Untamed Mongolia – Review by our guest Lynn McCaw

Explore Wilderness Trails – Trekking In Mongolia
August 9, 2020
Amarbayasgalant Monastery - Selenge Province, Mongolia
Focus on Amarbayasgalant Monastery Mongolia
August 18, 2020

Untamed Mongolia

Untamed Mongolia is one of our Mongolia small group experiences. It’s a celebration of the diversity of Mongolia’s ‘eternal’ landscapes where the focus is about exploring and discovering the striking landscapes of the Gobi Desert, the high open steppe and the spectacular lakeland and northern regions of Mongolia, including Khovsgol Nuur National Park.

Yes. A majority of other companies will tell you to fly to your destination. But you’ll be then caught up in the stress of queuing and weighing your luggage and domestic flight delays. When instead, you could be on the ultimate road trip combined with a camel trek, wild camping, day hikes and living alongside Mongolia’s herders. If you join our Untamed Mongolia you’ll gain an introduction to the real 21st Century Mongolia – its diversity of landscapes, its people and its way of life.

Lynn McCaw joined us and wrote a series of blog posts detailing her time with Eternal Landscapes in Mongolia – covering subjects including the landscapes, Mongolia’s climate, the history, its people today, ger life and Ulaanbaatar, Lynn also documented her experience on our Untamed Mongolia trip in photographs which are used throughout the post (some descriptions are mine and some Lynn’s). As we say in Mongolia – Sain Yavaarai – Journey Well!

Mongolia Introduced

‘I spent 3 weeks travelling overland in Mongolia, covered 3300 kilometers and yet only skimmed over perhaps 15% of the area of the country. We travelled in a Furgon and slept mostly in family gers and occasionally in provincial hotels. We ate picnic-style for most of our meals, and occasionally in guanz or small-town restaurants. We shopped in the local markets. We visited a hospital.’

Our first luncheon picnic amidst the course grass and flowers of the Middle Gobi. From Jess – this is not a one-off picnic photo – we really do choose our picnic spots for their beauty or cultural interest

‘We saw the main city, Ulaanbaatar, the Gobi Desert, the mountains, the volcanoes, the grasslands, the monasteries, the lakes. We walked through fields of exquisite wildflowers, climbed sand dunes and granite “rock castles”, visited ruined Buddhist temples, explored red sandstone gullies where dinosaur skeletons can be found, watched rare ibex silhouetted against the sky-line on cliff tops.’

This is the quintessential view of the nomadic life–the isolated ger (we tend to call them “yurts” which is a Turkish word), the herding family and their flock of goats and sheep on the green green steppe.

‘Mongolia is one of those beguiling places that you can hardly believe still exist in the twenty-first century – and I mean that as a compliment. For starters it is HUGE. It is the size of Western Europe but has just over three million people. Think of it neighbouring China has many cities that each has more people than the whole of Mongolia.’

‘Almost one half of the population lives in the main city, Ulaanbaatar, so the remaining have this huge country to themselves. Scenically it has extraordinary variety, from the Gobi desert in the southern third of the country to the Siberian taiga underlain by permafrost in the north.’

‘…for me the most striking and memorable thing is the vast meadows and hillsides of wildflowers. We were particularly lucky in that there had been plentiful rain in the spring before we arrived and even the Gobi desert grasses were green instead of their usual burnt brown.’

The Two Sides to Ulaanbaatar (UB)

‘This is what you see as you come into Ulaanbaatar on the Trans-Mongolian railway.’

‘Look at the variety of housing. Mongolian laws allow every Mongolian 0,7 hectares of land. However, this must be fenced in if it is to be legal and if the owner is to be allowed to send his children to school. What the owner does within his 0,7 hectares is up to them. There are very few planning restrictions so he can keep his animals, set up a small business, fill the space with gers, build a luxury house.’

Ulaanbaatar - Untamed Mongolia tour

‘As you get further into the central part of UB you begin to see the cranes and the traffic. A number of the buildings under construction have been built illegally and so remain as hulks. In many ways UB is a frontier boom town.’

‘My personal favourite was the small Gesar Sum monastery, a working monastery resurrected after 1990 but marooned on an island at the intersection of 6 chaotic traffic-choked roads. Inside its courtyard is a haven of peace. The local people of all shapes and sizes, from the poor to the well-to-do, wander in and out, some on their lunch break some dressed in their best who have come to give thanks for good fortune or the birth of a child. The monks are not “resident” as they were in pre-Soviet days, but live out in the community. The monks chanted in the main temple and in a side temple other monks were dispensing blessings.  They are as likely to be holding a mobile phone as an ancient scroll of scripture.’

The Gobi Desert

‘We found canyons choked with ice in June in the middle of the Gobi Desert, we watched horses and trainers preparing for the Naadam races in July, we drove through the heat and the hail and the rain and sunshine from the Eternal Blue Sky, we planted trees, we walked under such stars as you have never before seen, we saw Bronze Age carving on pillars in the middle of nowhere that not even the experts know much about.’

 

Tsagaan Suvraga - Untamed Mongolia tour

,The fantastic formations and colours of Tsagaan Suvraga in the Middle Gobi. This is eroded limestone with minerals causing the beautiful colours. There are layers of marine fossils since this was once under a great soupy sea before the whole country was lifted upwards over 1000 metres (3000 feet) by the tectonic plate movements which created the Himalayas.’

 

Boy jockey Mongolia

‘One of the young jockeys practising for the Nadaam races. (see later for more details) These are tests of endurance for the horse—the race is 30 km long across country! The jockeys are young boys and sometimes girls between 5 and 12. Their job is to stay on and make sure the horse doesn’t head for the hills.’ From Jess – we placed our picnic lunch spot at their finishing line so we got a great view!

The Central Heartland (Steppe)

Change again! Now we are in the central steppes. From the steppes rise the granite formations of Khogno Khan. These gigantic boulders really do look like some giant’s toys scattered over the steppe. Some of the boulder look like Henry Moore sculptures. And  believe it or not there is sand! Yes here 400 kilometers north of the Gobi on a parallel with the city of Ulaanbaatar is a strip of sand dunes. It is often referred to as the Mini-Gobi and attracts those tourists who don’t have the time or stamina to go the real Gobi.

Northern Landscapes

‘This photo does not do it justice but the ground was covered with a wonderful display of all colours of wild flowers. The country becomes more lush as you go north and there are more streams and more trees.’

‘The small ger camp we stayed in beside Lake Khovsgol was a rest and recreation camp for members of the Mongolian armed forces so most of the gers were occupied by soldiers and their families who had driven hundreds of kilometres from the far west of the country over two days drive away to reach this spot. They were having a wonderful time on this brief one week’s holiday. ‘

Should You Experience Untamed Mongolia?

‘Would I recommend that you go to visit? I think that entirely depends on what you are like. Can you live without a flush toilet, running water and instant electricity for a few weeks? Are you adaptable? Can you travel large distances over bumpy roads for the pay-off of beautiful scenery, no crowds and an insight into a fascinating life-style?’

‘If yes, then you should definitely go. If you travel with EL, you will not be cheated or treated like a “tourist” whose only function is to be milked and ripped off. You will be met with personal respect and dignity and you will not be surrounded by sycophants who see you as a “mark”.And do travel overland for at least part of your visit – if you just fly in and out to the various “sights” will entirely miss the point. You will quickly realise that you do not really need a lot of the things you take for granted in your everyday western life. ‘

Join us on our Untamed Mongolia? Get in touch for details. Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
Sign up to our Newsletter

Written by Jess - the founder of Eternal Landscapes - there's no spam, no sharing your details and no random offers. It goes out once or twice a month. Hopefully enough to be of interest but not too much to annoy.

We respect your privacy.