30 December 2015

Mongolia - From 2015 to 2016 - Our Review

As we face ahead to a new year, what better way to say goodbye to the old one than with a review of a few of our 2015 Mongolian adventures and achievements (accompanied by photos taken by our the EL team and our guests.). 

Celebration Of The Year - Two Of Our Guests Getting Married In The Remote Altai

As part of their Scott Davis and Cheeseman Ecology Safaris trip arranged by Eternal Landscapes, two guests were married during a traditional Kazakh ceremony. This took place at the home of Janatkhan - one of the Kazakh eagle hunters we work with.  The landscapes of his autumn home in the small community of Bugat in Bayan Ulgii provided the incredible backdrop.

Janatkhan's autumn home. You can see his Golden Eagle as a small dot in the foreground! Image by Therese Faller

Image by Therese Faller

The below image was taken after the  bet ashar (uncovering the face) part of the ceremony. Beshtar is always accompanied by the traditional Kazakh zhyr-song and this was provided by the Kazakh officiant on his dombra (a traditional Kazakh instrument). 
The happy couple accompanied by Janatkhan. Image by Therese Faller
Traditional Mongolian wedding rings. Image by Therese Faller

  The man’s wedding ring is a design of two interlocking circles called Khatan Suik – or Queen’s Carriage. The women’s wedding ring is a design of two interlocking triangles called Khaan Buguivich – or King’s Bracelet. 

On each ring there’s four connected dots on the outside of the design. These are interconnected and mean that the couple will be together forever in soul and life.

The wedding party! Image by Therese Faller

The fox around the groom's neck is a Corsac Fox caught by the Golden Eagle belonging to Janatkhan. It was given as a gift to the married couple. 
And, as with all good weddings, there was a celebration between the bride and groom, their Kazakh hosts and the EL team. Image by Therese Faller

Event Of The Year - Tsagaan Sar  - Mongolian Lunar New Year - 2015

For our 2015 Tsagaan Sar Insight trip, we were joined by guest Ross Briggs. Here he is with Turuu, both dressed in their Tsagaan Sar dels (traditional Mongolian coats). 

For sunrise on New Year's Day (Shiniin Negen), Ross and the EL team rose in the early morning dark to observe sunrise at Tsagaan Suvraga in the middle Gobi. They then spent the rest of the day observing the traditions of Tsagaan Sar at the home of the Zorgio family who are primarily camel herders.

What did Ross have to say about his experience?

'I have enjoyed this trip immensely. Turuu and Enkhee have taught me so much. I have a greater understanding of Mongolia and the people.  I have observed the closeness and strength of families and see the strength of Mongolia.'

Sunrise over Tsagaan Suvraga on New Year's Day

Proudest Moment Of 2015 - Our Terkhiin Tsaagan Nuur Rubbish Community Clean Up

The 2015 Start Line - together with national park rangers, community members and the EL team
Unfortunately in Mongolia (as with elsewhere in the world), there has been a noticable increase in the amount of rubbish that is discarded. A majority of our clients commented on it so I decided to do something about it.....and make it part of our Responsible Travel philosophy and a feature of the EL calendar.

For the past two years, Turuu and I have arranged for members of the EL team and local community members of the Tariat community in Arkhangai Provicne to spend two days clearing the north-shore (and surrounding area) of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. During our two-day clean up in 2015,  much had been achieved. Camp grounds, shore lines and surrounding steppe and forest land had been cleared of rubbish.

We picked Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur due to the strength of our contacts there. We wanted a community involvement and Jargaa and Batbold (our hosts at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur and owners of Surtiin Tulga Eco Camp) are at the centre of their local community. 

Find out more about our 2015 event. Even better, why not consider joining us in 2016?  Make the most of an opportunity to take experiential travel to a new level by contributing  with time and effort to a good environmental cause? (We will cover the costs of the days spent on the rubbish collection itself).

The 2015 finish line!

Wildlife Spot Of The Year - Khulan - Mongolian Wild Ass

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

We spotted this beautiful pair in the southern Gobi Desert, close to the Khongoryn Els sand dunes. 

It's quite a serendipitous happening as we are working with Associaiton Goviin Khulan in 2015 and 2016 - offering a Conservation and Research Expedition to Mongolia's eastern Gobi Desert. 

Community Event Of The Year - Asral NGO Fundraiser

On September 4th, Asral NGO held a fundraising event in Ulaanbaatar. All EL team members that were in UB went along (16 of us including family and friends)  paid for by me as a thank you for their hard work and also as a way of helping to support the work of Asral. 

Asral is the Mongolian word for ‘care’ and was founded by High Tibetan Lama, Ven. Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche. In 1994 Rinpoche was invited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to assist with the plight of Mongolian people after the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus Asral NGO was created.

I was invited to the Asral and Kunchab Jampaling Buddhist Centre in UB to have lunch with the Ven. Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche during his visit to Asral NGO in Mongolia. Why? As an acknowledgement of our continued support for the work of Asral. Over an informal lunch we spoke of his work around the world, the work of Eternal Landscapes, the changes and challenges that the local people of Mongolia have and continue to experience since democracy, the positive and negative impacts of tourism in Mongolia  and of our joint love for tea. There must always be tea!

The concert event was supported by Mongolian rock group Хурд (Khurd). Formed in 1987 Khurd is considered 'veterans' of the Mongolian pop rock scene and have a huge following. They are considered to have greatly contributed to its diversification and encouraged the emergence of many new rock acts.

Picnic Of The Year

When? December 20th 2015. Temperature? Roughy -22 degrees. Location? Khustain Nuruu National Park. Although a majority of our competitors do close for the winter months, we don't. We still offer adventures to the adventurous few who find themselves coming to Mongolia. Eternal Landscapes is a family as much as a team and we arrange events throughout the year  that bring the 'EL family' together.

If you quite like the idea of a picnic in -22 degree temperatures, then get in touch.  To promote out of season travel to Mongolia, all my Mongolia winter tours between January to the end of March have a 15% discount pp. Find out more here.

Looking Ahead to 2016

If you like what we do and Mongolia is on your list, then why not pop across to the EL website and see what we're offering fro 2016. Even better, all of my Mongolia small group tours from April onwards currently have a 10% discount.  This is as well as our 15% winter discount.

Still not sure?

Image by our guest Kairi Aun
Шинэ жилийн мэнд хүргэе! Wherever 2016 takes you, Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well. Jess

22 December 2015

Take a Mongolian Winter Adventure With Us And Enjoy a 15% Discount

It's that time of the year when I write about the 'Nine Nines' of Mongolia's winter. Those who read the Eternal Landscapes blog on a regular basis will know that I write about this every winter but I find it another fascinating aspect of Mongolia's culture.

From this....
The view from our Selenge River campsite. Late summer.
Image by our guest Hui Li, 2013 
To this....

The same view. December 2014. Taken by Turuu on the second of our 2014 Winter Journeys.

From the solstice onwards, Mongolian's mark the progression of winter with the Nine Nines - nine series of nine days that each describe a phase of winter and that measure the intensity of the cold during those phases. 

The Nine Nines are set from the Mongolian lunar calendar and are 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.

From this....

Ulaan Tsutgalan - the Orkhon Waterfall in August

Image by our guest photographer Nick Rains 
To this....

Same view....December 2014. Taken by on the first of our Winter Journeys.
Here they are: 

1st Nine: Vodka made from milk (shimiin arkhi) 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 freeze and fall 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 (Hurrah!) 

I know you are probably not going to believe me but....winter is a wonderful time to experience Mongolia. Yes, it does have a bit of a fearsome reputation and having read through the 'nine nines' you may think that experiecing temperatures where the horns of a 4 year old ox freeze and fall off is not that enjoyable. Fair enough. But... 

At the foot of the Orkhon Waterfall, December 2014

Not only does winter obviously offer a sharp contrast to the busy summer season but the landscapes come into their own. Also, 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. 

Winter landscapes, Altai. By our guest Massimo Rumi

One of our indomitable and beloved Furgons on a blue sky winter day

Throughout the months of November through to March, I offer what I call our Winter Journeys. It wouldn't be for everyone, but for those who choose to travel at this time of year, Mongolia produces a stunning natural show as the photographs from our 2014/15 winter trips throughout this blog post show. 

Even better, to promote out of season travel to Mongolia, all my trips between January to the end of March have a 15% discount pp. 

From this....

The Orkhon River in July 2015

Image by our guest Sagi Bar-Or

To this....

The Orkhon River in December 2014

Image of our guest Tammy Ruddick

Yes, Mongolia still has a limited tourist infrastructure and access to winter recreation activities that you may be used to elsewhere are limited. But. travelling in the winter in Mongolia is as much about experiencing the landscapes and meeting and spending the time with the locals rather than hard-core adrenaline activities. Yes, there are companies that offer dog-sledding but we don’t. Instead of competing with other travellers  to see who can have the most ‘authentic’ or ‘challenging’ experience in the furthest, highest, remotest, or the most off the beaten track location just come and enjoy being part of a minority who visit Mongolia in the winter and actually interact with the local people and enjoy slowing-down and seeing and experiencing Mongolia like few other people get to do.

Thinking About It?

As well as Mongolia private tailor made options, why not consider one of our Mongolia winter tours

Flexible and fluid, they provide you with a refreshing authentic journey that will introduce you to the real Mongolia and give you something just that little bit different.

Just so you know, the maximum group size is six. This allows us to provide you with a more individual style of trip and the freedom of independent travel. 

It comes highly recommended:

'I haven’t the words to describe this trip.  Turuu at his best, Enkhee just wonderful.  I have learnt so much and now have a much greater understanding of Mongolia.  Thank you.  Once again the leaving is hard.'

Ross Briggs, Tsagaan Sar Insight 2015

Here are some options:

Tsagaan Sar Insight  - 7 Days - February 6th 2016

Come and experience the traditions behind Mongolia's Lunar New Year. You will spend time meeting the rural families we work with in the Middle Gobi - including family members of our Mongolian team.

Ross together with Turuu on our 2015 Tsagaan Sar Insight 

Khovsgol On Ice - 11 Days - February 23rd

Having taken a Mongolian 'road trip' focusing on the communities and landscapes of northern Mongolia, you will arrive at Khovsgol Nuur National Spend five nights with the Basaanchuluun herding family at their remote winter pastures before experiencing the two-day Ice Festival.

(I have added an additional day to the current advertised itinerary)

Conservation and Reseach Expedition - 11 days (with 2-day extension option) - February 24th

This is being run in alliance with Association Goviin Khulan. Our Conservation and Research Expedition will allow you to come into contact with environmental safeguarding and protection at a grass-roots level in Mongolia - specifically in the connection with the Asian Wild Ass (Khulan in Mongolian) which represents the largest population of this species in the world. Goviin Khulan practice people centred conservation and during this journey as well as learning more about the wildlife of the Gobi Desert you will meet the local people such as Buddhist monks, small market gardeners and nomadic herders who are are partners in conservation.

Hunting With Eagles - 11 Days - March 14th

Travel to the Altai in western Mongolia where you will be hosted by three of the Kazakh eagle hunting families we work with. We leave these days flexible as it depends on what time you leave / reach each location and also the weather and the families own schedule.  However, you’ll learn about the traditions and culture of the Kazakh eagle hunters including spending time hunting alongside the hunter, as he explores the mountains in every direction in search of prey. The trip will finish with the two-day Nauryz Spring Festival - where you will stay in Ulgii, the capital of Bayan Ulgii with a local Kazakh family. 

Image by our guest Massimo Rumi

 Journey Among Nomads - 13 Days - March 13th

Experience the daily lives of local people we work with during one of the most important times of years for Mongolian herders. This out of season experience  will give you an insight into the differences in the herding way of life, how the changing climate impacts on that way of life  and the challenges faced by the families. You’ll discover more about Mongolia’s ‘Tavan Hoshuu Mal’ (The Five Snouts) and help with basic work such as collecting water and fuel and enjoy informal cookery lessons (for those interested). For those that want to explore further there are plenty of opportunities for day-hikes as well.

Milking time with the Zorgio family at Tsagaan Suvraga, 2015

Image by our guest Theresa Partington

Interested? Get in touch to make the most of that 15% discount. Help to share the word below!

13 December 2015

Winter Postcards From Mongolia - Part Two - (Christmas) Gift Ideas

Just in case you're planning on visiting Mongolia anytime between now and the beginning of Spring, these 'winter postcards from Mongolia' that I will be putting together are for you. They'll include my ideas and tips on what to experience and where to head to. 

If you're currently in Ulaanbaatar or on your way there, here is a brief guide for some (seasonal) gift ideas. As usual, it's all about supporting local.

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.

Asral NGO

The core aim of this Buddhist NGO 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) where three hundred and fifty women were trained in sewing and felt-making. MIM is a non-profit initiative established to provide employment options for women. Products include slippers, cushions, tablet or laptop holders and fabric toys. 

Contact Chimeddavaa the Director through the MIM Facebook page to arrange a visit to their Bayangol centre where you can purchase items such as these delightful children's felt boots and jacket. 

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha is the first and only World Fair Trade Organisation registered in Mongolia. Their aim is to support the growth of small and micro indigenous businesses in Mongolia. Particularly great for items of Kazakh embroidery - their Kazakh fabric purses are perfect for fitting in the spare spaces of your luggage.

Red Ger Art Gallery

The Arts Council of Mongolia launched the Red Ger Art Gallery in 2002. It's a non-profit organisation  with the goal to promote Mongolian visual art locally and internationally, to support emerging young artists and to support the development of Mongolian arts and culture.

There are public exhibitions of  high quality, innovative contemporary art by Mongolian and international artists. The art is for sale - with 70% of the profit from the sale of an artwork goes to the artist, and 30% goes to support art and cultural development in Mongolia. You can also arrange through the Arts Council to arrange a meeting between you and your artist of choice including a visit to the artist’s studios. All for a small fee of 25.000MNT from each person. 

The Red Ger Art Gallery is located in the Khan Bank building on Seoul Street and also in the Fine Arts Museum.

Mongolian Union of Artists

Established in 1942, the Union of Mongolian Artists (UMA) is Mongolia's largest, national, non-profit, arts organisation which aims to promote Mongolian fine art and art crafts. The Union has membership of more than 600 artists and has sections of painting, graphic art, sculpture, murals and traditional crafts. 

Located just to the south of Sukhbaatar Square (Chinggis Square from 2013), the UMA has an Art Centre which includes a gallery, art shop as well as artists studios.  

Naran Tuul Market

Hold onto your wallets and experience UB’s biggest market where the ‘real people’ shop. Small traders sell everything you could possibly imagine from covering everything from A to Z including frying pans, all the component parts of a full size ger, shaman drums and cordless drills. This is  perfect place for picking up yak wool socks, Mongolian leather boots, ready made deels (the traditional Mongolian coat) and camel wool scarves.

Khustain Nuruu National Park

Khustain is noted for its successful reintroduction of the endemic Przewalski horse (Equus przewalskii) – the only wild horse to survive in modern times and known as Takhi in Mongolian. 

The Khustain National Park Trust deals with  the management of the national park contracting with Mongolia’s  Ministry of Nature and Environment and Khustain is now run as an NGO. 

Located just under 100km from UB, why not visit  for the successful conservation story and for the wilderness. En-route visit the small on site shop where you can purchase excellent books such as the Flowers of Hustai National Park and Birds of Hustai National Park.

 As always, thanks for reading and do get in touch with your thoughts! It's enough that you've connected with the blog but if you like what you read and have the time to share this then thank you so much for helping to spread the EL word!

3 December 2015

Travel Mongolia. Be inspired - Films About Mongolia

Thinking about visiting Mongolia? It's not just a country. Obviously it is but it's so much more than that.  To try and describe precisely what it means to me would not do justice to how special it is. It's a country where, as you explore its landscapes and meet its inhabitants, you feel  part of something bigger than yourself. 
If you haven't been there then you may be wandering how you can get an 'essence' of what Mongolia is about before booking that (expensive) air ticket.
Sometimes the best way to experience a destination you haven't been to is to watch a film that takes place there. If you have been there, it's also a way to remind you why you fell in love with it in the first place.
Travel films allow you to escape. But they also allow you to visit places you’ve never been to and see inside the skin of people quite different to ourselves. Travel films broadens our perspective - just like an actual physical trip to Mongolia will do as well. 
S0. Here's a list of some of my preferred films about Mongolia. Travel the country. Be inspired.


I'll give you a clue what the film is about....
Image by our guest Aucan Czackis, Essence of Mongolia, 2013
History first. Meant to be the first of a trilogy, Mongol is a semi-historical film about the early life of Chinggis Khan before he actually became Chinggis Khan. This is the story of his life as a young boy and man as the outcast Temüjin. As you can imagine, the landscapes provide a stunning backdrop as does the music by Mongolian folk rock band Altai Urag.
* If you would like to explore the history and landscapes connected with the life of Chinggis Khan then my Mongolia small group tour National Parks and Nature Reserves can take you there.

Story Of The Weeping Camel

    The Zorgio family milking their camel herd - Image by our guest Theresa Partington, Gobi Insight, May 2015
    There are two main ingredients to this documentary style film. The epic landscapes of Mongolia's Gobi Desert and the way of life of the herders that make their home in this vast expanse. A camel calf is rejected by its mother. Without its mother's milk, the calf will die. To save its life, two sons of the herding family  travel to their nearest small town for a Morin Khuur (Horse Head Fiddle) musician to play a 'Ингенд Ботго Авахуулах' (traditional coaxing ritual) to encourage the mother camel to release its milk. 

    If you've been to the small community of Bulgan in the southern Gobi (which if you've been to Flaming Cliffs / Bayanzag then you probably have) , this is the small town that the two boys travel to in search of traditional musicians and batteries. 

    * Looking to spend time in the immensity of the Gobi Desert? The sheer size and diversity of Mongolia's Gobi will inspire. You could consider my July Gobi Insight departure.

    State of Dogs

    The ger districts of Ulaanbaatar where a lot of the film takes place. Image by our guest Massimo Rumi, 2015
    Set in Mongolia's capital city, Ulaan Baatar,  the film combines documentary elements with fictional elements. It's quite impressionistic in its story of Baasar, a dog who dies early in the movie — shot by a hunter employed by the city to reduce its dog population. According to Mongolian legend, a dog (who is prepared) may be reincarnated in its next life as a human, after roaming free for as long as he wants. Baasar roams the memory of his life, uninterested in advancing to a human life. The film is a depiction of modern Mongolian life with definite connections to Mongolian myths. 

    Cave Of The Yellow Dog

    Image by our guest Egon Filter, 2009

    The oldest daughter of a  Mongolian herding family  finds a small dog  but her father refuses to let her keep it, believing it will bring the family bad luck and lead wolves to their sheep. Nansal decides to defy her father by hiding her new friend but as winter approaches and the family prepares to move camps, her father plans to leave the dog behind. He is forced to reconsider after the dog protects their youngest child from vultures.

    * If you're interested in gaining an insight into the differences in the way of life of Mongolia's herders, how the changing climate impacts on their lives and the way they deal with the challenges of the 21st century then I have a few Mongolia small group tours that would suit. As an example, what about my Monasteries, Mountains and Nomads or my Nomads of the Khangai?

    Balapan, The Altai Boy

    Set in western Mongolia, the sheep flocks of the local herders are being attacked by wolves. The men of the local community opt for a wolf hunt with their eagles. Four-year old Khoda Bergen dreams of participating in the hunt but first has to train his own eagle. 

    Image by our guest Massimo Rumi, September 2015
    * Yes! We visit the Altai too!! 

    Tracking The White Reindeer

    Image by our guest Hui Li on her Taiga Landscapes private trek, 2014
    Set in the Darkhad Depression of Mongolia's far north, this film focuses on the  Tsaatan  (Duka) reindeer herders. A young couple wish to get married but the father of the girl wants her prospective husband to prove himself by  raising a herd of reindeer by himself. 

    If you prefer books to films, then you may want to look at some of these options for reading around the subject of all things Mongolia. 

    As always, thanks for reading and do get in touch with your thoughts! It's enough that you've connected with the blog but if you like what you read and have the time to share this then thank you so much for helping to spread the EL word!