27 January 2017

10 Popular Questions On Mongolia



Why are the autumn eagle festivals so close together? What is the best time of year to visit Mongolia? What's the currency of Mongolia? 

Not answers to all the questions I have ever been asked over the past 12 years but certainly some!




I spent this last weekend at The Adventure Travel Show up in London. Throughout the two days  people stopped at the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia stand. Quite a few questions about Mongolia were asked so I thought I would answer 10 of the more general ones here. You never know, one or two might be of use!




What's the typical landscape?


That's the problem. There is no typical landscape. Apart from maybe the immensity. 







Mongolians typically divide their country into three - Gobi (desert), tal herem bus (steppe) and Khangai (mountain). 

There's the Gobi Desert to the south (the fifth largest desert in the world but only 3% is sand), the wide low, stretching grasslands in the east, the Altai mountains (Mongolia's highest mountain) that dominate western Mongolia and then mountain/forest steppe in the central/northern regions.



What's the currency of Mongolia? 


Mongolian tögrög / tughrik  - the currency code is MNT, and the currency symbol is ₮.  The lowest denomination in regular use is the 10-tögrög note and the highest is the 20,000-tögrög note.


Why are the autumn eagle festivals so close together? 


There are two - both held in Bayan Ulgii Province in western Mongolia. The first is held in the district of Sagsai and takes place on the third weekend in September. The second is held in the provincial capital - Ulgii, and takes place on the first weekend in October. Both are sponsored by tour companies. 



An alternative option is Nauryz  which  means 'new day' and is the spring festival that is celebrated through Central Asia and falls on the spring equinox. It is essentially a celebration of the coming of spring. In Ulgii in Western Mongolia, there is a two-day celebration with a colourful parade on the first day and horse racing and games on the second.


What is the best time of year to visit Mongolia?


Hard one this!


The typical season is May through to September with July being peak season because of  Naadam - the three manly sports.





Spring is March to May - with very few visitors - it is dry but can be very windy. Autumn is September and October and it's not very crowded, dry, sunny but starting to get chilly.  Winter (November – February) is the quietest time of year - it's typically dry but bitterly cold.

At any time of year, Mongolia is not a pack light destination!




What's the difference between Outer Mongolia and Inner Mongolia?

Basically, Inner Mongolia is in China whereas Outer Mongolia refers to the actual country of Mongolia. 

Historically, both were part of the Mongol Empire. But, China took control of Inner Mongolia in the 1630's  and it has remained a province (Autnomous Region) of China ever since. 


Having become part of China in 1690, (Outer) Mongolia regained independence from China (for the final time) in 1921. It became a democracy in 1990 after the fall of the USSR.



What language do they speak?

Mongolian!


However, they use the cyrillic alphabet in Mongolia (with latin alphabet for text messages and social media!) but in Inner Mongolia they have retained the traditional vertical script based on the Uighur alphabet.




Don't be put off by the fact that he travel author Tim Severin described the Mongolian language as being similar to:

'two cats coughing and spitting at each other until one finally throws up. ' 

How do I get there?


However, you approach it takes time. 



There are currently five airlines that fly into the capital city - Ulaanbaatar (UB). With each airline, you transfer through their main transit hub for your flight to UB.  

Air China - via Beijing

Korean Air - via Seoul
Turkish Airlines - via Istanbul
Aeroflot - via Moscow 
MIAT - via various hubs

And of course there is the second option of the Trans Mongolian / Siberian. There are both local and international trains but either way, express route this is not. 




Is there a problem with altitude?

Not really. Mongolia is one of the highest countries in the world - over 80% is over 1000 metres - Ulaanbaatar itself is at 1350m above sea level. 
Khuiten Peak is Mongolia's highest mountain at 4,374 m (14,350 feet). It is one of five peaks of Tavan Bogd National Park but unless you're a mountaineer (this is a technical climb) then you probably won't be climbing it.



I'm vegetarian. Is this a problem?

No. 




Of course, you have to bear in mind that this is Mongolia so there are restrictions in place to what is available. Still, with only 1% of the landmass dedicated to crop growing (and we are talking the 19th largest country in the world), in 2016 Mongolia harvested
  • 482.1 thousand tons of wheat
  • 174.7 thousand tons of potatoes
  • 117.5 thousand tons of vegetables
  • 32.5 thousand tons of oil plants
  • 43.4 thousand tons of fodder plants



If you're interested in Mongolia,  then why not pop across to the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and see what we're offering for 2017. 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. 

And, unless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia you will also experience if you chose to travel with us.


Wherever the road takes you in 2017 - Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well


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17 January 2017

The Fearless Furgon - Mongolia's Ultimate 4x4

Here's my guide to the ultimate off-road vehicle in Mongolia - an ode to the  fearless Furgon!


Yes, an entire blog post devoted to the Russian 4x4 Furgon van. Why? Because I love them. And OK, Turuu has just taken first at the Mongolian UAZ Club competition so I'm like a proud mother hen! 

Here he is, the man himself.



In fact, we love our Furgons at Eternal Landscapes enough that we even make birthday cakes in the same design.



The Furgon is also known as UAZ (УАЗ) -  an initialism for 'Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod' which translates to "Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant" (based in Ulyanovsk, Russia, the UAZ factory started production in 1941 as part of the Soviet war effort).



No matter how you approach the subject, Mongolia is large with a (slowly) developing infrastructure. Out of a total of 50,000km of roads in Mongolia (give or take a few km) only about 10,000km (20%) are tarmac (asphalt) paved roads and they don't have a long lifespan. A majority connect the provincal capitals / centres to Ulaanbaatar - the capital city. Otherwise, apart from mining development, nearly all other roads are gravel and dirt roads.  

I'll just give you a little time to consider that statistic.




I do understand. Your holiday time is precious and you're not particularly keen on the idea of spending most of it being bounced around in the back of a Russian tin-can. Fair enough.

But, in your drive for efficiency, you will be missing out - missing out on the ultimate road trip. The Furgon / UAZ has obtained huge popularity among off-road enthusiasts and rightly so.




The Furgon/UAZ is produced in several modifications, with the main difference being the body type - the exact configuration varies depending on the specific modification. The Furgon/UAZ has reached legendary status thanks to its reputation as a very reliable and capable 4x4 with impressive off-road capability.




And of course, you'll get to spend time with men with names such as Baatar and Bold. Yes, your Furgon driver will probably be the 'strong and silent' type. And no, they won't converse in a multitude of languages. But, boy will they understand the roads and their vehicles.  They're some of the best mechanics I have ever encountered and their ingenuity in the face of adversity (lack of spare parts, no towing services) deserves huge levels of respect. 
They're extremely proud of their country and great, all-round men.






I do appreciate that for the modern traveller domestic flights or an air-conditioned Landcruiser may be a preferrable alternative. But, I do believe you're missing out on a little slice of something uniquely Mongolia.

Travelling in the Furgon across the vastness gives you time to think. It's during the impromptu stops where you'll connect with the people in-between that make their lives in the middle landscapes. You'll realise the power of the landscapes and the skill of your driver and you'll carry something of the vastness of Mongolia away with you. In the words of Susan Fox - American artist and inveterate Mongolian traveller - 

'One of the most rewarding parts of travel is finding out how many ways there are to address the everyday challenges of life which are perfectly valid, but really, really different from how one does things at home.'


If you're interested in Mongolia,  then why not pop across to the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and see what we're offering for 2017. 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. 

And, unless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia you will also experience if you chose to travel with us.

Wherever the road takes you in 2017 - Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well

12 January 2017

Popular Books On Mongolia

It's a new year and that means new opportunities. So inspire yourself to get out and explore with some books on Mongolia. After all, there's nothing like a good book to take you on a journey. 



The United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustanibale Tourism For Development. A bit of a mouthful. What's it about? Encouraging a 'better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures' - making people consider how they can travel more responsibly. How they can be more aware of their impact.

Under this has to come reading about the destination you plan on visiting -  the culture, a country's past, present and future. You become more aware of the separate elements that have helped to created the country you wish to experience. 


And so. Here are a few of my favourite books on Mongolia to help you to prepare for your future trip 😊

Historical


Genghis Khan And The Making Of The Modern World - Jack Weatherford




The history of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire and its impact. It will challenge your preconceptions and give you a fresh a fresh perspective on  the 12th century onwards. Jack Weatherford has also written the excellent Mongol Queens.

The Mongol Empire - John Man



In a previous post, I recommended John Man's Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection which is a good introduction to Genghis Khan's  life and his influences. The Mongol Empire is similar in its focus. Also, for an in-depth introduction on the Gobi, I highly recommend John Man's Tracking the Gobi. If you like his style of writing, he has written about the life of Kubilai Khan as well.

The Mongols - David Morgan



An excellent introduction to the Mongol Empire - providing an overview of the government, religion and politics of the Mongolian Empire. Much more readable than it sounds!

Expeditions

Walking Home From Mongolia - Rob Liwall 



In 2012, Rob Lilwall and Leon McCarron walked over 5,000 km from the Gobi Desert down into China - following the Great Wall, trekking through the mountains of central China  and finising in Hong Kong. 

If you like armchair adventures then also pick up a copy of Tim Cope's On The Trail Of Genghis Khan




Having had his horses stolen one night close to the start of his trip, the following day Cope spotted a herd of horses moving swiftly with a single horseman in charge. On approach, Cope recognised his two horses among the pack. I particularly like the next bit: 
'These two horses came to me this morning,” the horseman said grinning. “You must have tied them badly.' 
The horseman returned the horses without compensation, but insisted that Cope understand an important unwritten rule of the steppe:
 'A man on the steppe with no friends is as narrow as a finger,” the horseman said. “A man with friends is as wide as the steppe.' 

The Horse Boy - Rupert Isaacson




The true story of an expedition to northern Mongolia with the author taking his autistic son to meet the shamans - a remarkable journey. 

Walking The Gobi - Helen Thayer 




At the age of 63, Helen Thayer fulfilled her lifelong dream of crossing Mongolia's Gobi Desert. Accompanied by her 74-year-old husband Bill and two camels, Tom and Jerry, Thayer walked 1600 miles. This is the ultimate vicarious adventure!

Fiction


Wolf Totem - Jiang Rong 




Take yourself off to the wild steppes of Inner Mongolia during China's Cultural Revolution in this  part fiction/part biography. This is not a new release but worth highlighting again since the release of the film  by French director Jean Jacques Annaud opened in France and China on February 4th. 

The Conqueror Series - Conn Iggulden



Five books in the historical fiction series of this, charting Mongolian life and the rise of the Mongol Empire under Genghis, Ogodei and Kubilai Khan.

Hearing Birds Fly - Louisa Waugh 




 This travelogue describes the year the author spent living in Tsengel, a Kazakh village in western Mongolia. The descriptions of the stark landscapes and local stories make this an honest account of time spent in Mongolia's westernmost town. 


Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia - Stephen J Bodio 



A perfect read for if you're considering visiting western Mongolia as it gives a good account of  
the life of the Kazakh eagle hunters as he spends time living among them and their birds, learning their traditions.

'Each time I return I see constant changes alongside the things that never change. I love its paradoxes, its space and hospitality, its freedom and ancient customs. Its is a place of great roadless areas, all known and inhabited since prehistory. It is wild enough for great horned sheep; wolves, snow leopards and the last undomesticated camels; with the lowest human population density on the earth. It is the home of Buddhist hunters and Muslims who toast their guests with vodka. I can't get enough of it, and probably never will.'

Biography


Mongol - Uuganaa Ramsay 




Uuganaa is a Mongol living in Britain but she grew up as part of a nomadic herding family in Mongolia. This is a powerful memoir about when her new-born son Billy is diagnosed with Down's Syndrome. It skilfully interweaves the extraordinary story of her own childhood in Mongolia with the sadly short life of Billy.  

If you're interested in Mongolia,  then why not pop across to the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and see what we're offering for 2017. 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. 

Wherever the road takes you in 2017 - Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well

1 January 2017

Thank you 2016 for what has been a remarkable year


As 2017 arrives on our doorstep, what better way to say goodbye to the old one than with a review of a few of our 2016 Mongolian adventures and achievements (accompanied by photos taken by the EL team and our guests.)



Mongolia's Epic Sunrises and Sunsets

Mongolia is vast and with a population of over just three million, it is also the least densely populated country on earth. That basically means there's a whole heap of space and the stretching horizons form a stunning backdrop to Mongolia's epic sunrises and sunsets.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I have always loved watching the sun rise or set - taking a little time out and slowing down - just watching the colours move through the sky.  And with little to no light pollution in rural Mongolia, you can watch as stargazing slowly transitions into daylight or vice versa.

Two of my favourite photos  were taken by our returning guest Marian - taken during her  three-week Landscapes of the East exploration. 

No filter required.

Sunset - Buir Nuur - Dornod Aimag


Sunrise - Shiliin Bogd - Sukhbaatar Aimag


Planting Our 108th Tree!

The Gobi Oasis Tree Planting Project is located in Dundgobi Aimag in what is known as Mongolia's middle-Gobi - an area of desert steppe. Yes, I can hear some of you asking - isn't it the desert? Isn't it meant to be arid and dry? Well, yes and, no.  

Gobi Oasis is a family operated project  formed in 1975 - planting trees in the Gobi Desert to help stop desertification and erosion.  Although trees in Mongolia have a long growing period (Mongolia, on average, experiences only 90-120 frost free days a year) they help to bind the loose soil and thus are effective against erosion, help reduce wind, dust and desertification, attract rainfall and help build suitable conditions for biodiversity.
Each EL group typically plants a tree at the nursery - EL and our guests have now planted 108 of our own trees which represents around 3% of the total number of trees planted at Gobi Oasis. A single young tree can absorb 26 pounds of CO2 per year so we’re (very) slowly doing out bit towards managing carbon emissions. 

And as the saying goes…'from small acorns …'



And here are our first two EL trees - 'Boss 1' and 'Boss 2' - planted in September 2011 and photographed in June 2016. You've come a long way baby!


Being Part Of The Community

Eternal Landscapes is not an NGO, charity and neither Turuu or I philanthropists. However, our love of Mongolia is genuine and our involvement is long-term. We are a micro-business so our level of support may be relatively small in the grand scheme of things but we think that it does help to make a visible and significant difference. And that involves being part of the local community.

Both of the below projects I have mentioned many times on the EL Blog. Sorry to be repetitious … but, here they are again!

Nogoon Nuur Community Project


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.






Terkhiin Tsaagan Nuur Rubbish Community Clean Up


For the past three years, Turuu and I have arranged for members of the Tariat community to spend two days clearing the north-shore (and surrounding area) of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. We picked Terkhiin Tsaagaan Nuur initially 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. The end of clean-up party was rather monumental - sorry, the vodka was flowing so we have no photos. But, we were awarded our first EL Өргөмжлөл - Certificate of Merit or Tribute. An extremely proud moment.



Mongolia's 'eternal landscapes' (or views, views, views)

When I set up EL  I didn’t know that I had to choose a name that worked with SEO (do a internet search if you need an explanation. I can’t be bothered to explain). I mean, when you choose a child’s name you don’t have to worry about Google do you? For me, the name Eternal Landscapes made complete sense. Look it up in a dictionary. Eternal -  ‘without beginning or end; lasting for ever.’ Yes, it could have been Eternal Horizons but it’s the land that dominates here. 

And although a majority of international visitors are drawn to Mongolia to experience the way of life, the landscapes form a backdrop to that way of life and provide remarkable and ever-changing views. 

Here are just a few (very few) of the views that Mongolia provided for us in 2016  - all were food for the soul and made us all feel so much more alive.





The EL Manaikhan - The EL Family 

People often ask me about my love for Mongolia and why, out of all the roads I could have chosen, I followed this one. I mention that I couldn't it without the loyalty, the inspiration and the friendship of the Mongolian team that I have.

We’re a micro business that call ourselves ‘manaikhan - family.’ With all the same stresses, strains and disagreements that all families experience. But, then also the support, the unity and the strength that a family can bring as well.
Added to the mix are the local people that we work with. Our friendships with them are genuine friendships - forged over time (no point in rushing!), mainly with tea and sometimes with vodka.

They are much as part of our team and the EL family as we are. Here are a few of the wonderful people we had the privilege of working with in 2016. 















Looking Ahead To 2017


If you like what we do and Mongolia is on your list, then why not pop across to the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and see what we're offering for 2017. Even better, book a trip before January 31st (deposit only needs to be paid) and you'll receive a 15% discount.


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. 

Unless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia you will also experience if you chose to travel with us.


Wherever the road takes you in 2017 - Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well