Stunning views in Mongolia

This item appears on page 28 of the May 2008 issue.

I went on a very interesting 19-day trip to Mongolia, July 1-19, 2007, with Nomadic Expeditions (Monroe Township, NJ; 800/998-6634, www.nomadic The president of the company is Mongolian-American. They also have an office in downtown Ulaanbaatar.

The cost of the main trip was $3,575, and an extension to the extreme western province in the Altai mountain range cost $1,550. Airfare was not included.

Mongolia is a fascinating place. Approximately half the people in the country live in the capital of Ulaanbaatar and the rest are essentially nomadic. They may move their gers (tent homes) three or four times a year with their herds of sheep, goats, horses, yaks and/or camels, following the grass. There is very little rain.

The landscapes and views are incredible — stark yet beautiful. The primary religion is Buddhism, although there is plentiful evidence (i.e., lots of piles of rocks with offerings and prayer scarves on them) that shamanism is alive and well.

The visit to the Naadam Festival was just one day of the trip, which was enough for me. We went to it in a small village in the Gobi. It was a very hot day. We saw a couple of horse races. The riders are always young children. The wrestling was a highlight, for me. They are pretty rugged guys. They compete on the rough dirt, sand and gravel, so when they get thrown down, it has to hurt.

A visit with a nomadic Kazakh family in the far west was great. They were very welcoming and shared a meal with us. They had a captive golden eagle that they use for hunting during the winter. We were allowed to hold it for photos (with a hood over its eyes to keep it calm). It was very heavy and its talons were very intimidating.

A word of caution — if you have a bad back, I would not take this trip. Most of the roads were very rough and very bumpy. Much of the time they were just tracks across the open countryside. Thank goodness our drivers were excellent.

The trip was marred only by some members of the tour group who, while professing to be world travelers, complained about everything. They didn’t like the Ulaanbaatar Hotel in Ulaanbaatar, which the Lonely Planet guidebook describes as a “splurge,” and they had complaints about every ger camp where we stayed.

They didn’t like the food, the dust, the heat, the guide, the amount of time we spent at the Naadam Festival nor the amount of time it took to find a herd of wild horses in one of the national parks.

They seemed to forget that Mongolia is a developing country and that things are going to be a little rough in the middle of the Gobi Desert!

I might add that we had an excellent guide whose name was Sana, a young woman who spoke beautiful English. She was very knowledgeable about her country and took good care of us. She handled the malcontents in the group with aplomb.


Arlington, VA