Mongolia has been without a doubt the one location on my bucket list the longest, followed by Greece and Istanbul. In a period of 15 years I collected several travel books with the intention to visit that year. This year it finally happens!
The first stop is Bayan-Ölgii, West-Mongolia, home to a large community of Kazakhs.
Our tour is organised by Kazakh tours, a local tour organisation. The importance of the word local will soon proof itself in getting close to the people and culture of this wonderful region. We tour with a Russian jeep, accompanied by our driver Adin, cook Eju (what a luxury! and he has his own cooking and restaurant tents) and guide Khirmizi. Because they know the area and people well we have the opportunity to visits families and their gers (nomadic tents), camp at the best spots and fully indulge in local life.
It has to be said, this is not a trip for all. We camp outside for days and yes that means no shower for a week, driving for hours on something you can barely call a road, but it a great experience.
One of these great locations is Khoton Nuur. There are a few nomadic families around here and the most striking in this region is the hospitality and friendliness of the Kazakh nomads. Wherever we go they come to welcome us if we camp close to their ger and invite us for the typical salty milk tea and yoghurt candies. The Kazakh gers are colourful and well decorated with handmade carpets. It is hard to imagine a family of 6 to leave together so closely and the children going out to herd the cows and goat from a very young age.
The nature and nomadic lifestyle are the prime reasons to come to this area, and in particular the eagle hunters appeal. These powerful birds come to full power in winter time, when used for the hunt. In summer they sit outside the ger in a little ren.
Most tourists do not have the opportunity to visits the local markets in Mongolia, also known as Bazaar, probably because the tourist organisations believe it is of little interest to visitors. One of my favourite holiday activities though is to visits markets. I love the simplicity of daily live, the social element to it and the photographic opportunities it provides.
The bazaars in Mongolia are very different from markets I know elsewhere. They begin later in the morning as life tends to develop slowly around here and the market stalls are not as polished. Simple containers open up, car trunks are opened and Russian building blocks open their doors. The meander of stalls at the Ölgii Bazar is colourful and busy, with many Chinese products for sale.
If you visit Mongolia, make sure to add this to your itinerary. It is back to basic and cumbersome to get here, but mostly very welcoming.