Mongolia cultural tour, Nomads of Khangai Mountains
Description of Mongolia cultural tour, Nomads of Khangai Mountains
Mongolia is built from three ecological regions: desert, mountain and steppe. This cultural holiday explores the mountain and forest steppes of the Khangai, where the shape of the land shapes Mongolians’ way of life.
You’ll spend six days on a wilderness horse trek steered by a Mongolia guide from a local herding family. They know the landscape like the back of their hand, so the local holiday company that designs this trip is wise enough to leave the route in his capable hands. It leaves flexibility for detours to any interesting happenings in this landscape of valleys, lava fields, larch and pine forests, mountaintops, steppe and subalpine meadow. Your guide will try to include the popular Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes), but might choose to visit another – more peaceful – spot if there are too many visitors.
A highlight is the Yak Festival. It’s not a traditional festival – it’s designed to promote tourism and showcase the herders' way of life – but locals organise it, and the Mongolian herding families are a lively lot as they come together to celebrate their community with each other and visitors.
All along the way, you can travel safe in the knowledge that you’re in the hands of holiday specialists who take protecting Mongolian culture very seriously. You won’t observe local families, but stay among them. You won’t be told about the landscapes, but explore them with a local herder. This cultural holiday to Mongolia is carefully designed to support the rural communities that you’re visiting – while offering you an incomparable adventure.
1 Reviews of Mongolia cultural tour, Nomads of Khangai Mountains
Reviewed on 20 Jul 2018 by Myriam Schulze
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
Staying with the families
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Travel light, be open minded and take every challenge as an adventure that will become a trip story.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
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 my responsible travel philosophy for our Nomads of the Khangai itinerary where we can show real evidence of our practise.
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 Mongolia experience, you will also receive such a tote bag.
Also, you can book knowing that we finance our own three-day rubbish collection at Terekhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park in Mongolia where you will be staying yourselves for three days. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been organising this event for the previous two years.
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 - especially your stay with Tumee and Jargaa and their family at the Orkhon River or Monkhoo at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur. We are not an overwhelming presence - on the local communities or the local environment.
Our itineraries and departures
My philosophy is to have a limited amount 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.
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 specific 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. Tumee and Jargaa 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.
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.
First up, 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 and provide a Lifesaver carbon filter and an Adventurer Steripen in each vehicle.
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. They 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.
In 2017 we started working 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 donated towards the Mongolian well-project run by CAMDA (Cambridge Mongolia Development Appeal) that we support. This NGO directly supports Mongolia’s herders.
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. 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 Kharkhorin. 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.’
From my perspective, non-Mongolians often get very caught up in notions of authenticity when it comes to Mongolian events including festivals such as the Yak Festival which you will experience on this trip. Many westerners would understandably argue that the fairly newly introduced Yak 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 herding community.
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. We have given photo albums to the Monkhoo, Tumee and Tomorbat and families - all families you will stay with on this trip. They often bring them out to show you!
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