16 December 2011

Winter In Mongolia - The Nine Nine's of Winter

The Nine Nine's of Mongolia's winter. This is traditionally how Mongolians 'divide' the progress of winter.

I spoke to Turuu today. We spoke about the weather - it's as natural a question in Mongolia as it is here in the UK. Turuu mentioned that that it was a little cool at night (-33) but quite OK during the day (-20) - an introduction right there to his great take on the English language!

A shamanistic ovoo in Mongolia's winter landscapes
The beauty of deep winter in Mongolia
We're coming up to the winter solstice, and with the winter solstice Mongolians start is time to start to talk about the '9 Nines' of winter. From the solstice on, winter is classified into 9 sets of nine days (it’s set from the lunar calendar and understood as the 81 days of winter). Mongolian's in the countryside didn’t always have the luxury of knowing the date or time so a set of 'standards' were set that herders used to determine where they where in winter. Here they are:

  • 1st Nine:  Vodka made from milk freezes.
  • 2nd Nine: Normal vodka freezes/congeals.
  • 3rd Nine:  The tail of a 3 year old ox freezes and falls off.
  • 4th Nine:  The horns of a 4 year old ox freezes and falls off.
  • 5th Nine:  Boiled rice no longer congeals and freezes.
  • 6th Nine:  Roads blacken (start to become visible through the snow).
  • 7th Nine:  Hill tops appear from beneath snow.
  • 8th Nine:  The ground gets damp (snow melting on grass)
  • 9th Nine:  Warmer days have set in.
As Benedict Allen wrote in the Edge of Blue Heaven -

'On arrival and learning that the temperature was minus 18 degrees, I overheard a fellow traveller say ‘thank God. Looks like Mongolia’s enjoying a warm spell.’

If you're interested in the 'best' time to visit Mongolia, why not look at my Eternal Landscapes Mongolia Tour Calendar? I've designed it to provide a brief insight as to what Mongolia experiences are available when.

Snow. Ulaanbaatar in early June.
Steve being introduced to Mongolian weather! Early June!

1 December 2011

Why Camp Not 'Glamp'!

A majority of western visitors to Mongolia use Tourist Ger Camps. However, there is a much preferable alternative.

Within the Mongolian countryside, ger camps are being set up by tour operators and being managed by local herding families. Any ideas that help to protect the fragility of Mongolia's diverse environment must be warmly welcomed.  However,  I don't want to be too enthusing as they are our competition! So, enough about them - what do we do at Eternal Landscapes?!

For me, nothing beats the freedom of wild camping. Mongolia was designed for wild camping - a country of spectacular raw natural beauty where the wide-open spaces and stretching horizons awaken a sense of possibility in you and make you feel free. In a country of nomads, it makes complete sense.

Tent view. Khoridol Saridag Mountains, Khovsgol Province
Hanging out at Khoridol Saridag on our 2012 Wilderness Trails trek
Camping in the wild allows you to explore further within Mongolia's stunning natural environment. And yes, with a little effort,  it can be just as environmentally responsible as an eco-ger camp.

Campsite view.  80km from Ulaanbaatar, on the border of Khustain Nuruu National Park. Look at that view!
Hanging out at Khustain!
I know that 'responsible travel' is the current bandwagon jumped on by all tour operators but for me it is not a selling tool but an important part of our philosophy.

I believe that travel 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.

However, I appreciate that wild camping does not suit all. That's why I offer itineraries that provide accommodation in family or ranger operated ger camps. There will be no power showers, nor a useful plug socket so you can recharge your Ipod or phone, or even a ger restaurant selling cold beer. There will also be no large tour groups destroying the silence. What just will there be? - an authentic introduction to the families way of life for you as you experience their daily life and (if you wish) help them with their daily chores - collecting wood or water or helping to herd the animals. It provides an additional income for the families enabling them to remain where they wish to - rural Mongolia. 

Tent. Gobi Desert.
Taking a little time out in the Gobi

I believe travelling in this local way can give you a new perspective.  Things are done differently in countries in which we travel and surely this is partly why we love to visit other countries. Yes camping and staying at family run ger camps will be basic - but it is only for a few short weeks.

So why not travel with EL and let the open-spaces and horizons  help to clear your mind .  Watch the sunrise from the peace and tranquillity of a remote campsite.  Help the ranger of Baga Gazriin Chuluu clear up rubbish left by others. Stay with Batbold and Jargaa at White Lake and run from your ger straight into the lake for an invigorating (as in freeeeezing) dip. Or, sit with a book and feel the warmth of the sunshine outside your tent. 

I appreciate that we are in competition with other companies offering their own private ger camps or at least ger camps with western facilities. For now, through a mixture of wild camping and simple family operated ger camps we endeavour to offer real and local Mongolia in a responsible and beneficial way.

If it's of interest, find out more about my Mongolia sustainable travel philosophy.

Two Mongolian gers. Gobi Desert.