Man's Happiness Lies In Vacant Steppes
Travel to the far Western reaches of the Mongolian taiga and you will find massive mountains, rugged wilderness, and some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. This region is one of the most wild and remote areas in Mongolia, and the people that call this land home match their surroundings. A land of wide open, empty spaces, glistening lakes, and rocky towering mountains you will feel you are as far from the world as you have ever been.
On this experience spend your days trekking in the mountains, and spend your nights connecting with the local nomadic communities. Learn about their life and get a glimpse into their ancient traditions. Each day will be filled with slow time, a chance to get to reflect and really get to know the land and people.
This trip culminates in a visit and homestay with a Kazakh family that call this area home. Besides being warm, welcoming, and amazingly friendly, these people are well know for their practice of hunting game using Golden Eagles. You will learn this ancient tradition and get a chance to interact with these beautiful animals.
Ulaanbaatar: A Modern City In The Arctic North
Ulaanbaatar is the capital and largest city of Mongolia. The city is not part of any province and its population as of 2014 was over 1.3 million, almost half of the country's total population. The municipality is in north central Mongolia at an elevation of about 4,300 ft in a valley on the Tuul River. It is the country's cultural, industrial and financial heart, the center of Mongolia's road network, and connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system.
The city was founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist monastic center. It settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers, in 1778.
The modern history of Ulaanbaatar has been as varied and dynamic as it's people. This bustling city is now growing into a center of culture, finance, and international policy for the region. This city has restaurants from all over the world, a national ballet company and symphony, and is very walkable and easy to navigate. You will have the chance to explore this amazing place on your own and with your guides as well.
The city also faces some challenges. The population is booming and this is causing some issues, especially with air quality and climate issues. This is an ongoing battle and while in the city you will learn what is being done to combat this. Our local partners are involved heavily and trying to clean up the air and support more sustainable and climate friendly measures.
In the city you will stay in Hotel 9 in downtown Ulaanbaatar. This hotel is close to everything, has a restaurant and bar, and boasts great city views and comfortable beds. Everything you will need you can find within a few blocks of the this hotel.
As you make your way toward the Tsaatan community you will stay along the way in simple guest houses. Typically these are comfortable but basic, with soft beds and running hot water. You will find fresh, local food and friendly staff to give you reccomendations of things to see and do.
The traditional dwelling in this part of Mongolia is called a Ger. This is a circular dwelling made of canvas and wood, centered around a stove for cooking and heating. These can vary in size and shape and are completely transportable according to the nomadic movements of the people.
Doloonuur Valley and The Power Of Physical Challenge
You will make your way through the beautiful Doloonuur Valley. Our trek will take us near Mönkhkhairkhan Mountain which is sacred to the local people here. In the afternoon you will arrive at the camp of a local nomad family where you will stay the night. Learn how the practice of perpetual movement has become second nature to these people and engage in mutual learning and lots to drink! You will stay two nights here.
Rise early today for you have a long climb ahead of you. Physical challenge is another method, like cultural exchange, to break down our barriers and leave behind our comfort zone in order to learn about ourselves and others. A few ways that physical challenge does this:
- When we focus our attention on a single task, especially one that is challenging, we find ourselves in a state of Flow. This mind state produces feelings of euphoria and clarity where we are fully immersed in the task at hand.
- At what we think is our physical limit we find ourselves at a crossroads. We have a choice to make: give up and go back, or push beyond what we think is possible. When we are able to go beyond our comprehension of what we think we can do we find a new way of seeing ourselves that helps us grow.
- When overcoming a strong physical challenge within a community or small group, we strengthen the bonds which connect us to time, place, and each other. Achieving a physical challenge imprints that place and people into your life story, forever part of the larger tale of humanity.
In that spirit, today you will climb the second highest peak in Mongolia: Mt. Mönkhkhairkhan. At 4,204 meters high this peak is an imposing feature on the baron landscape. The climb will take all day, is non-technical, and will test your ability to persevere.
Kazakh Eagle Hunters: Mystery And Tradition
Today you will arrive at the home of a Kazakh family where you will stay the next two nights. During this time you will learn how these people have carried on a thousands year old tradition of training Golden Eagles and using them to hunt small game. You will also be able to eat and interact and learn about their way of life, exchanging knowledge and stories and lots of laughs!
The Kazakh people inhabit modern day Western Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Eastern China, and other parts of central Asia. They are a Turkic descendant people who have roots in the Mongol and central Asian ancestries. Kazakh people traditionally practiced Shamanism and Tengrism, with portions of the people practicing Buddhism and Christianity in later times. In Mongolia, Islam is the predominant religions faith of the Kazakh people.
In around 1860, part of the Middle Jüz Kazakhs came to Mongolia and were allowed to settle down in Bayan-Ölgii, Western Mongolia and for most of the 20th century they remained an isolated, tightly knit community. Ethnic Kazakhs live predominantly in Western Mongolia in Bayan-Ölgii Province (88.7% of the total population) and Khovd Province.
Hunting with eagles is a traditional form of falconry found throughout the Eurasian Steppe, practiced by the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz in contemporary Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as diasporas in Bayan-Ölgii Provinces Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia, and Xinjiang, China. Though these people's people are most famous for hunting with golden eagles, they have been known to train northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, saker falcons, and more.
In modern times the number of families who still practice traditional Eagle Hunting are shrinking. One of the big challenges that these people face is the ever increasing frequency of colder and harsher winters followed by shorter growing seasons due to climate change. This is forcing people from their traditional lifestyle to pursue economic opportunities in the city.
Another big challenge is the commodification of this ancient practice. Many in Mongolia have co-opted this practice and have used it to make money from tourism. To be able to ensure that this practice is preserved and unchanged by outside influences, it is important to be selective about how we interact with it as tourists. The last thing we want is for a Kazakh family who has been living this way for generations to lose their way of life because it has been stolen.
It is in the intimate company of our fellow human beings that we find the most profound connections and meaningful experiences. This is especially true when we seek to connect with others whose life is much different than our own.
Ways To Connect
For truly transformative experiences to take place it is important to be intentional about connecting with people and place. A few ways to open up that opportunity are:
-Dive In: Open yourself up to new experiences and always be ready to something new, even if it feels foreign or unfamiliar
-Be Open: Share your story with your hosts, be open about your life and share who you are with the people you meet.
-Listen And Ask: Travel experiences are best when they are reciprocal so make sure to leave room for your new friends to share their story as well.
-Reflect: Make time in your day to reflect on what you are seeing and doing, to make meaning from your experience. This is a chance for personal growth and transformation to take place.
You will have the opportunity to experience a totally different way of life, to immerse yourself in a culture and a land that has so much to offer. All that is required is for you to be open to it.
The Hero Returns Home
For true transformation to take place our journey does not end once we return from the adventure, it is only the beginning. Today you will be transferred to the airport for your return flight home. It is a bittersweet transition, one filled with excitement and sadness and gratitude for the experience.
As you begin to look around you and see the world in a new way it is important to take time to process and make meaning from what you have experienced. Here are some steps to take in your return:
- Remain in contact with us for your post-trip process and support in coming home
- Take time to truly reflect and take stock of the experience, don't rush too quickly back into "normal life"
- Follow up with contacts you have made and keep in touch with those you met on the way
- Be patient with yourself and with those around you, it is possible you are not the same person who left home at the beginning.