Mongolia Must-Reads: Hearing Birds Fly by Louisa Waugh

Mongolia's Orkhon River Valley
Mongolia’s Orkhon River Valley
November 9, 2020
Milking yaks. Part of the typical Mongolian herding calendar
Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative Mongolia
February 10, 2021
Book Cover - Hearing Birds Fly

Mongolia Must-Reads: Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia by Louisa Waugh

Ever wondered about the realities of daily life in rural Mongolia? The travelogue Hearing Birds Fly by Louisa Waugh describes the year the author spent living in Tsengel – the westernmost settlement in Mongolia set amidst the Altai mountains near the border with neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Map Of Tsengel - western Mongolia. Mongolia Must Reads: Hearing Birds Fly


Having worked for two years in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, journalist Louisa Waugh wanted a different experience of Mongolia and after a few months of searching, she was invited to teach in the remote community of Tsengel. Tsengel means ‘delight’ which does seem to mock the small town. In fact, Waugh writes exactly that:

“This still seems a bizarre, almost mocking name for my former home: an unlit, windswept village where death and life were so raw, crude and compelling.”

Anyone who has been to, or more commonly, passed through, Tsengel will agree with Waugh that this small town has a tough and stark beauty about it. It also feels like the end of the world where, as Waugh writes, life has “Been whittled down to its essence, like the core of a fruit.”

The book describes the daily reality of the villagers who Waugh lived alongside and who became her neighbours and friends. Such is Waugh’s connection with the community, we end up caring about each person as we take part in celebrations, traditions, customs, frustrations, hangovers as well as the mundanity of life. The book also describes the harshness of Mongolia’s seasons and the difficulties experienced in facing the relentless climate as well as describing the landscapes that forged the strength of character of the local people. In the words of Waugh:

“The mere fact of their survival here is a triumph of the human spirit.”


Landscapes of western Mongolia. Mongolia Must-Reads: Hearing Birds Fly

Hearing Birds Fly won the inaugural 2004 Ondaatje Award and was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year prize. If you’re wondering where the title of the book comes from, it is from the silence that Waugh experienced in Western Mongolia. A silence so silent she could hear birds flying over her ger.

“Hearing Birds Fly” achieved notable recognition by winning the inaugural 2004 Ondaatje Award and being shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year prize. The title of the book finds its origin in a moment experienced by the author during her time in Western Mongolia. In this remote setting, Waugh encountered a silence so deep that she could distinctly hear the flight of birds passing over her ger, encapsulating the quiet of the region.

If you would like to learn more about the way of life in Western Mongolia including for the Mongol Kazakh eagle hunters and how we can arrange for you to live alongside them, take a look at our guide – Alternatively, take a look at our homestay experiences –– arranged with families that we work in long-term local community partnership with. For more books on Mongolia –


Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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