For globetrotters who have a sense of humour and a desire to explore unchartered territory from a stout Mongol pony, a riding adventure in Mongolia ticks all the boxes, five boxes in fact. And here they are:
As soon as you enter Mongolia whether its via plane or on the Trans-Siberian railway through the Gobi Desert you’re in for a brilliant and startling culture shock. For me, the bigger the culture shock the better. I thrive on travelling to countries that are far removed from my home, don’t you? I love to be challenged, inspired and moved when visiting a new country and Mongolia, ladies and gentleman does exactly that. From day one you’ll dive head first into the Mongolian culture where you’ll sip on ayrag (fermented mare’s milk), wrestle with a local in silk knickers, nibble on bitter tasting cheese made from reindeer milk, sleep beside a pot-belly stove in a Ger, become transfixed by a shaman and swig on vodka while blessing the sky father. Open your mind and you’ll enjoy every single second of this crazy-cat country.
Value for money
This 19-day riding adventure is $3880 USD per person, plus $400 USD for the regional flight. That works out to be $200 per day which includes everything while on your ride except for tips and alcohol. Don’t get me wrong you’re not glamping, but you’ll be comfortable and warm. Throughout the itinerary the accommodation is a mixture of tents, traditional gers and hotel accommodation. Yes, you’ll need to put your own tent up and on parts of the itinerary there aren’t any showers available and your toilet is behind a tree, but still $200 a day is superb value for money. Your meals will be basic and plentiful with many dishes familiar and others as odd in appearance as they are strange in taste. Expect to eat a great deal of mutton and occasionally yak, generally boiled but sometimes fried. Rice, noodles and spuds accompany most meals but vegetables are rare. I always make sure my globetrotters pack a stash of snacks (think chocolate, trail mix, vodka) for those moments when you just can’t face another bowl of mutton.
To attend a local Naadam Festival is the jewel in the crown of this jam-packed riding adventure. Naadam is a traditional type of festival held in country towns during the midsummer holidays. Translated as ‘the three games of men’, it includes Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. Yes, you’ll be jealous that you can’t pelt across the steppe with the fearless child jockeys who ride bareback, but you’ll be awestruck by this national festival.
Within the 19-day itinerary, you leave the support vehicle and load your gear onto pack horses and head north towards the Russian border in the hope of finding the Tsaatan people and spending two nights in their camp. The Tssatan are a tiny ethnic minority who occupy the borderlands of northern Mongolia with a lifestyle surrounding the reindeer. The Tsaatan (reindeer people) live in tipi like tents, ride the taiga on their reindeer, are shamanists and are the rough equivalent of Native Americans in North America. Their culture and traditional lifestyle is a HUGE highlight within this adventure. For me, its my favourite part of the itinerary.
First of all, these aren’t your prettily, groomed horses that you find at home. Mongol horses are used for work and transport, this is their primary purpose. They’re not fed carrots, rugged or even given a name. That’s not to say that these horses aren’t well cared for, as that’s paramount to us (and you). I personally loved these horses with their raggedy coats and punk rocker manes. Don’t underestimate these horses, Genghis Khan certainly didn’t and he nearly conquered the entire world astride this breed. Need I say more!