Eastern Mongolia small group holiday

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2017: 2 Sep, 9 Sep
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Eastern Mongolia small group holiday

Environment

Always a tricky one this. We can promise you the world but how do we prove it? Responsible, sustainable or ethical travel - in recent years, it has developed many labels and is now a widely-used selling tool in the tourism industry. But, what does it mean? Although there is no real clear definition, it has to be more than ensuring that we collect all of our rubbish, asking before taking a photograph or being aware of the cultural norms. That’s what we should be automatically doing anyway.

Below are some of the elements of my responsible travel philosophy for our National Parks and Nature Reserves itinerary where we can show real evidence of our practise.

Combatting Desertification - Community Project

As part of this trip you will stay with the Radnaarbazar family in Mandalgobi. They are owners of the Gobi Oasis Tree Planting Project. This is a small, family run, non-profit conservation project that has been operating since 1975 in Mandalgobi, Dundgobi Province. Their main conservation work is the planting of seedlings and nurturing them into trees.

Part of your tour payment goes as a donation towards the Gobi Oasis project. You will also visit the tree nursery, learn more about their conservation practises and even get to plant your own tree.

Waste

The disposal of rubbish is a major issue in Mongolia - especially with plastic. As part of my Responsible Travel ethos I pay a local Mongolian NGO (Mongolian Quilting Centre) to make fabric tote bags for our guests which we hand out for free as a welcome pack at the start of each trip. This is a souvenir for our guests but it also helps to support the project and helps us to cut down on the waste we produce. As part of your National Parks and Nature Reserves experience, you will also receive such a tote bag.

Also, you can book knowing that we finance our own three-day rubbish collection in a national park in Mongolia. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been arranging this for the previous two years.

Group Size

Unlike a majority of the larger tour companies, where small group travel can mean being in a group of up to 12-18 people, when I say small group travel this is what I mean. Our group size on this trip has been kept small - a maximum of six. This means that experiences during this itinerary become more personal and authentic for you. We are not an overwhelming presence - on the local communities or the local environment - especially in the protected areas which you will visit during this itinerary.

Our itineraries and departures

My philosophy is to have a limited amount of departures for each of our itineraries. Our National Parks and Nature Reserves only has one departure per year.

We also do not concentrate specifically on one area. Mongolia is a country of incredibly diverse yet fragile ecosystems. By limiting our presence in certain areas, we help to preserve and protect and help to avoid the area changing environmentally due to repeated and extended exposure to tourism.

Yes on this itinerary we visit Gorkhi Terelj where tourism has become more concentrated in Mongolia but we also visit areas that are not necessarily considered ‘highlights’ by other tour companies or the guidebooks such as Bayan Adraga on this itinerary. Wherever we visit, supporting local is at the heart of what we do and at the centre of each experience we offer. By not focusing on one area, it also means that we help to support communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism industry.

Our trips also focus on 21st Century Mongolia - yes, you’ll get to experience the traditional way of life but at the same time gain an overview as what it means to be Mongolian in 21st Century Mongolia - Naraa and Bujee have a mobile phone. It doesn’t mean their way of life is dying out and that they’ll be shortly moving into the city - just that their way of life is adapting. Just like ours does.

The people we work with are ‘real’ people. Not tourism professionals. You’ll meet people from Ulaanbaatar, you’ll meet herders, you’ll meet Mongolians that live in the provincial centres as well as the smaller town and rural communities. They are all Mongolians. Take time out to meet them. 

Camping

During this experience you will at certain locations camp in tents. When we camp, where possible, we use only existing campsites, keep them small and, if required, we always ask permission of local families or park rangers. We carry all litter with us until we can dispose of it in a responsible manner, removing any litter left by others (to the best of our ability). We ensure that we leave our campsites in a better condition than we found them. Always.

(We also finance our own three-day rubbish collection in a national park in Mongolia. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been arranging this for the previous two years.)

Wildlife

This itinerary focuses on some of Mongolia’s national parks and nature reserves. Where we mention the option of observing wildlife in their natural habitat, we do this alongside the protected area ranger of that specific region. We also receive training from Association Goviin Khulan (one of the wildlife NGO’s we work with). By doing this we make sure that our visit doesn’t impact too greatly on the natural environment and the wildlife. As an example, Ikh Nart Nature Reserve is one of the protected areas we visit on this trip. It represents one of the last strong-holds for the globally threatened Argali Sheep - the largest mountain sheep in the world (Ovis Ammon) and is also a breeding site for one of the world's largest vultures, the Cinereous Vulture. During the wildlife observation, the ranger directs us on where to locate ourselves, makes sure we observe through binoculars rather than getting too close and reminds us to keep noise to a minimum so as not to disturb the wildlife.

Community

Cultural Impact

My company is not a ‘world specialist’; we concentrate on the country we know and love – Mongolia. We research, design and operate each itinerary ourselves and do not source our itineraries from other agents.

Supporting local is at the heart of what we do. Part of this philosophy is that we used ger accommodation provided by the Mongolian families such as herders Naraa and Bujee based in Gorkhi Terelj National Park. However, at no point have we ever rocked up and demanded accommodation. Our relationships with the families we work with are genuine - forged over time and with plenty of tea.

Families offer ger accommodation to help supplement their income. Most are small rural businesses providing extra accommodation. Some accommodation is offered by herders, some is offered by ‘retired’ herders who no longer migrate, some by families that live in small town communities and some by families that own small ger camp businesses. By using this form of accommodation it provides you with a more genuine insight in to the real way of life in Mongolia and it benefits the local communities through which we are travelling.

However, these are real people with real lives to lead and at no point do we ask the families to change their way of life for our/your own benefit or comfort. If they don’t have a shower, neither will you! (Don’t panic!…see below!). We ask our guests to try and embrace (!) and enjoy any differences that they come across in Mongolia. Experiencing the differences is all part of any trip and makes it a more authentic and positive holiday for you and a more respectful and enjoyable experience for the locals as well.

One example of this is our use of the local town shower houses. Very few families have access to running water from a tap. We do as the locals do and use the local town shower houses such as the one in Dadal. They’re a great way to meet members of the local community but it also means we do not put too much pressure on local resources. In the words of author Jack Weatherford in Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – ‘Compared to the difficulty of daily life for the herders, living permanently in those areas, ours were only the smallest of irritations.’

Photography

We have a photography philosophy that we employ on all our trips. At the back of every ger is the family khoimor – the family altar. Very few families have a camera. Some have cameras on their phones but no way to print off the images and therefore few families have photographs. I have a rule that if you promise a photo then you must send the photo. I make it easy for you - email the image of the photo to me once you get home and I will print if off and will make sure the photos are delivered. One of the photos accompanying this tour description (the one of two men) was taken recently during a photography workshop and is one that will be printed off and handed to Naraa and Bujee in 2016 as part of a photo album we are putting together for them.

Reviews of Eastern Mongolia small group holiday

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 09 Oct 2014 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Travelling across the steppe on unmade roads to stay with nomadic herders in Gers and help with daily life particularly milking yaks and goats.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Leave any idea of home comforts at home and enjoy the Ger life style. It can be hot and very cold in September so lots of layers. Lots of customs and traditions if you are staying in family Gers - make sure you are familiar with them. They eat mainly meat and dairy products but this is not a problem for a veggie like me because the tour assistant cooks and is very good - obviously you do miss out on some of the activities involving meat but that is your choice.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


We stayed with herders and travelled with local people using the drivers own van so benefit to the - wood is used to cook and for heat so does pollute but only option at the moment - did plant a tree in the Gobi.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was a brilliant way to experience Mongolia, felt part of the way of life - well as much as you could in 2 weeks.

Reviewed on 29 Sep 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


All of it ... Mongolia is an incredible country ... it's so vast and never-ending. The people are very noble and their hospitality is very generous. The nomadic way of life is very hard but the people seem to do it so naturally. The flora and fauna is very interesting. Travelled 2,063 kilometres in 16 days in an old Russian Fulgon which was very comfortable.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


The operator is an excellent small company which specialises in small group adventures - what you see is what you get - so visit the website. Jess who runs the company has a great love for Mongolia and knows about absolutely everything that you could ask her. Her local staff are also very dedicated - like Jess - and that makes it all the more an incredible trip.
Make sure you take the right clothes with you. I live in Cambodia and had not quite prepared myself for the extremes in temperatures.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. Jess supports many local causes e.g. tree planting with Gobi Oasis. We camped out and I'd like to say we didn't leave any detrimental footprints at any of our campsites.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Absolutely EXCELLENT. I'm an intrepid traveller who has visited all 7 continents. I'd love to have given 5 ***** for my holiday review below, but can only give it 4 **** because I don't like your wording! For me it's "one of the best holidays I've been on" NOT the best. Which is a shame ....!?

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