23 August 2017

How To Horse Trek In Mongolia

Horses are a central part of the life and culture in Mongolia. And, in a country of great horse men and women what could be a better way of exploring Mongolia than on horse back? But so many horse trekking experiences offered in Mongolia have rigid routes and itineraries and that just seems wrong.

When you think of Mongolia, what do you think of? Gers? Nomads?  Chinggis Khan? Horses? Freedom?

So why would you even consider booking a horse trekking trip where every day is pre-planned and the route detailed down to the last kilometre?

I like to do things a little differently so that's why we leave the route entirely flexible and in the hands of your herder guide as this leads to a more organic and Mongolian type of exploration.

To have a rigid plan seems odd when more that likely, your herder trek guide will rarely be wearing a watch let alone working to an agenda.  
They are not lazy but they do not live in our fast-paced time driven western world and this makes them very relaxed about the time. 
Instead, the focus becomes getting to meet and know your Mongolian herder guide / horse wrangler as you ride alongside them in the areas where they consider home. Experiencing one of the world’s greatest horse cultures from horseback, in a land where horses are still central and essential to the herding way of life.

By not pre-planning the route, you have the flexibility to explore the hidden valley you just came across, to make the most of the abandoned Soviet hot springs or even to stop off for tea at the ger of the friend of your horse wrangler.

Introduce Yourself

‘They looked like outlaws of the equine world. What they lacked in stature they made up for with attitude. They were tough, wilful, unsentimental characters.’
Stanley Stewart 

The horses themselves are a little like the herder guides / horse wranglers you would travel with - self-sufficient and tough. They're small - but strong and resilient. Ponies they are not. The Mongolian horse spends much of its year roaming in the hills – in territorial, almost semi-wild herds.  They're a joy to ride … but just take a little time to understand their character. They're as much part of the experience as the trek itself.

How Do We Do It?

As the Mongolian saying goes, 'when your horse is young, travel to see places' and whether you want to ride for a morning, a day or a week or two, what better destination than Mongolia for horse trekking? 

Here at EL, I mainly offer our horse treks as a tailor made experience - adapted to suit your travel dates and preferred length of trip. However, we do offer one or two small group experiences throughout the year.  

If you do choose a small group trip, our group sizes are small - a maximum of six. This means we can offer plenty of flexibility. If there’s a mixture of abilities, we’ll divide the group into two for the riding. We also try to match your horse to your riding ability - for those that want to gallop like the wind or those that are less experienced and prefer a more gentle pace.

And as mentioned, there’s no prescribed routes. Just riding. As it should be. Out on the Mongolian steppe.

If you're interested, then you're not too late to join our Wild Orkhon Trails Mongolian small group horse trekking tour on September 16th.

15 August 2017

Discover Mongolia - Short Trip Ideas For Autumn

Autumn in Mongolia. What can you expect? Well, bring thermals and sunglasses and everything in between. Autumn is a perfect season for those visiting on the Trans-Mongolian or those looking for a short break. 

July is peak-season in Mongolia, with a majority of tour operators encouraging you to come and experience Naadam. Well, I love Naadam but I also love autumn. 

Naturally, it's a time of spectacular colour. There is also harvesting of the wheat and barley crops and the cutting of the winter grass that will be used as fodder for the livestock. It's a time when the larger tour groups have disappeared off to another country in another part of the world. And, it's also cooler, clearer and a perfect time of year for star gazing.

VISIT : Khamariin Khiid

Take the Trans-Mongolian train south to Sainshand. Travel second class on the local day train. It's a great way to interact with the locals and to soak up the passing scenery  - as you travel through steppe to desert terrain you'll start to get an understanding of the diversity of Mongolia’s natural habitats. You could observe wildlife native to the Gobi - especially herds of White Tailed Gazelle. 

Khamariin Khiid is an important spiritual centre and place of pilgrimage for Mongolians and followers of Buddhism. The monastery was established by Danzan Ravjaa (1803-1856), the Fifth Noyon Incarnate Lama, in the 1830s.

* Why not extend your trip and combine it with a visit to Ikh Nart Nature Reserve? Ikh Nart represents one of the last strong-holds for the globally threatened Argali Sheep - the largest mountain sheep in the world (Ovis Ammon). It is also a breeding site for one of the world's largest vultures, the Cinereous Vulture - also known as the European Black Vulture. 

DO : Bike Gorkhi Terelj National Park

 Yes, areas of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park are overdeveloped and can come as a shock.  Still,  it's how you visit not where you visit so bring your bike and let us introduce you to this region of magnificent alpine scenery.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park shares a common border with Khan Khentii and the two reserves are a single geography of a diverse and wild landscape comprising of mountains, river valleys, forest, rocky summits and wildflower meadows. 

Although bike options abound, we like to do things a little differently so we leave the route entirely flexible and in the hands of your herder guide and you - as this leads to a more organic and Mongolian type of exploration. 

* Of course, you could swap your two wheels for four legs and head off into the sunset on a horse trek instead.

DO: Horse Trekking Orkhon Valley

The Orkhon River Valley is one of Mongolia’s four World Heritage Sites. It’s a cultural WHS and represents the evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions in Mongolia. Yes, the region is included in many general tour itineraries but this is not about the ’must see’ sights. The hinterland of the region is a stunning area to explore in its own right - especially if you’re prepared to go a little more off the beaten trail. 

What could be a better way to explore this region of nomadic traditions and culture than on a horse trek? You’ll trek through an ecoregion with habitats as diverse as alpine lakes, long flat valleys, lava stone fields, barren mountain tops and high open Mongolian steppe, coniferous forests of Siberian Pine and Siberian Larch and sub-alpine meadows. The region features abundant streams and springs.

Our Orkhon treks are led by herders that make their home in the region. There’s no prescribed routes. Just riding. As it should be. Out on the Mongolian steppe.

EXPERIENCE:  Rural Homestay

Stop off en-route to experience Kharkhorin and then spend time living alongside the extended Galbadrakh family in the Khangai Mountains. 

They are yak herders and members of the Cooperative Ar Arvijin Delgerekh. This cooperative focuses on working with herders producing spun yak wool, providing them with an alternative to diversify and increase their income.

The Galbadrakh family live within the district of Tsenkher but this is not about the famous hot springs. There are no tourist ger camps anywhere close. Neither do they have any guest gers. They live as part of a ‘khot ail’ - an extended family and just make one of the family gers available for guests to sleep in.

Autumn is their main season for grass cutting and you can take part in this community event. You'll also be encouraged to join in with other daily tasks - helping where you can.

No hot springs. No tourist ger camps. No luxury VIP treatment. Just real everyday life.  

I call our short experiences the ‘Essence of Mongolia’. Your time may be limited but this does not mean that you cannot experience Mongolia in a real way and return feeling you have 'touched base' with the country. If interested, please look at my Mongolia short tours on the EL website page for inspiration. I look forward to welcoming you to the freedom of the open steppe this autumn!