Mongolia tour, winter landscapes and Khovsgol ice festival
We are unsure yet as to when it will reopen without restrictions for international tourism but if you're interested in this departure, get in touch for details as we will be offering it in 2022.
Description of Mongolia tour, winter landscapes and Khovsgol ice festival
This small group winter holiday heads into the frozen wilds of Khovsgol Nuur National Park, which sprawls over northern Mongolia. You’ll travel with a holiday company that works with Baasanchuluun, a member of the Darkhad ethnic group and the head of a herding family, to design this trip.
You’ll be in expert hands: Baasanchuluun, his brother and friend build traditional horse sleighs. They’re not a novelty for tourists, but vital transport for the Khovsgol Darkhad in winter. You’ll be treated to several sleigh expeditions over the course of this 10-day winter adventure, led by Baasanchuluun and his companions – some of the most experienced guides you’ll meet. You’ll also be invited to the two-day Ice Festival, laid on by Khovsgol communities for Khovsgol communities.
The personal friendships that this holiday company has formed over 13 years form the basis of this Mongolia winter holiday. These partnerships give you the chance to meet everyday Mongolians and offer rural communities long-term – and inspiring – employment opportunities. You’ll spend time with the families without disrupting their way of life, giving you a true insider experience of northern Mongolia.
Worried about the cold? There’s no need. Traditional goatskin blankets insulate the horse sleighs and you’ll be given a handmade Mongolian coat (a del) and felt boots. Campfire lunches mean that you won’t freeze while picnicking with a view of the sandy beaches, forested coves and cliffs that surround Lake Khovsgol.
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1 Reviews of Mongolia tour, winter landscapes and Khovsgol ice festival
Reviewed on 13 Mar 2016 by Sally-Anne Deards
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
The amazing location of the ice festival on the huge frozen lake. People dashing around on horse sleighs. I particularly enjoyed being among local people enjoying the ice sculptures, and spending time with a family in Hartgal. Also, the herds of horses, yaks, cattle and sheep and goats roaming freely all over the countryside. The Deer Stones near Muron were so interesting.
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Jess is so helpful and responds to any queries about the trips. I felt confident about booking this tour and well informed about my trip. Let her know what your particular interests are and she will do her best to meet those needs.
The weather was cold but if you are dressed appropriately (good headwear, socks and gloves make a difference) it doesn't impact - and the vehicle was always warm when we were travelling around.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Yes, we ate local food as much as possible in the cold environment. We had a local guide for the Khovsgol Ice Festival and used local amenities such as the bath house. We stayed with a host family in a countryside ger in the Gorkli-Terelj National Park.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Mongolia is a stunning location to visit. The trip assistants shared their love for their country with us and made it a very memorable experience.
PlanetAlways 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 our responsible travel philosophy for our Khovsgol On Ice experience where we can show real evidence of our practice:
Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency
We focus solely on Mongolia and over the past 15 years we have seen the impact of the climate emergency on this vast country. Annual precipitation has decreased (the (previously reliable) seasonal rainfall pattern has become erratic) but localised severe weather events have increased. There’s also an increase in desertification and a loss of biodiversity. This is combined with Mongolia’s annual mean air temperature increasing by 2.24°C from 1940 to 2015 – triple the global average.
We are aware that tourism is part of the problem and as a business working in tourism we feel we have a responsibility to help combat problems including those created by tourism itself. We already work responsibly on a local level – we’re a registered Mongolian company and social travel enterprise, focusing on creating positive social change in Mongolia. We believe that travel can and should be a positive experience for both the visitor and for the destination country itself – its natural environment, people, culture and traditions. We can provide evidence of our work. However …
Although we believe travel has to be beneficial to all concerned we also understand that it is not currently beneficial to our planet. But we can’t solve this alone. The problem surrounding climate change can only be solved by working together. This is not about cancelling international travel but it is about travelling better – travelling in a more conscious way. As an industry, we need to come together and act to make our sector more sustainable.
That’s why we have signed up to Tourism Declares, an initiative that supports tourism businesses, organisations and individuals in declaring a climate emergency and taking purposeful action to reduce their carbon emissions.
Managing Our Carbon Footprint
It is well documented that the tourism industry is a major contributor to global carbon emissions which are a major part of the climate emergency. As a tourism business – especially one working in Mongolia, a country where a majority of our guests have no option but to fly to – we have a moral responsibility to make sure the way we work is as sustainable as possible. It’s a long road with no definitive answers but below are the achievable steps we are taking to reduce our emissions.
1) We’re creating an environmental management plan and climate action plan with the help of postgraduate students on the Responsible Tourism Management Postgraduate Course of Leeds Beckett University in the UK – the only responsible tourism management MSc certified by the UNWTO.
2) We will be working with C-Level to measure our carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting is not the answer to fixing the climate emergency. But, offsetting is part of our wider environmental management and climate action plans and helps us to take responsibility for our current carbon footprint. Using C-Level we will be balancing our CO2 emissions by investing in Plan Vivo Certificates – environmental service certificates, each representing the reduction or avoidance of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide. The Mongolian Nomad Project we invest in through our carbon offsetting is of Plan Vivo Standard – based on ethical principles intended to deliver long-term climate, livelihoods and biodiversity benefits.
Because of Mongolia’s geographical location and climate, it faces a strain on its freshwater supply which the impact of tourism will only exacerbate. We’re creating looking at how we can limit our own impact on Mongolia’s future freshwater shortage which looks at the accommodation we use, the way our team uses water as part of each trip and also how we provide drinking water to our guests. Two examples of this are:
1) We do not provide bottled drinking water as apart from in the capital city, there is just no way to recycle the bottles. Instead, we take fresh drinking water from local water supply points. We provide two 20 litre water containers in each tour vehicle and provide a Lifesaver carbon filter or an Adventurer Steripen in each vehicle. In addition, we have formed a partnership with Water-To-Go. Our travellers are now able to purchase a Water-To-Go reusable filtered water bottle and receive a 15% discount. From each purchase an additional 15% is put towards buying Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project - working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management.
2) Also, for a majority of all of our trips we do not use the typical tourist ger camps that often have very bad eco-credentials. Instead, we use a mix of accommodation and use the locally provided town shower houses. This is where a majority of Mongolia's rural population come to shower including the families that will host you on our Khovsgol On Ice experience. The shower houses are small business enterprises operated for the local communities and a great way to support local, meet the locals and do as the locals do themselves. It also helps us to manage our own environmental footprint.
The disposal of rubbish is a major issue in Mongolia - especially plastic. As part of our Sustainable Tourism Strategy, we are working on limiting our general use of plastic and as part of this, we have created our Mini Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge which we invite our guests to be part of - as well as our team members.
As part of our Responsible Travel ethos, we work with 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 Khovsgol On Ice experience, you will also receive such a tote bag.
Also, you can book knowing that we finance our annual community two-day rubbish collection in a national park in Mongolia. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been arranging this since 2014 - even in 2020 despite a lack of income due to the Covid pandemic.
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 we say small group travel this is what we mean. Our group size on this trip has been kept small - a maximum of six. This means that the family experiences become more personal and authentic for you and more respectful towards the local people you will meet and the local families you stay with. We are not an overwhelming presence - on the local communities or the local environment.
At the moment our vehicles are driver owned as it gives each driver more flexibility in the low season months. We use Russian 4x4 Furgon vans (diesel & petrol) as these are the most suitable vehicles for handling Mongolia’s rugged terrain. However, we are always looking at ways to manage our overall impact including the impact made by our tour vehicles and this includes providing cycling and trekking experiences as well as using the Trans-Mongolian railway for transport throughout the country. We also have a limited number of departures for each of our itineraries. 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.
The horse sleighs used for the expedition are part of the Darkhad culture and not a tourism industry innovation. However, we still take the welfare of the horses used for the expedition seriously.
- The horses are working horses and chosen specifically by the Darkhad guides - who are also the owners of the horses and the sleighs - and therefore understand the characteristics needed for the horse to pull the sleigh.
- We work in long-term local community partnership with the herders and know that the animals are not overworked and in good condition. However, the animals are chosen based on factors such as terrain, altitude, temperature, hours of work, age and their condition.
- During the expedition, we ensure (together with the Darkhad guides) that the horses receive adequate shelter, care, food and water. We match the weight of our guests to that of the animal and ensure that the weight is evenly balanced when riding. All tour equipment is carried in the EL support vehicle therefore lessening the load of each horse.
- If a horse is injured or becomes ill, they are not be worked again until they are fit.
PeopleOur company is not a world or a multi-destination specialist. We concentrate on the country we know, live in and love – Mongolia. We research, design and operate each itinerary ourselves and do not source our itineraries from other agents. That means we’re part of the community that we work to support.
A Fair Deal
As a registered social travel enterprise, we look to make sure we work responsibly within tourism and to make sure our work benefits local projects, people and communities as much as it benefits our guests and us as a business. We’re a little different in we believe everyone is equal. That means our guests are equal to our team who are equal to the Mongolians we work with on a more general scale. Respect is at the core of what we believe in.
We focus on creating local community partnerships that offer long-term support to local people, families and Mongolian projects – encouraging their own sense of enterprise. We also look at ways we can continue to work with each family even when their personal circumstances change. We want to continue strengthening these partnerships whilst making sure that they have a positive impact. As part of our philosophy, we don’t stop working with families just because their circumstances change … instead, we look at alternative ways in which we can work with them.
All of our team are Mongolian (apart from Jess) but we don’t source the ‘best’ guides that work the tourism circuit and that already have guaranteed work with other companies. Instead, we provide free long-term training, development and employment opportunities to Mongolian women that want the opportunity to work in tourism (whether that be for a professional reason, for development of personal skills or for economic empowerment) but that other companies won't take as they don't fit the stereotype. Our female Mongolian trip assistants are dynamic women who are searching for an opportunity to train and develop and we provide that long-term opportunity.
Volunteering & Charity
The local projects that we actively support are typically grassroots level projects that provide greater opportunities and benefits for local communities within Mongolia. One example is that as part of our free city walking tour of Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city - we take our guests to visit a local project called Nogoon Nuur. We make a donation per person we take to the project which is used by the project for maintenance on their community centre. Another example is our work with the Mongolian Quilting Centre which we pay 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 working with disadvantaged Mongolian women.
Travelling With Respect
Our trips 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. The people we work with are ‘real’ people that we form long-term local community partnerships with. They are 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. 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 Water in the Environment section!) 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.
An example of our philosophy is that for our Khovsgol On Ice experience we use accommodation provided by Mongolian families such as Bambakh or Davisuren. Families offer accommodation to help supplement their income. Most are small rural businesses providing extra accommodation. Some accommodation is offered by herders, some are offered by ‘retired’ herders who no longer migrate and some by families that live in small-town communities. By using this form of accommodation it provides you with a more genuine insight into the real way of life in Mongolia and it benefits the local communities through which we are travelling.
In addition, although we sometimes visit areas where tourism has become more concentrated we also offer itineraries that stretch to areas that are not necessarily considered ‘highlights’ by other tour companies or the guidebooks. By not focusing on one area, it also means that we help to support communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism industry.
Low Season Travel
This is part of our series of low season experiences. We are based in Mongolia and unlike most companies we live there as well. This means we have a in-depth knowledge of the country and can offer immersive experiences using our own local knowledge and that of the local people and communities we work in partnership with. Promoting low season in Mongolia helps to create economic stability within the Mongolian tourism sector. Along with mining and agriculture, tourism is one of the main sources of income for the country, and with a peak tourist season of barely three months, many Mongolians struggle to make ends meet. While some guides are teachers or university students working through the summer holidays, many others involved in tourism – particularly the drivers – have little other work. Huge numbers of drivers are required in July and August, and there is simply not enough work for the rest of the year to keep them all employed. In addition, winter is a costly time in Mongolia. Families will need to buy serious clothing, as well as food and coal, which is expensive. Hosting visitors for a few weeks can really ease the stresses of winter, and takes the pressure off earning a year’s worth of money in the short summer season. For our low season experiences we have had made by hand traditional goat skin blankets. We also provide you with your own hand made full length goat skin del (traditional Mongolian coat) and a pair of Mongolian felt boots. Not only does this help to keep you warm but it allows knowledge and traditional skills to be kept alive as well.
Non-Mongolians often get very caught up in notions of authenticity when it comes to Mongolian events including festivals such as the Ice Festival which you will experience on this trip. Many westerners would understandably argue that the fairly newly introduced Ice Festival is not an authentic Mongolian festival, as opposed to a Naadam (the traditional sports festival), and dismiss it. However, all traditions were invented and these festivals are a really positive way to encourage local and cottage industries in Mongolia. These rural festivals are a celebration of local community, networking and collaboration to ensure a better future for the region and its community.
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