The Gobi Steppe Ride, Mongolia.
A trail ride through grasslands and sand-dunes of the Gobi desert in Outer Mongolia to raise funds for the BHS, Welfare.
Mongolia, or “Outer Mongolia” as it is erroneously known, is an independent country sandwiched between Siberia (Russia) and China. The Chinese state of Inner Mongolia, is just that, a Chinese state. The big influence on Mongolia in recent decades has been Russia, rather than China. In fact, many Mongolians aged 25 and older were taught in Russian when they were at school, so the Russian language and influence, though waning, remains strong.
Mongolia is a country of the steppes: wide, open grasslands equivalent to the prairies in North America. Europe contains no equivalent. It is one of the highest countries in the world with an average elevation of 1,580 m. In the north there are three mountain ranges – the Khangai, Khentii and the Khuvsgul Sayany Range. The southern third of the country is dominated by the Gobi Desert, which is where we’re heading.
Getting there: London via Moscow to Ulaan Baatar, the capital.
Terrain: this is the original “wilderness experience”! This part of the Gobi is nomad country with families and clans tending their flocks of sheep, horses, camels and yaks. Wide open grassland (steppes) some big rivers and forest areas. Frequent level sections with smooth trails for a faster pace. Riders should be happy to get over natural obstacles such as rivers, gullies and dips.
Pace: walk; 50% trot: 35%; canter/gallop 15%.
Horse Breed: the horse in Mongolia is the Mongolian Horse! What its origins are, are less easy to pin down. Records go back to 2,000 BC making it one of the oldest breeds around. Genetic research shows this breed has the greatest genetic variety of all horse breeds, which suggests an ancient strain with minimal human selection. Furthermore, its genes crop up in a large number of modern breeds.
Despite is modest stature (14 hh to 14.2 hh) it is a horse, not a pony. It is also tough as tin tacks, sure-footed and faithful. There are all sorts of anecdotes about this breed, but the one that most surprises me is that during the horses races at the Naadam Festival, where the jockeys include children as young as 4 yrs, the horses are trained to gallop for 35 Km, which is staggering. Even more surprising is that if a jockey is dislodged the horse continues at full speed. The owner would rather have the winning horse, than the winning rider! Interesting philosophy on teaching kids to ride!
Whilst on the subject, and because we’re going to Mongolia, we ought to mention Przewalski’s Horse, which comes from the Asian steppe and is a true wild horse, as distinct to a feral horse. It was extinct in the wild but has been reintroduced to Khan Khentii from breeding programmes in China and southern France. We should see them on this trek.
The horses live outdoors throughout the year (plus 3o in summer to minus 40 in winter.) There are three million horses in Mongolia – more than the human population.
Tack: we decided not to use the traditional Mongolian saddle – which is made of wood! The tack is based on English tack.
Rider’s involvement: riders will need to groom and tack your horse; untack during breaks. Guides available to advise and assist as necessary.
Rider’s weight: 95 Kg.
The support structure for our expedition is local herdsmen with their riding horses and packhorses. The packhorses and camel carts carry tents, personal luggage and camp equipment. We ride cross-country and camp in the wild. Our trailfinder is a local herdsman who spends the winters with his herds around The Jalman Meadows, an 8-hour ride away, near Hagiin Har Nuur. A “ger” is the traditional tent made from felt (which is beaten sheep and camel wool) to withstand the acute Siberian winters (synonymous with “yurt”).
Day 1. Wed 24th Aug 2016.
Meet at Heathrow for the flight to Moscow. Arrive Moscow and continue on to Ulan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia (overnight).
Day 2. Thur 25th Aug
Arrive Ulan Baatar in the morning. Transfer to the hotel. Free afternoon to settle in. Trip briefing in the evening with dinner at a local restaurant. (L & D). Overnight in hotel.
July and August have both rains and heat waves! If it rises above 35º and there’s no wind, there might be a lot of horse flies, and this may effect the route choice on the day. If it’s rainy, streams might flood, which will again effect route choice.
Day 3. Fri 26th Aug
Morning departure by car for southern Tov out on the steppes, where sometimes Argali Sheep (Ovis Ammon) can be seen. Argali are the largest wild sheep in the world. We are now on the Gobi grasslands, which are green steppes after rains, and desert-like in times of drought. Meet the local camel and horse herdsmen and select your horse. Trial rides around camp and if you wish to change horse and try something else, that’s fine, there are plenty to choose from. (Camping. All meals)
Day 4. Sat 27th Aug
Today we head out across the Steppe to Saran Tolgoy. There is a good chance of seeing small herds of gazelle in this area which are undisturbed by the horses. Full day riding; approx 20 Km. (Camping. All meals included.)
Day 5. Sun 28th Aug After breakfast ride towards Manhan Sands (approx 4 hrs) out on the Gobi grasslands. This area of sand dunes has been driven by westerly winds to form an island of sand amongst the grassland. Explore the dunes and ride on to Elsen Hudag; “hudag” is Mongolian for “well” and this is a great opportunity to meet the local camel and horse herdsmen who camp around the well. (25 Km. Camping. All meals included).
Day 6. Mon 29th Aug
Continue riding across the Steppe to the uninhabited area called Uushig. The most notable feature in this area are the wind-sculptured rock formations and we pitch camp at the foot. A great area to wander around and explore on foot as the sun sets turning the rocks a flame-red colour. (25 Km. Camping. All meals).
Day 7. Tue 30th Aug
This morning has a very different scene to see: we ride to a lake with the impressive name of Hariin Nuur. If you’re a birder you are sure to see some unusual species here such as the loon (looks like a small goose but is entirely unrelated). There are several lakes here and they function as islands of water in an ocean of grass for the migrating birds. We make camp here.
(25 Km. Camping. All meals included).
Day 8. Wed 31st Aug
This morning we ride through an area of transition: we cross grassland, semi-arid areas, sand and firmer stretches with towering rock formations. This will be the longest day in the saddle (30 Km) and the goal is the rocky outcrop known as Zorgol Hairhan where we make camp. (30 Km. Camping. All meals included).
Day 9. Thur 1st Sept
Zorgol Hairhan is such a dramatic and starkly beautiful spot that we will spend a second night here. There will be rides to explore the formations and hidden areas that surround Zorgol. (15 Km. Camping. All meals)
Day 10. Fri 2nd Sept
The goal for this evening is a bit of luxury, a semi-permanent ger camp. [The Turkish “yurt” and Mongolian “ger” are the same thing, a timber structure covered in felt made from sheep and camel wool. The whole thing is portable and very cozy.] The ride is quite long, nearly 30 Km but this evening we sleep in the cozy warmth of the ger is little cot-beds. The ger is near Arburd Sands which is an area popular at this time of year with families of Nomads. It’s amazing to see how the nomads keep their flocks separate from one another without the use of fences. (30 Km. Ger camp. All meals).
Day 11. Sat 3rd Sept
Arburd Sands is a single sand dune that is 20 Km long. Today we explore the dune on horseback. Return to the ger camp for overnight. (12 Km. Ger camp. All meals).
Day 12. Sun 4th Sept
Bid farewell to the horses and guides and drive back to Ulan Bataar. The afternoon is free in the capital for a spot of souvenir shopping. (Overnight hotel. All meals incl.)
Day 13. Mon 5th Sept
Transfer to the airport for the flight back to London (via Moscow). Arrive Heathrow same day.
The itinerary Includes:
English and Mongol speaking guide throughout the journey.
Accommodation in shared twin rooms / tents / ger. They are generally twin gers, with the possibility of some triples.
Entrance fees to national parks and monuments.
Horses & tack.
One local doctor with first aid kit as part of crew. Local medevac service to Ulan Baatar.
Please bring: Own hard hats, short chaps and sleeping bag.
Accommodation (Based on twin share.)
Family run hotel x 2 nights
In camp (tents) x 7 nights
Ger camp x 2 nights
(plus one night in flight)
Distance from urban areas: nearest medical facilities are in Ulaan Baatar.
Cross-cultural awareness: the major religion is Buddhism and the main garment is the “del”, a long one-piece gown made from wool, Mongolians can differentiate ethnic groups from the colour and shape of their del. Buddhism was repressed under the Russians but is enjoying a revival. Tourism is developing in Mongolia but it is still a little-visited destination, so be prepared to be the odd-one-out!
Guides: a representative from Venture Co and from the BHS accompany the ride.