Mongolia by horseback

Roger Emanuels

July 2004

 A listing in the Sierra Club magazine caught my attention. The thought of riding a horse across the plains of Mongolia was an experience that had to be realized. Boojum Expeditions was our guide for the trip.

Mongolia represents a culture with a long and colorful history. Many people still live a nomadic life, in harmony with their environment. As they move their herds of livestock, the grasslands are renewed and preserved for future grazing. Mongolia is a democratic republic located between Russia and China.

Our trip began with a flight from the capital of Ulaan Baator to Khatgal on the southern tip of Lake Huvsgol (see box on map) at about 5,500 feet elevation. The lake is 136 km long and 30 km wide. Ninety-six rivers flow into the lake, but only one flows out. The Egiin River flows to the Selenge River, which flows north to Lake Baikal in Siberia.

We lodged at a ger camp on the lake. Each ger accomodates three people with comfortable beds containing sheets and blankets. A wood burning stove in the center keeps the ger dry and warm. Gers have wood frames covered with felt and canvas and have been used for centuries.

We travelled northwest for two days by vehicle over a muddy track on the plains. Vehicles are the most uncomfortable way to travel in Mongolia, and we dreamed of riding horses soon. Even a camel would be an improvement. We stopped to visit this family. They were as entertained by our visit as we were to see their environment. They had a large number of livestock, including camel, horse, sheep, goat, and probably yak. Milk curd is drying on the top of the ger, and they were generously offered to us. They are hard to chew, and the flavor is mild and tasty. We pitched our tents on the steppe that night.

Still on the road (?!) to Renchinlhumbe.
Note the flock of sheep and goats on the hillside below the forest.

These grasslands are covered with wildflowers, many of them edelweiss.
This is a typical scene of where we were riding on most days,
in the Darhat Valley with the Saridag mountains in the background.

Yak remind me of a poodle with a bad hair day.
In the background is the Boojum compound at Renchinlhumbe
where we stayed in gers for three days of the Naadam festival.

Horse racing is the most popular sport, but only young boys participate.
They ride bareback and barefoot.

This was my sweet buttermilk horse for eight consecutive days

We met up with the Tsaatan, a Tuvan-speaking group of people not far from the Russian border. They live in canvas teepees and herd reindeer for their milk. Our tents are in the background. This is at about 8,000 feet elevation, above the tree line.

Reindeer grunt like pigs.
Their antlers are warm to the touch, as blood is circulating through them.

End of day 4 on the trail, at a log cabin in Hogrog. Mishig is carving the mutton bones for us, while nearby is a bowl full of delicious fresh yogurt. He was governor of the aimag (province) during the socialist period and claims he knows every resident over the age of 18 by name. This is a family's sleeping quarters, temporarily serving as a dining room for some tired riders. We will sleep in tents nearby.


A typical rest or lunch stop.
The Mongolian wrangler would sit down and borrow Carolyn's music player and headphones.

Wildflowers were at their peak of color. There were dozens of different flowers and colors.

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