|Mongolia 2007 with Happy Camel
July 17 - August 9
Mongolia is the least populated country in the world. The population of the country is 2.5 million. The country is twice the size
of Texas. Approximately one-third of the population of Mongolia lives crammed together in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar,
another one-third lives in the villages and cities of the country, and one-third live the nomadic life that has existed in Mongolia
for thousands of years. Our three week jeep tour of Mongolia would concentrate on the nomadic part of Mongolia. After a one
day rest in Ulaanbaatar, we set off on a 2,300 mile a bumpy drive through Mongolia, mostly on jeep trails.
Our brochure stated: "Happy Camel invites you to discover the natural and cultural wonders of Mongolia, one of the last
remaining seldom-explored countries. Largely inaccessible to the Western world until only recently, Mongolia offers a rare
glimpse into an ancient nomadic culture that has changed little over the centuries. The traveller will discover this untouched
country by exploring the rare combination of ancient traditions of Buddhism, nomadic horse-based culture and natural
beauties such as the high mountains, the grasslands and the desert region." Bernard, the Belgium owner of Happy Camel and
a resident of Ulaanbaatar, warned that guides will be "semi-professional" as the short season only permits them to guide
part-time. For the most part, there would be no roads, only jeep trails carved out by jeeps from animal and human trails that
had existed for thousands of years. We would have our own private guide and driver and stay in Ger camps at night. Below
are links to the various web pages about our trip to Mongolia. If you wish to read the full narrative, click on the link to
Ulaanbaatar. At the end of each page there is a link to the subsequent page in the narrative.
The trip begins.
I want to thank Happy Camel for giving us such a nice trip. Tuja for organizing the trip. Maggi for working hard to give us a
good time. Our driver, Soronzon, who knows all the unmapped jeep trails in Mongolia and safely navigated us some 2300 miles
from Ulaanbaatar to the most southern and northern points of Mongolia. Also, Bernard, the Belgian owner of Happy Camel and
Chez Bernard in Ulaanbaatar.
I recommend Happy Camel for two reasons. First, they put together a well organized trip and they have an incredible selection
of activities in Mongolia including horse trips, camel trips, canoing, and motorcycling. Beyond the quality of the trips, they are
very reasonable. Our trip included accommodations for 21 days and meals for 19 days, a private English speaking guide and
a driver, and an upgrade from a Russian jeep to an air conditioned Japanese SUV, all for $2,550 a person. You will definitely
see a country better on a private tour rather than be herded in a group. And you will save money by not dealing with a
bureaucracy in the US.
Click this link to go to the web page for Happy Camel: Happy Camel
A Must Read Book: Jack Weatherford's, Genghis Khan and the Making of the
I discovered this book on Amazon. It was on the NY Times best seller list for a long time
and has been translated into ten languages. It was highly reviewed by over a hundred
readers on Amazon. I bought the book just before the trip and Jackie was reading it at
our first Ger Camp.
This very friendly guy came over to our table to talk to us. Our guide then whispered to
me that the Mongolian professor accompanying the friendly guy said he was the author
of a very popular book on Genghis Khan. I found out this was Jack Weatherford and he
signed the book. Jack has been a major factor in reviving the reputation of Genghis
Kahn. This book recounts how Genghis Khan and his children and grand children
created the largest empire to that time--an empire that went from and included China
and Korea to Iraq and eastern Europe. Genghis Khan is also responsible for many of
the things we take for granted today and has been named by many prestigious
institutions as the man of the millennium.
Our guide was insulted by the fact that the picture of Genghis Khan on the book was a
Persian version. As Jack recounts in his book, Genghis Khan had a small ego. He would
not let his picture appear on coins or other places. Accordingly, we have very little idea
of what he looked like. Jack explained that his publisher insisted on this cover picture,
but that all the drawings in the book are Mongolian.
I read some comments on Amazon that Jack was too easy on Genghis Khan with
respect to his killings. However, after reading the book, I have to disagree. Genghis
Khan must be understood in the context of the times and his very difficult up bringing,
and this Jack does, pointing out that compared with most other countries, Genghis Khan
was quite tolerant. Indeed, at a time when religious freedom existed virtually nowhere
else in the world, Genghis Khan provided for religious freedom in his empire.
This book sells for less than $10.50 at Amazon.
A Final Comment
One of the things bothering me again on this trip was the absence of American tourists. There were lots of Europeans, quite a
few Asians, but Americans were conspicuous by their absence. Americans need to get out of the cocoon of cruise ships and
visit the rest of the world. I can not help but think that if Americans were more cosmopolitan, they would have understood why
the rest of the world thought our venture into Iraq was wrong and destined to fail.
And one final benefit. We lost a few pounds on this trip! Meals were lean and desert was usually a Kit-Kat.
Incidentally, after posting my final comments, I got this response from Bernard van der Haegen: "I have to say that I agree with
your 'Final Comment' on your web page. Yes Americans should discover the world to know there is more than just the
American culture. The world is very diverse. It is not all good of course, but it is also not all bad."