Back at the start of Eternal Landscapes, I remained as a guide on the tours we ran whilst we were building up our Mongolian team. This blog post is a review from the road during a private tailor-made experience to Shiliin Bogd in eastern Mongolia.
If someone asked me to describe Mongolia in one word, the one word that would spring to mind is ‘vast’ – vast landscapes, vast skies, and vast horizons. Shilin Bogd is located in one of Mongolia’s vastest landscapes – the wind-scoured lowlands of Dariganga in the south-eastern Sukhbaatar Aimag.
Here, at the site of one of Mongolia’s most sacred mountains, the grasslands of the northern steppe and the expanse of the Gobi converge to create a unique landscape consisting of wetlands, basalt stone formations, steppe and sand dunes with the skyline dominated by Shillin Bogd and Altan Ovoo – two of the extinct volcanic cones. The area is isolated, immense and stunning.
The immense space, the pure air and the fact that you can’t see anyone or anything except the wilderness landscape, the boundless sky and the stretching horizons – all this conspires to restore your sense of the earth’s immensity and your place in it. It is very much as travel writer Stanley Stewart describes in his most excellent book (In the Empire Of Genghis Khan) –
‘From the air Mongolia looks like God’s preliminary sketch for earth, not so much a country as the ingredients out of which countries are made: grass, rock, water and wind.’
In traditional Mongolian culture, mountains are the closest thing on earth to the Eternal Blue Sky and thus many are venerated and sacred. Mountains are the king of the area and given strong titles as their guardian spirits hold a direct connection with Tenger (the God of the Eternal Blue Sky). Tradition states that the soul of any man who climbs Shiliin Bogd will be renewed and filled with optimism and strength for the future, therefore Turuu (the lead driver of EL and my co-founder) wanted to visit as much as I did.
We camped at the foot of the mountain surrounded by silence and space. We watched the moon set as well as the sunset. As dawn broke the skyline, and the morning star slowly faded, so we made the short walk up to Shillin Bogd. Here we circled the sacred stone shrine in the footsteps of those who had gone before us and made our offerings of rice, milk and vodka as we thought strong and positive thoughts. The Mongolian men present removed their hats to honour the sun as it rose over the horizon, an ancient tradition.
Then we were hungry! Having returned to camp a group of local men joined us at our breakfast table. Having renewed their souls (they were late for sunrise and we watched from the top their 4×4 dust trail as they raced towards the mountain), they presented us with a bottle of vodka. So there we sat, in the vastness of the Dariganga landscapes, at 08.50, and as we sipped on it we all felt a little rejuvenated by the wild landscape, the epic sunrise and our new found friends.