Covid threw us a curve ball and put on hold our longing to return to Mongolia. We are going back! September next year will see us once again in a stunning land with huge fenceless vistas dotted with felt tents (gers), livestock and wonderful people.
Countless times while exploring the vast countryside we have called in, unannounced, to a lonely ger. The family quickly gathers from their daily tasks looking after their goats, horses, sheep, camels or yaks.
Our welcome is something akin to a long-lost family member returning after years away. We are strangers, a fact not even considered, we are friends. Customary tea is served as we are plied with sweets, biscuits and hard, sun dried cheese. Our guides translate as we swap stories and learn personally of the herder’s thoughts and customs. Farewells are exuberant as we continue on unpaved roads across the expanse.
We can’t wait to get back into the Altai Mountains, home of the Kazakhs who still hunt as falconers with golden eagles. Many of them we know well. Entertainers at heart and truly generous it always seems that the most important thing on their minds is to ensure we are all blown away by their eagles and culture.
We will ride with them, fly their birds, feed them, look after them and come to experience the Kazakh culture so profoundly that we sometimes forget we are not one of them.
While with the eagle hunters we will have a very special mini eagle festival where the hunters show off the abilities of their charges, not able to hide their sense of pride while doing so. It is fabulous.
We always have a 4×4 vehicle with us so anyone not wanting to ride a horse will not miss out on anything.
The Gobi Desert sees us climbing huge sand dunes, mingling with camel herders, searching for ibex, lammergeiers and as unlikely as it seems we will try hard to find snow leopard! There is a real chance of spotting this elusive, almost mythical creature as we will be under the guidance of full-time leopard rangers.
At the famous flaming cliffs, also in the Gobi, we expect to find at least some actual remnants of dinosaur fossils! The area was made famous as the site where the first fossilized dinosaur eggs were discovered. Many important finds having been made since. How lucky will we be?
Ulaanbaatar (‘UB’ for short), the capital of Mongolia, is our intermittent home. We once even rented an apartment there for 6 months. From temples, throat singers and contortionists to fine dining there is a lot to see and do in the city which only seems to get better as it moves out of the stigma of the Stalinistic architecture of old.
Finally, another highlight is to stay in the Hustai Nuruu National Park, home of the world’s true wild horse. Once extinct in the wild Przewalski’s horse now thrives in Hustai having been released generations ago from captive bred animals. A must see in our book.
All in all Mongolia is special, it is wild, untamed, wide-ranging, harsh yet beautiful. The nomads are friendly in the extreme, educated and very traditional. Wildlife is rich with always something to be found, from stone-mimic grasshoppers and Asiatic green toads to gazelles, marmots, pikas, foxes cranes and eagles. Come and see for yourself.
All images ©PeteOxford.