Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Horseback Trek in Mongolia - Shawn Hamilton - Full Article

Experience Mongolia's horses, culture and endless beauty on a 10-day riding trek.

By Shawn Hamilton | March 29, 2016

In a country more than twice the size of Texas but with a population only the size of Houston, one finds open land, peace and serenity. Just over an hour’s drive outside of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, a piece of paradise awaits discovery from the saddle.

The Mongolian horses live in an almost wild state, have an incredibly smooth gait and seemingly endless endurance. Horses are kept as nature intended, and the herdsmen share a silent connection with them, their unwritten traditions passed down through the generations. On horseback is the perfect way to experience this country.

I watch a herd of 40 horses cross the river that runs through the land owned by Baagii and his wife, Saraa. A mare tied to her foal coaxes it across. Instantly falling in love with this country, I would soon discover that the people are as genuine as its beauty.

The herdsmen live as nomads, moving their portable round houses, called ger, to greener pastures. The wooden accordion-style sides of the ger fold up, the center columns that support the roof slats all come apart, and topped by the felt or canvas shell it lays neatly on a wagon that is often pulled by a yak. Young children fetch water from the river; women milk mares and ferment the liquid to make the famous beverage called airag. Yogurt, cheeses, curds and other food staples are made from yak, sheep, cow and goats' milk. Cashmere is spun from goat hair. The Mongolians of the countryside live a tough yet peaceful and sustainable life off the land.

I arrived at the ranch with tour coordinator Julie Veloo and her husband, Chelvan. Julie met Baagii and Saraa many years ago while living in Mongolia and paired up with them to organize horseback riding adventures. Thirty percent of the profits go to the Children of the Peak Sanctuary, a kindergarten Julie raised money to build in the Ger district of Ulaanbaatar...

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