Many of our top journeys involve immersive cultural encounters that leave us awestruck and we’re currently loving a new Mongolian horse-trekking adventure for doing just that! Led by renowned photographer and Mongolia expert Thomas Kelly, this phenomenal adventure through the “Land of Blue Skies” offers you a chance to explore an immense, silent wilderness and get to the heart of Mongolia’s nomadic culture. You can also take part in some more unusual multisport activities—from walking to yoga, horseback riding to fly-fishing! You can even brush up on your calligraphy skills. To learn more about Mongolian horse-trekking, we turned to our guide Thomas Kelly and his team to give us the top 10 reasons to take this trip.
1. Be With Horses
Witnessing how a different culture interacts with horses is an eye-opening experience and Mongolian horses are an integral part of the nomadic way of life. Fortified by generations of breeding for function, not form, these horses are strong, responsive, and spirited—as tough as the people that ride them. With an incredible capacity to travel over varied terrain with exceptional stamina, these horses are easily capable of traveling long distances at speed. Mongolian horsemen take great pride in their horses, and see them as an extension of themselves and their families. Their livelihood depends on them. We love working closely with the nomadic people and their horses to help keep their lifestyle alive. It is one of the last remaining true horse cultures.
2. Encounter Nomadic Culture
To experience the nomadic way of life in Mongolia is to delight in a return to simplicity. Realizing the impact of a connection with nature and community. Mongolian Nomads are an exceptionally welcoming group of people, willing to share their culture, food, song, or conversation. The culture is such that one can easily knock on the door of a ger and be welcomed in by perfect strangers and share their milk tea and cheeses. The harsh lifestyle means that nomads have to stand together, helping one another. It is a lifestyle unaffected by the more individual based stresses of city life. And it is a cultural experience that is getting increasingly more difficult to witness.
3. Witness Naadam Festivities
Naadam takes place every summer in Mongolia, pitting men and boys against each other in age-old contests of manliness and physical prowess. Young men train all year to compete in the three events: bareback horse racing, wrestling, and archery. These ‘three manly arts’ are an extension of the military training used for centuries by Mongolian clans. Wrestling is the national pastime and includes no weight divisions, so the biggest are often the best. All winter long, nomads in our region think about horse races and train to win. Jockeys between the ages of 5 and 12 race in open countryside from 15 to 30km. Their winning horses are called tumniiekh—“leader of 10,000.” Riders and spectators rush to comb the sweat off the best horses and winning horses are sprinkled with mare’s milk as traditional songs eulogizing the horse are sung. Witness the excitement close-up, taking photographs in the middle of the action and even trying out some of the sports.
4. Stay in a Ger
Gers are elemental and simple eco-camps, rather like ships of the Mongolian steppe that leave as little trace on the land as possible. Staying in a ger offers another return to simplicity and a way to live authentically (and rather luxuriously) off the grid. It is a place to truly enjoy the quiet spaces of wilderness, and shed excess needs and desires. Gers are made of wood and canvas, with a flap cover that is pulled closed during rain and open to let sunlight and ventilation in during the day. Guests are provided individual gers, with single, double or twin beds, wood burning stove, washing sink and wooden shelves for clothes. Our staff are from the local nomadic community, our meals are simple homemade, and it is a great way for guests with pioneering spirits to discover and appreciate the way of life here in the Bunkhan Valley.
5. Ride Horseback
There is nothing like riding horseback to really bond with the mighty horses of the Mongolian steppe. We ride twice-daily (most days) on our horse-trekking adventure, accompanied by seasoned horse wrangler Stephanie Chase Miller, who guides us through an unbelievably vast and fence-less landscape. Chase Miller will also instruct those eager to learn the finer points of horse riding, and ensure that guests are fitted with the right saddle and paired with horse that matches their ability level. By Day 4, guests’ core, and confidence level is strong as we begin our 4-day horse trek to Vulture and Mandal Mountain. You will also cross the beautiful Tamir river, see a landscape studded with 3,000 year-old burial mounds, and visit welcoming nomads inside their gers to sample delicious dairy products and locally stilled vodka. It’s an incredible horse-trekking experience!
6. Take a Photography Lesson
Thomas Kelly is lead guide on our horse-trekking adventure and a tenured National Geographic photographer. He offers daily individual and group lessons in the morning to capture the magic dawn light. In addition to snapping shots of the landscape, photography is a great way to immerse yourself in the nomadic way of life. You can capture them milking their yaks and horse mares, watch horses being broken, step inside the nomad gers and witness them making dairy products, and you can even practice photographing portraits. The Mongolian light is sublime to work with.
7. Walk in Nature
Lace up your walking shoes and enjoy an early morning walk through the Bunkhan Valley hills, as eagles, bearded vultures, demoiselle cranes and Siberian ducks fly above you. If you’re a flower lover, you’ll be in heaven as you cross undulating meadows filled with wild flowers: edelweiss, aster, gentian, poppies, wild geranium, burnett, delphinium, and larksburg. You’ll also wake up to herds of horses, yaks, sheep and goats grazing outside your ger!
8. Learn About Buddhism
Those interested in learning about Buddhism will have two wonderful opportunities in Mongolia. During our visit to Erdensuu Monastery, we’ll be welcomed to a private audience with Lama Basansuren (pictured), the head Lama at Erdensuu, and credited with Buddhist revival in Mongolia. As well as an introduction to Buddhism and its history in Mongolia, he’ll engage in a helpful question and answer session. We will also set out for a silent walk up Mandal Mountain and attend a Buddhist ceremony at a sacred ovoo at the mountaintop. Over 50% of Mongolians practice Buddhism and the earliest introduction of Buddhism into the Mongolian steppes took place during the periods of the nomadic empires, over 1,000 years ago.
9. Go Fly Fishing
The pristine Tamir River flows beside our camp and daily fly-casting lessons are offered by our fishing guide Yogi (fishing gear is provided). Lennok and greyling are plentiful, and we practice catch and release most of the time—though occasionally we keep a few for barbecuing in the evening. This is another great opportunity to let the world fade away as you become focused solely on the act of catching a fish, whether you are a beginner or a serious angler.
10. Rise for Yoga
Awake for morning yoga in one of the most serene landscapes in the world. Feel your body come alive as you stretch your muscles in the fresh air and prepare your body for horse riding. Yoga sessions are also provided by Stephanie Chase Miller after horse riding to help you loosen up after a day in the saddle. This trip nourishes the whole you!