My husband and I visited exotic Mongolia for the first time in February, 2009. It was just for a couple of days as a stop, while on our legendary Trans-Mongolian backpacking trip. As soon as we drove out of the city limits of Ulaanbaatar, we were in love with the white landscape, the rocky outcrops, the winter (extreme) chill and then, our beautifully furnished cozy ger in the camp. Even though I was in complete awe of the expanse of the white landscape, I knew I had to come back in the summer to see the green meadows in full bloom.
Two years later, in 2011, when we were expecting our first-born, we watched Babies, a French documentary that follows four newborns through their first year after birth. Two of the babies featured are from urban areas of Tokyo and San Francisco, and the other two are from rural areas of Namibia and Mongolia. Totally fell in love with what life for a baby in Mongolia looked like – completely immersed in nature. For some reason, that movie made me want to go back to Mongolia with the baby in tow.
Image Courtesy: img.over-blog-kiwi.com
Finally, we got an opportunity to travel to Mongolia with both our kids, aged 6 and 3, in September 2017. If you have been guilty of not spending uninterrupted time with the family, this is perfect. Same goes for couples. If you see yourself not spending enough time with each other, I recommend Mongolia for all the catching up and for these top six reasons:
1. BEING OFF THE GRID
Yes, being off the grid made it to the top of my list. Both, my husband and I, had a lot going on at the work front. And suddenly, we were completely off all of it. If you need a digital detox, head to Mongolia, instead of the fancy retreats anywhere else. It’s tried-and-tested for people suffering from self-induced insomnia when you just can’t let go off the device in your hand, even to catch up on sleep. And guess what? Few days of being completely off the grid did not make the sky fall!
2. NATURE IN ALL IT'S BEAUTY
Our camp was three-hours north of Ulaanbaatar, at Jalman Meadows, set in a beautiful pasture, right next to the Tuul River. It’s a part of the Khan Khentii protected area, that stretches all the way up to the Russian-Siberian frontier. You see the lush meadows disappearing into thick forests, at a far distance. I kept drawing parallels to Kashmir that I remember from almost 25 years ago. Gulmarg, Pehelgaun and so many of our weekend picnic places in Kashmir looked a lot like this, with clear streams flowing through, wild flowers and berries just sprouting from the meadows.
We were so fortunate to hike through the meadows and tree clusters for our river rafting experience. We knew it’s a routine activity for the camp, but it seemed like no one’s been here before. Thanks to their – ‘leave no trace’ policy. Surely, there’s cattle, yaks and all the livestock, that has visited and left their environment-friendly traces. Rafting on the Tuul river was a surreal experience. Absolutely gorgeous and nature in all its beauty - glistening water, some dried trees fallen in the river, a nice sunny day, the breeze, us with our two little boys in the middle of the raft, all so scenic and perfect. All we wanted to do was to soak it all in and to live in the moment.
3. COMPLETELY NATURAL MILK PRODUCTS STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE
Image Courtesy: Freestate Productions.
We had a special visit arranged to the nomadic family that stays close to the camp in their own ger, with their livestock. This family provides all the milk to the camp. Didn’t realize how fresh that milk was, until we were back in Singapore, sipping away the milk that we get in cans. The lady of the house actually milked the cow right there infront of us, the camp staff carried it back to the camp and they prepared the milk products - yoghurt, cheese and cream, and served it for the next day’s breakfast. That is as fresh and natural as it gets. There are no chemicals, no pesticides, nothing involved. Hard to expect that in our urban world.
Love this concept - ‘Glamping’ or ‘Glamorous Camping’. Perfect for those who are adventurous enough to get off the beaten path, but also spoilt enough to want clean linen, restaurant food, basic furniture and a shower. I would totally come under this category. At the Jalan Meadows camp or ‘glamp’, they had separate gers for restaurant, kitchen, library, retail store, spa, and communal, yet luxuriously appointed showers. The inside of the gers are mostly authentic with similar fixtures and furniture, used by the nomads as well.
There are glamping opportunities in many locations across the globe, but Mongolia is unique as this is the way of life there. You are simply experiencing the nomadic life first hand, sprinkled with a few conveniences. The campfire at the end of the day, amazing star gazing opportunity, horse riding and meeting other travelers, totally adds to this experience.
5. FOR APPRECIATING THAT DAY-TO-DAY CONVENIENCES COME AT A COST.
This one’s for all the whiners. All the conveniences that urbanism brings to us is mostly taken for granted and we complain about the city life all the time. There’s traffic, there’s pollution, there’s crime, competition is fierce, rents are crazy, it’s a rat race, chemicals and pesticides in our oh-so-expensive food and so on. This is the price we pay for all the modern-day technology and conveniences that city life brings to us.
There in our ger, we had just one small light fixture, that ran on solar cells and a sink with trickles of freezing water. There were also no power outlets in the ger to charge the devices. We stopped caring about the animal waste that was all over the place, which we would otherwise make a big deal of, in our cities. After a few days, we didn’t miss all the little comforts that much, but did come back and appreciate what we got here.
6. TIME TRAVELING
While we witnessed the launch of iPhone X this month, out there, in the Khan Khentii, time stands still. During our trip, there was an instance when a nomadic horse rider rode past us in his traditional Mongolian attire and we felt that we had time traveled to centuries ago. Nothing may have changed for the nomads for generations. They are still working on their livestock, moving around with their GERs, life untouched by technology, not to mention the -30 degrees temperature during winter. Life in nomadic Mongolia is surely not easy, but it’s simple. It’s a completely different world.
While mankind is dreaming of populating Mars, may Mongolia remain the untouched haven that it is.
With the camp staff and the crew of Freestate Productions.
Ever since 2009, wanted to go back to Mongolia just one more time, but instead came back craving for more of it. This back-to-basics lifestyle and escapism is surely addictive!