providing a little extra financial security.

What to expect? It might be a Kazakh ger insulated for the winter temperatures or it might be the traditional clay brick houses that Kazakhs favour in the winter months.

If you want a shower, head to the local town shower house in Ulgii. You get your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water - just queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life

By EL Guest Meei Wong

By EL Guest Antoinette Von Grone

And let's finish with a tip. 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.

And a second? Remember that the primary purpose of why Kazakh eagle hunters take their eagles out in the winter is to hunt prey - especially foxes or rabbits. There's no guarantee that you'll see a kill but in the winter months, that is the purpose of such trips. Just as a gentle reminder.

 The plug (of course!). 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.