Tuesday, October 20, 2020

All About Mongolia- Best Place to travel.

 All About Mongolia- Greatest Place to travel.

All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.


With visions of Chinggis Khan and his mounted warriors galloping across the Steppe, we were headed to Mongolia. It would be a month-long journey of epic proportions with enough memories to last a lifetime. Welcome to Mongolia! The country of endless blue skies. I just arrived in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, and I am getting ready for a month of adventures here in Mongolia. We were mesmerized by the spectacular chaos of the capital. The architecture is impressive in its diversity, with temples scattered between old communist-era buildings, ultra-modern skyscrapers, and a seemingly endless amount of karaoke hang-outs and dive bars. As winter approaches the cityscape sadly changes for the worse. Ulaanbaatar has now become the third most polluted city in the world, mainly caused by coal pollution from the many Ger districts. The locals burn coal to heat their homes as temperatures plummet and the fumes settle in the valley with nowhere to escape. The government is battling this grave issue but at this point to no avail.


All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



Ulaanbaatar has one of the largest outdoor markets in all of Asia. It's called "The Black Market" but it sells all sorts of things, not necessarily illegal things. Hopefully, we can find some cool souvenirs and it should be pretty exciting. Let's go check it out. The history of UB is quite remarkable and certainly unique. In true nomadic fashion, the capital of Mongolia originated as a large Ger camp and changed its location at least 25 times before settling at its current location in 1778. Today UB is a sprawling metropolis, home to around 1.4 million people. A staggering number representing roughly half of the country’s entire population. This really puts the vastness and the remoteness of Mongolia into perspective, being one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in UB, it was now time to leave the modern comforts behind and head to the wilderness. It only took us a couple of hours to get to Hustai national park from UB, not long at all by Mongolian standards. Our base for this first adventure would be a Ger camp not far from the park entrance. In 1993 the only remaining true wild horse, The Takhi, was reintroduced to the area and has been protected since. Legend has it that the sand of Moltsog Els has healing powers, great for aches and pains in your back and your kindness and general body and healing awareness. So let's see if this sand can heal my aches and pains for the adventures to come. After relaxing for a bit we would venture deeper into the heart of the park in hopes of spotting the highly endangered Takhi horse. The park covers an impressive 500 square kilometers of stunning wild nature and in 2002 UNESCO certified the park as a member of the world biosphere network of natural reserves. Scattered around the park are ancient burial grounds with deer stones dating back thousands of years, a humbling reminder of a very different time. We were warmly welcomed by a local family of herders and invited into their warm and comfortable Ger, a welcome break from the bumpy and dusty roads. Along with a few different dairy snacks, we were generously offered a large glass of fermented mare's milk, a popular beverage about the same alcohol content as a light beer. It is certainly an acquired taste, which was quickly washed down with a shot of local vodka. It's not so strong. Nomads often stick somewhat close to each other while always leaving enough room for their herds to graze effectively. Even in the remoteness of the steppe, it is still nice and safe having neighbors and family close by. We had arrived at the busiest of times. All members of the family were hard at work as one of their daughters was about to get married. This meant having to milk their horses every 2 hours from sunrise to sunset, ensuring that the local delicacies made from the horse milk would be plentiful. Even with more than 200 guests arriving the upcoming weekend, they somehow still found time to show us their way of life. Our horses at home, if we whistle, they all come running. It's a little different. I just hiked the top of a ledge here in Hustai National Park, and I finally got my first glimpse of the Takhi wild horses. This park is really famous for the wild horses, and it is one of only 3 places in the world where you can see these wild Takhi horses, so it's pretty special.


All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.




I wanted to photograph them for so long so I feel very lucky to be here today. The next part of our adventure would take us into the northernmost part of the country, right on the border of Russia and the great Siberian forest. The Tsaatan tribe has been living in this remote area for thousands of years, and still to this day have managed to keep their traditions alive. We were looking forward to the long drive across the steppe, followed by several days on horseback. We just landed in Murun which is a little bit north of Ulaanbaatar, about an hour flight. And I am getting ready to go on my Tsaatan adventure, which is about a ten days round trip to see the reindeer herders which are some of the last reindeer herders in the world. So I am pretty excited to get started. It would be a strenuous haul through some of the most rugged terrains in Mongolia. We would spend a few days living alongside the Tsaatan and get a better understanding of their life and daily activities. I just woke up from my day two to see the reindeer herders and we drove about 4 hours in the middle of nowhere towards the reindeer herders, and then found a local family. And our guide just knocked on the Ger's door and we slept in the Ger with the family last night. So it was really special. They offered us tea and biscuits and we slept on the floor. pretty incredible. The hospitality in this country is just unreal. And it is said that the nomads can travel for days and if they see a Ger they can stop and stay because the people that are inviting them into their home might be in the same situation with no place to stay. So the hospitality is out of this world over here, it's pretty incredible. After ten excruciating hours, we finally reached the town of Rinchinlumbe, which is on the border of Siberia. It is the last outpost before you reach Russia. The road was excruciatingly painful, really bumpy, up and down mountains, over valleys, through rivers, but it was absolutely stunning and beautiful. I don't want to talk too much about the weather, because I hear the weather is particularly rainy and nasty around here, but the weather today was absolutely stunning and it was a beautiful drive. It's September here in Mongolia so a lot of the trees are turning yellow, which is absolutely a surprise and we are lucky to be here at this time. I am really excited to get into my Ger camp and relax the rest of the night because tomorrow we have a long day as well riding horses for about 5-6 maybe more hours to get to the Tsaatan. But this is my Ger camp for the night so come check it out. Pretty nice, we got a fire for when it gets really cold. And beds are all laid out. This is your traditional Ger camp that is made for tourists. But it is the same sort of idea just without all the personal stuff from a nomadic family. Well, today was another really really long exhausting day. But we finally made it to our camp, we are camping tonight. In this beautiful valley, rivers around us, a few little houses and Yurts but not much around. We rode for about 6 hours today, I'm pretty sure I will get a divorce after this horse trip but we survived the first day. And tomorrow we ride another full day and then we arrive at the Tsaatan the day after. It's really beautiful, we crossed some rivers, just open plains, clouds in the sky, the mountains in the distance. And again we had spectacular weather. So I am feeling pretty fortunate ...and pretty stinking sore. So tomorrow should be interesting. But survived the first day and really happy to be at camp at the moment. So this is day 5 of our Tsaatan adventure. And this is the day we have been waiting for because today we get to meet the Tsaatan tribe. They are on a border with Russia and Mongolia in a no-go zone. So we need special permits to get into this area, and notify the border police and go through a lot of paperwork. All our paperwork is in order.


All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



We stayed in this beautiful valley behind me last night and today is finally the day we get to meet the Tsaatan, so it's pretty exciting. We are going to be staying there for two nights in hopefully Teepees. I have never stayed in a Teepee before so it should be interesting, hopefully not too cold. The Tsaatan is one of the few tribes in the world, who rely completely on their Reindeer for their daily survival. The reindeer are used as pack animals and for transport. Their milk to create butter, curd, and other dairy products, their antlers for tools, such as knives, and their pelts for clothing. We finally arrived at the Tsaatan camp and we were invited to the chief's and his wife's house. She made us some doughy things that are quite delicious. And of course, reindeer milk tea which is always my favorite but it's ok. So they keep the babies around and this is probably a yearling or something along those lines so that the females come back at night and therefore the males follow the females and they all stick around. So if they tie up the babies everyone else will come. Very nice, very nice face. I am here sitting with the chief of all of the Tsaatan in Northern Mongolia. And I have been warmly welcomed into their house, his and his wife's house. And I am sitting down for a little interview to ask some questions to get a little more educated on the way they live and their lifestyle. So my first question would be "how long have you been chief"? And how many Tsaatan are there in this area? So you are a very busy man. What does your job as chief entail? And do you feel like the traditions are thriving? or is he concerned about some of the cultures dying out and changing as the years go on. One of my questions is how tourism has affected the Tsaatan, both negative and positive. How has the community changed in the last ten years since tourism has come about? Well, I just want to thank you so much for having us here and inviting us into your home. We feel so honored to be here and see the way you live and it's such a beautiful culture and I really feel touched to be here, so thank you very much. After meeting with the chief and having productive talks with one of the original founders of the Tsaatan Community and Visitors Center, it was decided to implement a visitors conservation fee which in time hopefully will help preserve their amazing culture. As tourists, we have a huge responsibility.


All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



And must be extremely careful not to exploit tribal communities like the Tsaatan. We must always show our utmost respect for their ways. Within just a few hours after leaving Ulaanbaatar, we had arrived in the heart of the Bayan Olgii province. The capital of Olgii is the gateway to the majestic Altai mountain range and the nearest access point to experience the legendary golden eagle festival. We are heading to the Eagle Hunter Festival, we are on our way this morning and I have been waiting for this for years and years so I am thrilled to be going there. I am not really sure what to expect, I know there are definitely a bunch of tourists in town. But it should be really cool. There are probably around 60 eagle hunters said to be in this festival over a 2 day period this weekend. So it should be really fun. We are here a little bit early to kind of catch some of the eagle hunters as they come to the festival. There are about six riding our way and the landscape is absolutely fantastic. The lighting is great so hopefully, we get a chance to get some shots before too much of the crowds come in. The annual Eagle Festival is held during the first weekend of October, just prior to the main hunting season. More and more competitors join in the festivities each year and during our visit in 2016 almost 100 eagle hunters attended. Many of the hunters will travel far distances and even across borders to take part. The Kazakh eagle hunters compete in various events, to show off their training and hunting skills with their magnificent birds of prey. I just got to the Eagle Festival and it's totally insane and perfect. There are vendors everywhere selling all sorts of Kazakh arts and crafts. We have got a fence in an area over here where you can see the eagles in competition. And there is going to be horse racing, camel racing, all sorts of fun stuff over a 2 day weekend. So it should be a ton of fun and lots of photo ops. As visitors, we were spoiled by the variety of skill-based events.



All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



Such as the best eagle at hunting prey and the best eagle at locating its owner. Along with spectator popular events like the best traditional dress, camel racing, and of course the infamous goatskin tug-o-war. A grueling tough sport which occasionally will end with a kiss to the ground to the great joy of the audience, immediately followed by loud cheers. The Eagle Festival has certainly not gone unnoticed and has quickly become one of the major tourist attractions for travelers wanting to experience the wonders of Mongolia. The week around the festival is bustling with activity and we were getting ready to leave the crowds behind and explore the everyday life of the locals. We had arranged to go live with an eagle hunter and his family for a few days before heading back to UB. Our host for the next few days would be Bashankan, a highly revered eagle hunter who lives with his family on a farm deep in the Altai mountain range. It would turn out to be a stunning drive through beautiful rough landscapes in the glistening mountain sun. Bashankan's oldest son had just returned from a successful hunting trip in the area as we arrived at the compound.



All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



The young eagle he brought with him had just finished training and this was its first actual kill, a tasty rabbit. Clearly a very proud moment for a father passing on his skills to the next generation. A practice which has taken place for thousands of years will continue to live on. The eagle was rewarded with the juicy rabbit meat as part of its training, teaching it the benefits of man and beast working closely together. I am about to run with a fake sheepskin and the eagle is gonna catch it while I run. Hopefully not to fall on my butt. The relationship between hunters and eagles is truly remarkable. The hunter will steal the eagle from the nest at a very young age and train it until it's ready to join the hunt. Then once the eagle reaches breeding age it will be released back into the wild, so it can reproduce and maintain the eagle population.


All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



This great respect for their animal companions is astounding and something which should serve as an inspiration across the world. During our stay, we joined Bashankan in the mountains scouting for prey. And although we did not have much luck bringing home the prize, the experience will stay with us forever. A visit with the eagle hunters of Mongolia is a journey back in time. And we are elated seeing the traditions still thriving and feel confident that the culture will hold its ground against the attractions and the lure of the modern world. What an epic way to end our Mongolian adventures.


All About Mongolia- Greatest  Place to travel.



It's finally snowing, I'm so excited, I wanted snow this entire trip. We've got a sunset in the back which is absolutely breathtaking. The mountains have all the snow on them, the sun is coming out, the clouds are parting and it's really spectacular. This trip has been absolutely amazing, from visiting the Tsaatan in the north to urban UB, to finally up here with the eagle hunters and the eagle festival. Thanks so much for joining us in this episode, and hope to see you next time adventure calls! 


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