I used to think I lived in the Wild West, in the “Last Best Place” known as “Big Sky Country” in Montana. But having just returned from AdventureWomen’s trip, Mongolia: In Search of Dragons and Eagles – Journey to the Land of the World’s Last Nomads, NOW I get it. After experiencing the vast wildness of Mongolia’s most western province, Bayan-Ulgii in the Altai Mountains, and the glorious Gobi Desert, I have to admit that Montana takes a close second to the “last best place of big skies”.
Soon after arriving in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaan Bataar (aka UB) our group took a 3 hour flight to Ulgii, where the Golden Eagle Festival is held every year in early October.
A celebration of an ancient tradition, the Golden Eagle Festival is the art of hunting with trained golden eagles. The celebration begins with a parade of about 60 hunters on horseback with their eagles. Many ethnic groups are represented, with the Kazakhs being the most prevalent.
Watching these hunters dressed in traditional clothing, riding the small, but powerful, Mongolian horse with their beautiful golden eagles perched on their arms, was the experience of a lifetime!
We stayed in a traditional ger camp outside Ulgii. Can you imagine being completely toasty in a round house wrapped in felt, a fireplace in the middle, as temperatures dropped to below freezing at night? These lovely round houses are called “gers” in Mongolia.
Approximately 800,000 Mongolians live in these “movable” homes. As the seasons change, the nomadic herders pack up their ger(s) and move lock, stock and barrel, frequently on camel back, to a more favorable place for themselves and their livestock!
Being in Mongolia was like time traveling to the farthest-most reaches of the earth. While I know this will change over time, Mongolia’s outlying regions remain untouched by the tourism that is so prevalent in most of the world today.
I’ve been told that Mongolia is a lot like the Montana of 150 + years ago. Now, at the Eagle Festival in the Altai Mountains as the dust rises from horses hooves, and young men fight a seemingly no rules tug-of-war over a headless sheep or goat, I am suddenly there, in that time…the dust of the wild west sweeping over me.
Traveling next from the Altai mountains to the Gobi desert, another type of awe occurred. Not only did we find ancient dinosaur bones in Tugrigin Shiree (bones of a baby Protoceratops…yes, we did!), we climbed sand dunes and visited the Flaming Cliffs, where Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews in 1922 discovered the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen!
After a day of adventures, we arrived at our camp – the luxurious Three Camel Lodge. Named one of the top 50 eco-lodges on earth, this beautiful set of gers sits below ancient petroglyphs in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
The nighttime sky was bright with stars and the Milky Way…the daytime sun was brilliant…the winds of the world touched all of us on this magnificent visit to Mongolia.
I still love Montana, and not even the beauty of Mongolia can change that for me. But experiencing Mongolia has given me another perspective – perhaps a greater view of our world – or just maybe the fortunate chance to experience life in a place untouched by Western culture, with a brilliant sky and a silence not often found in the world.
For those of you who did not get to experience this wonder, I hope you will get to, someday soon…
By Rebecca Hintze, AdventureWomen Associate
To see a full photo gallery from this trip by Rebecca, please click here: Mongolia Photo Gallery