Our PR Manager, Stella Blackwell, gives us an insight into her experience of visiting Mongolia and why there is so much more to the country than just the "must-see" sights:
Ever since I was captivated by the BBC’s ‘Edge of Blue Heaven’ series 14 years ago, I have been keen to visit Mongolia. Watching Benedict Allen’s remarkable journey across the immense country, I was struck by the blue skies, wide open spaces and the nomadic culture that is still so endemic in people’s lives.
In preparation for my trip, the more research I did, the more I realised quite how ‘unvisited’ the country is as I could find very little information about what to expect. All sorts of concerns started popping into my head: What would it be like staying in gers for so much of the holiday? What would the food be like? What would the toilets be like? Would I suffer on the long journeys?
My concerns soon evaporated with the peace and tranquillity of our first camp in the Gobi Desert - the gers were bathed in a stunning light; you could see for miles around and the vast skies lived up to my high expectations. As the trip progressed, it really struck me that Mongolia isn’t so much a destination of ‘must-see’ sights, it is a country to absorb in a way that is difficult to put into words. Mongolian culture and landscapes are so different from anywhere else in the world and it feels like a huge privilege to experience them. My lasting memories are things like the smell of feverfew, camomile and thyme in the grass everywhere; the flowers and butterflies in meadows, reminiscent of England 100 years ago; the stunning settings of the ger camps, miles from anywhere with no noise except for the remarkable bird life; the incongruous satellite dishes outside nomadic gers. The food didn’t disappoint either - it was impressive to see what could be cooked in a little ger, miles from anywhere! Vegetarians in our group were well looked after. The journeys were another big highlight for me and the novelty of driving across landscapes with no roads or visible tracks never wore off – we had no idea how the driver knew where he was going!
The preservation of tradition is fundamental to Mongolian culture and it is especially intrinsic to Naadam – a colourful festival of wrestling, horse racing and archery. Customers keen to incorporate Naadam into their trip to Mongolia have asked me whether it’s better to book a trip incorporating the Ulaan Baatar or Karakorum Naadam Festival. My response is that it entirely depends on personal preference. The Ulaan Baatar festival has all the pomp and majesty of a hugely impressive national festival. A flexible outlook is required for the Karakorum Naadam as the dates of this can alter at a moment’s notice. This was the case on our trip, but turned out to be no disappointment as it was a huge privilege to share the celebrations with the tiny village of Bayan Gol.
Mongolia is an extremely special place that truly gets under your skin. I never expected (or dared to hope) that the stereotypes of the country would be quite so accurate and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
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