Cycling through Mongolia on rough jeep tracks and trails is a marvellous way to enjoy this unspoilt country. We ride through areas rarely visited by tourists and there are often no hotels, guest houses or shops for several days of the trail. In fact for much of the journey there are no permanent buildings at all. The local people are nomadic, living in ger tents, a hardy self-sufficient nomadic lifestyle that has changed little since the days of Genghis Khan.
The group size will be small, usually not more than 12 people, to reduce the impact we have both socially and environmentally. We camp in Western-style tents for the first few days, using river water for washing (biodegradable soap is a must and at the time of booking clients are given a full list of what to bring). A pit latrine is set up at each camping place and toilet paper is burned before we leave. We travel with a Mongolian cook who serves Mongolian and European food using mainly ingredients produced in Mongolia with a few luxury items imported from Europe like Dutch cheese.
Our staff understand the need to leave no trace behind them and all rubbish is carried with us until we can dispose of it properly. Local people are interested – and pleased – to see that we take the effort to carry rubbish so far to avoid spoiling their beautiful environment. Our tourists tend to show a good example to the locals, whose experience of non-biodegradable-rubbish is very limited.
The Mongolian people we meet along the way never look surprised to see a group of lycra-clad foreigners on bicycles whizzing past. Sometimes they will invite us in for tea and yoghurt. The tradition of hospitality and sharing of news by passing travellers is normal within the culture and not viewed by the hosts as an imposition, however many people are in the group. We suggest to our clients that they bring photographs of their own homes to show and small gifts such as souvenirs from their own town or a Polaroid camera as Mongolians like to have photos of themselves to keep. According to the situation, we may give a suitable amount of money to the host family. This would be done by the tour leader only and is taken to be a gift rather than payment for services given.
In the town of Tsetserleg we stay in a guest house / restaurant that was set up a few years ago as a project specifically designed to create jobs for local townspeople. We visit a felt making project with demonstrations of how felt is made on a small scale and can buy felt products made for the tourist market. This project has been set up to create employment, to educate tourists on this traditional craft, and to increase the income from tourism.
At the end of the Gobi Desert and Khangai mountain bike tour we spend the last night at a traditional ger camp in Kharkhorin. Here authentic ger tents have been set up for tourists and furnished with beds and a stove, with toilet and washing facilities on the site. The ger camp is owned by a local entrepreneur who is himself from Kharkhorin. The staff are all people from the vicinity or students from town, who benefit greatly from the opportunity to get a modest cash income during the short tourist season. Each ger has a wood-burning stove which staff will light if requested. We discourage our clients from using this facility if it is not very cold because the fuel used is trees cut down in the nearby forests.
At the ger camp there is a small shop where they sell paintings, traditional clothing, carvings and other crafts, made during the winter months by people in the area. Our tourists are encouraged to buy souvenirs here as they are genuine mementos of the holiday and will certainly help to support the families of the shop owner and the craftsmen.
At the end of the Bulgan mountain bike tour we spend the last night in the valley of Amarbayasgalant, probably the best preserved Buddhist monastery in the country outside Ulaanbaatar. There is a small shop where one can buy religious paraphernalia like written prayers, incense and ceremonial blue silk scarves (“khatag”). Actually this is the only shopping opportunity of the tour apart from a few village stores where one can purchase sweets, drinks and local essentials like washing soap and matches.
The staff on these tours are all Mongolian and their salaries make a considerable financial difference to their families. Unemployment in Mongolia is high and for those employed by the State, salaries are low. People joining this tour will enjoy the riding, the country and the people in the knowledge that they are making a positive contribution to the local economy.
The company is owned and run by Mongolians with small offices in Mongolia, UK and Germany. The itinerary for this trip, and indeed the whole brochure, can be downloaded from our website, reducing the need for printing in most cases. Upon booking a tour, clients are given a tour dossier which includes a section on attitudes and behaviour. We explain some of the most important issues so that tourists will not be embarrassed nor locals offended. During the tour, the leader or interpreter will educate the group on the more important points of Mongolian etiquette so that everyone feels more comfortable when we enter a local home or temple.