“What do you mean by three days on horseback? I have never ridden a horse before!… I know nothing about horses… and these are not horses from a riding school; they are more like wild horses…. ” If you have the same reaction, just don’t think about it at all and go for it… it will be amazing!
So… I went on this amazing Mongolian Adventure in a group of ten and it was really fun and most importantly, the scenery was nothing like I had ever seen before…
About traveling in a group:
I usually travel solo or with one or two friends. This was one of my rare times exploring with such a big group. I did arrive earlier than the group and stayed longer in Ulaanbaatar though. The group was formed mostly of people who would join Meetups in Bangkok and I knew some people already from my favorite Meetup group, which was about hiking and outdoors.
The fun part about being in a big group in Mongolia is that you get to enjoy activities like setting up a campfire, playing group games during the cold evenings, singing under the stars (there is always someone who plays an instrument), go river bathing together while camping in remote places, etc… There was limited Internet connection (or no connection at all) and no electricity in most places…
This “three-day horse riding” adventure was part of a seven-day itinerary.
7am: Getting ready for the adventure…
It was another beautiful summer day in Mongolia: clear blue skies and the sun was shining brightly! Summer is the perfect time to visit.
The night before, we slept in traditional Mongolian tents called “ger”. In the morning, our guides prepared breakfast for us while we packed our belongings. We were asked to pack only the essentials for three full days. The campsite where we slept the night before was located in Orkhon valley (very close to Orkhon waterfall) and they happily stored our big bags for us as the owner of the campsite was the one arranging our horse-riding trip.
Note that it gets chilly at night during summer; so you need to pack some warm clothes especially if you plan to sleep in tents…
As we sat outside our gers sipping hot tea, we wondered: “Our bags are ready but what about us ? are we ?…”
It took quite some time to load the luggage and especially the equipment (tents, kitchen equipment etc) on the horses to ensure that everything was properly balanced on both sides…
“You, come on, it’s your turn”… oh yeah, It was my turn to meet my horse… I was excited but a bit scared as well…
The horseman said something to the guide who translated “this horse does not like white and pale colors; that’s why you get to ride it”…. hmm, not sure what to think about that!
What he did not mention was that they were assigning horses according to your character (just kidding) but seriously, I felt that my horse was really designated based on my temperament. I got a stubborn horse and hard to tame (my character). However, after lots of efforts and spending hours together, my horse slowly started to melt… and we finally became friends… He was letting go of his control freak side and I could manage him better (or was he just pretending ? ).
To be honest, my friends also seemed to have horses that matched their characters… strange thing ! Or was it just my imagination ? We will never know…
Instructions… listen carefully!
The horsemen were very strict about the instructions and little mistakes on our side could scare our horses and/or neighboring horses and result in us falling down or an injury.
We were all really attentive.
So… Nothing loose: jackets to be closed, no cameras hanging, water bottles properly stored, scarves etc properly tucked in (forget about that IG post with wind in your hair and a flying scarf while you are riding in the Mongolian vast lands…)
It was finally time to leave…
All set and we left; with the chief horseman leading. No one was supposed to overtake him; we had to follow his pace. We were also asked to control our horses – Not only their speed but also with every stream that we crossed, they wanted to drink water and every nice meadow we passed through, they wanted to graze…
“How the hell do I learn to control a horse after just five minutes of riding ?” 😛
We started by walking and then trotting; we were not allowed to let our horses gallop. It felt strange at first but then you get used to it. The only time I ever rode a horse was when I was a teen and it was on the beach in Mauritius; more of a leisure walk on smooth sand that cannot be compared to this adventure!
I could not take photos using my camera during horse riding as it would be too bumpy, it would not be safe as well: I could fall off or the camera could scare the horse and it would go running wild…
Our guides were acting as the horse policemen and would keep monitoring us to see if we had nothing loose, flying around and also asking us to control the speed of the horses when they would start going too fast.
We spent the first few hours before lunch crossing streams and meadows, and enjoying the amazing scenery of the ever changing grasslands. It was magical.
We were awakened from this dream when we stopped for lunch: got off the horses and we could barely walk… We had to stretch our legs. Not an issue as we had plenty of space to walk or even go on a small hike while lunch was being freshly prepared by the riverside.
The lunch spot was absolutely amazing…
After a hot lunch, we got back on our horses and started riding in the direction of our campsite for that night. We felt more confident about riding by this time. I started to better understand my horse too.
The perfect location to spend the night…
Our guides chose this spot sheltered from winds, amongst thousands of cute flowers blooming, surrounded by trees and a river not too far away. The location made us feel as if we were in a movie.
While our guides and horsemen started setting up the tents (they did not want us to help them), we explored around a bit.
After a long day of horse riding, a “shower” was badly needed and this was not for the faint hearted. The river was shallow but we managed to find small pond like areas that were deeper for our much needed “bath time” and it was freaking cold…
But we guessed that the cold water helped for blood circulation as we were not as sore as expected the next morning.
Food was again freshly prepared and we had hot tea, hot soups, meat, local pasta and veggies for dinner. We played some games after dinner but everyone was tired and we all retired early to our tents.
I slept like a baby that night. Our tents were huge (single or double, depending on how you were travelling) We were provided with clean and warm sleeping bags. I had packed my own silk liner for the sleeping bag, my inflatable sleeping pad, a small camping pillow and my fleece pyjamas for extra comfort.
8am the next morning: it’s time for another cold “bath”
For those of use who love to have morning showers, we tried to be brave and went down to the river. It was around 5 degrees celsius outside and the water was cold. We had carried natural soaps and toothpaste tabs that would not affect the water.
I also brought my mug of steaming hot tea to the river with me to help deal with the cold water.
Our “bravery” paid off and we felt awakened and fresh; ready for another full day of horse riding and exploring the lakes.
It’s time to discover the area of the “Eight lakes”
We did not pack that morning as we would use the same camp site for the second night. Some horsemen stayed back to look after the tents and belongings. It was a cloudy day but the scenery was totally different from the first day. There were more wetlands and small hills to cross on our way to the lakes.
We came across a few other travelers who were also doing a horse-trip and saw very few people on the way. We reached the area of the lakes by lunch time and walked around. The first lake was huge and the views were stunning.
We got to stretch out legs and then came back to a ger, where our guides were preparing a hot lunch of noodle soup.
After lunch, the weather seemed to be getting worse and we did not continue to explore more lakes or do any fishing and as it was wiser to go back to the camp site in case there would be heavy rain.
We again crossed different types of terrains: from rocky paths to wetlands and we could see lots of small flowers blooming as well.
Dinner was also freshly prepared by our guides while all of us walked around to collect wood to create a campfire. A couple had set their tent nearby and we invited them to join the campfire. After dinner, our guides sang traditional Mongolian songs; it was so blissful… sitting around the fire with music and later watching thousands of stars in the sky.
Third day and it’s time to go back…
This is when we finally felt totally comfortable managing with our horses…. and unfortunately it was the last day of horse riding.
After breakfast we packed and dismounted the tents. Everything got loaded on the horses and we were all set to leave.
After our lunch break, the leader decided to split us into two groups: one that was comfortable with going fast and one that preferred walking and trotting. I was feeling feeling confident by this time and I wanted to “feel the wind in my hair” and therefore opted for the fast group. I could not wait to test the speed of my horse.
The fast group was led by the chief horseman. The horses all knew that they were going back home and they were excited. (It’s the same for us humans as well. Whenever we return home after a trip or after living abroad for some time, doesn’t out heart start racing as that flight begins to land ?)
Our horses galloped. This time our guides were not asking us to control the speed but they were pushing the horses to go faster.
I will never forget that feeling of happiness, of joy, of speed, of freedom – it was so nice I felt like crying!
Our guides and horseman were competing with each other and we were happy to join the race.
And the last stream was crossed…
The horses started going even faster…
In the blink of an eye, it was all over… We reached the campsite for that third night!
What started with a mix of excitement and apprehension finally ended with so much joy and freedom; and some nostalgia already.
Back to the campsite in Orkhon Valley, we were welcomed by a double rainbow.
It was just amazing: no words, no photos, no videos will do justice to this experience – you have to live it to really understand it…. Ending with a big smile here 😉
Have you been to Mongolia ? Are you planning to Visit Mongolia? Share your comments below…