29 December 2017

New Roads …

There's a Mongolian proverb:

'If you're afraid don't start and once you start, don't be afraid.'

That's great Jess, why are you writing about it?

Some of you have been with me loyally since Day One. When, having worked in Mongolia for four years as a tour leader/guide, my driver (Turuu) persuaded me to start our own business. So I did.

We had no knowledge or real experience of business. We just knew we genuinely loved Mongolia. And, as the proverb says, once we had started we had to be brave and not be afraid. There was a lot of bootstrapping (to use a buzz word).

So for those of you that have been with me as I learnt how to set up a blog and tentatively wrote my first post and as I slowly created our first website - thank you.

It's been a long time coming but I have now upgraded and combined the EL website and blog together. We're still online. We're still on Facebook and Twitter. We're still living and working in Mongolia. We're still Eternal Landscapes Mongolia. 

If you've enjoyed being part of the Eternal Landscapes 'manaikhan' (family) on this Blogger site then please take the time to pop over and continue to follow us on our Wordpress site - https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-travel-blog. Let's continue the journey together.

And of course, if you're ever looking for an experience in Mongolia, please do get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

Та бүхэнд баярлалаа - Thank you all.

Jess x

10 December 2017

The Lost Khulan In The Gobi

A wonderful concept - a book written with children in mind to help educate about the protection and conservation of one of Mongolia's key wildlife species

First up. What is a khulan?

'Khulan' is the Mongolian name of the Mongolian wild donkey which is one of the 5 sub-species of the Asiatic wild donkey. The Asiatic wild donkey belongs to the Equidae family (that also includes all species of zebra, domestic horse and donkey, African wild donkey, the Tibetan Kiang and the Przewalski's horse) but it is still not well known internationally even though this species is endangered. The Mongolian khulan is internationally and locally protected. And Mongolia is a significant place for the conservation of this species.

However, the population of the Mongolian Khulan is at risk due to illegal hunting, habitat fragmentation and competition with domestic livestock to access to natural resources - Khulan numbers have declined significantly in the past. It seems that now the population is stable but still needs to be regularly monitored. Internationally, the Mongolian Khulan is listed in the Red List of the IUCN as ‘Near threatened' (but was listed as 'Endangered' from 2008 to 2015), and ‘Very Rare’ in the Mongolian Red Book (Mongolian Red List of Mammals).

And why the book?

Environmental safeguarding and protection are taking place at a grass-roots level in Mongolia, and the Association Goviin Khulan Non-Governmental Organisation is at the forefront of this grassroots approach - working to protect the khulan and its natural habitat. This NGO practice interactive people-centred conservation - a multidisciplinary and innovative approach that takes into consideration the needs, difficulties, and culture of the local area,  focuses on the local knowledge available and directly involves the regional population of the southeast Gobi (both protected area rangers and the local communities - mainly in Dorngobi Aimag).

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 talented Mongolian artist Zolbootulguldur O. The funds of this book go back into conservation education carried out by the organisation in Mongolia and the book is being used to help promote awareness of the issues surrounding the Mongolian Khulan. 

And the story?

It's delightful.

The story takes place in the Mongolian Gobi Desert, where two children, Tuya and Javkhlan, found a lost baby khulan ... How can they help their new friend to get back home? 
It's a bilingual book so can be read by both Mongolian and international children. And after the story there's a chapter with some scientific facts about the Mongolian khulan and another chapter with advice on how to help protect this threatened species and its habitat. 

And is it a success?

Having spoken to Anne Camille about this, the answer is a YES!

It's been used by the Wildlife Conservation Society Mongolia and Говийн бага дархан цаазат газар (which is one of Association Goviin Khulan's local partners) during a local awareness day arranged in the Khanbogd community in the south-east Gobi. It is also part of the 'nature education trunk' to the region of Khanbogd and Sainshand.
Copies of the book have been donated to families who are involved in the khulan conservation program, to staff of the Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area 'B' as well as local school children at a school where the English teacher of this school invited AGK to do a presentation about the Mongolian khulan to the students.

It's a delightful story. The illustrations are beautiful. And it's all for a good cause - one that we support. For more information on the book and how to purchase it, go to The Lost Khulan In The Gobi FB page.

For more on how we work with Association Goviin Khulan and details on the conservation and research trip we run in alliance with them, discover more on our Mongolia Conservation tours  page on the Eternal Landscapes website.

1 December 2017

Downtime In The Gobi

Because sometimes you just have to take time out

Ever wondered what the EL team do in Mongolia when they have a short work break? Well, here's your answer! 

Look on the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and you’ll see we’re a micro business that call ourselves ‘manaikhan - which translates into - ours / our people/family.  It might sound like slick management speak but it’s not. We look for and invest in ways for the EL  manaikhan to come together in the quieter months. And here's how the most recent downtime weekend of my EL team was spent.

Location? The middle Gobi.

Furthest distance travelled? By Baurjan - our Kazakh fixer. He's from Ulgii - the provinical capital of Bayan Ulgii Aimag in western Mongolia. That's approximately 1668km from Ulgii to UB and then 280km from UB to Erdenedalai. Here he is ... blue fleece in the centre. Still smiling even after the most epic of road trips.

Activities? Tug of war. Wild picnics. Volleyball. Photo shoots. Lots of photo shoots.

More photo shoots ...

Guests came too ...

'We really loved our stay in Erdenedalai and being able to join the whole team of EL during their end of season party. This was such a privilege to be able to be there with them!' 
Preferred vehicle of choice? Our beloved 4x4 Russian Furgon vans of course. They took pride of place in the photo shoots. Did I mention the photo shoots?

Included meals?

Boordog (barbecued marmot), khorkhog (barbecued goat), suutei tsai (milk tea) and a lot of airag (mare's milk). Here they are mid-song ... accompanied by airag and joined by locals from the community.

And although not quite all could make it, here's the almost complete EL manaikhan on their most recent weekend away. Recognise anyone?

Next up? That will be the EL Christmas party. What can you expect? More photo shoots. If you're interested in keeping up with what we get up to then as well as our blog (thank you for visiting) you can always sign up to my newsletter dedicated to Mongolia on the news page of the Eternal Landscapes website. I look forward to seeing you there.

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 Ötrul 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. 


31 October 2017

Focus On Ulaanbaatar for World Cities' Day

A blog post focusing on a social entrepreneurship in Ulaanbaatar for World Cities' Day

So. Now you know. Today is the World Cities' Day. You probably know it more as (the probably more famous) Halloween. So if you need an introduction, United Nations designated October 31st as World Cities Day with a general theme of 'Better City, Better Life.' 

And to acknowledge the day, I have decided to focus on one man that is making his own impact on Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city. One of the most polluted cities in the world. This is about Ulziitogtokh Sodnomsenge  and Nogoon Nuur. 

UB is situated in the Tuul River valley.  It was a nomadic settlement - moving to its present location in 1778.  From 1924 until the early 1990’s, Mongolia was run from the Kremlin and a course of socialist development was undertaken that was very close to the replica of the Soviet experience. 

Ulaanbaatar’s downtown was designed by Soviet architects with the entire city being designed for pedestrians  - built to hold 500,000 inhabitants. I'll repeat that - 500,000 inhabitants.

So what's the current population? Approximately 1.3 million. I'll repeat that - approximately 1.3 million. Almost three times as many as the city was initially designed for. In the last census (2010) the population density of UB was 246 persons per square kilometre (compared to 1.4-1.7 in rural areas).

More than half of the capital’s residents live in the city’s ger districts. Life in the ger district is hard but for many citizens the ger remains central to their identity. It is not just new migrants from the countryside and impoverished residents who have homes in the district. Many successful city workers live here too.  

It’s not easy though. The ger district is not connected to the city’s piped central heating system that runs to many other suburbs. In winter, when temperatures can drop to -40C, raw coal, rubber and even plastics are thrown onto the stove. These toxic emissions are one of the main reasons Ulaanbaatar is one of most polluted cities on Earth (during the winter months), according to the World Health Organisation - especially as the city is set in a hollow between four hills and struggles for space.

The new President of Mongolia has recently mentioned that:

 ‘Ulaanbaatar is like a family living in a ger that became too small to contain all of the members of the extended family.’

One person who is working on making his city a better place to live is Ulziitogtokh Sodnomsenge – or Ulzii, as he is known. There are few safe community spaces within the ger districts - especially community spaces where children can play. But, Nogoon Nuur (Green Lake) - the brain child of Ulzii is bucking this trend.  

Ulzii is a philanthropist (his 2015 TedExUlaanbaatar talk focused on being rewarded someday for for what you have done or are doing).  In 2009, Ulzii gained approval to develop the Nogoon Nuur (Green Lake) at Denjin Myanga. He cleaned up the lake and used his savings to turn the former dumpsite into an affordable community space.

In December 2012 it finally opened, offering affordable ice-skating (winter) and paddle boating (summer). In his words: 

'The kids in this area often have a very hard life. I want to give them somewhere to play.'

Over this time Ulzii has planted over 500 trees and focused on creating a  healthy, green, public space for Mongolian people, especially children in the ger areaWhat is most noticeable about the whole area is the lack of rubbish. Surprising in Ulaanbaatar. The local children that visit are encouraged to respect the area and to help protect it. 

I love this place immensely. That's why we include it as part of our free city walking tour of UB - making a donation per person that visits. It shows our guests a different more local side to Ulaanbaatar.

As a traveller, you will more than likely bring your guidebook but why not ditch the guidebook for a while and discover a new side to this city that is now my home.  The plug (of course!). If you would like to experience the community aspect of Ulaanbaatar with either myself or one of my Eternal Landscapes team, why not try one of our Mongolia one-day experiences?