Like us, you’re probably longing for travel, and keenly making plans for your next great getaway. If you love the idea of a holiday destination with a difference, you’ll enjoy hearing about the adventures of NICK and SANDRA FELGATE. They live in Discovery Bay with their three children, Theo (14), Eden (10) and Nova (8). In July 2019, they travelled to Mongolia on a private family trip that was custom-designed by Adrian Bottomley, founder of adventure travel specialists Whistling Arrow. Here, Sandra recounts some of the amazing highlights of the experience.
I’m a designer and sometimes yearn to get away from it all to find inspiration. Nick and I have always had a wish to go to Mongolia. It’s one of the few truly wild places left on the planet. We wanted the opposite of Hong Kong. A quiet place where we could think and recharge, and reconnect with each other and nature. We also wanted an immersive insight into a simpler way of living (and authentic nomadic culture) before it begins to disappear completely.
How did Whistling Arrow help?
I went to one of Adrian’s talks at the Royal Geographical Societyin Hong Kong with a friend, and was immediately hooked. I loved the sound of his adventures, and I went home, pulled up the website and straight away booked an expeditionary trek to Nepal. Then, soon after, a family adventure to Mongolia. In short, he’s an explorer first and foremost, with an incredible first-hand knowledge of many remote locations around Asia.
What was the rough itinerary?
The objective was to spend time with two nomadic Kazakh eagle hunter families. After flying to the far west of Mongolia, near the Kazakhstan border, we were met by our guides who drove us through the most incredible landscape to a large lake at the foot of the Altai Mountains. From there, we trekked for a few days (supported by Bactrian camels) to get to the first eagle hunter family. It’s also possible to drive.
What was your highlight?
Definitely how welcoming the local nomads were! Everyone was so excited to see us; so hospitable and inclusive. Tea, bread and vodka were always at the ready. Every day there were new locations to explore – new and spectacular scenery, and new and authentic experiences to amaze us. For my husband, the highlight was a solo trek up to a remote waterfall and a river where he enjoyed a (nude!) swim in the freezing water. He and the kids also loved fishing in the beautiful rivers. And the fact that we didn’t see any other people.
And for the kids?
Riding horses and camels, and interacting and playing with the other local kids that we met (both families had several of their own children). We had a football with us and this often opened doors for many hours of fun along the way. Our kids also really enjoyed the interaction with our two brilliant local guides, as well as the camel man and the horse man. These last two didn’t speak English – but that didn’t matter. The camel man took our youngest fishing, and the horse man taught our eldest son to ride a horse. Our teenager just loved our female guide, who taught him to sing Kazakh folk songs!
What was your accommodation like?
We stayed in very comfortable Kazakh gers that Adrian had pre-assembled alongside each family. They had a warming fireplace that was lit for us every night. We slept in real beds, with pillows, duvets, warm sheep skins and wool blankets on top. The Kazakh gers are beautifully decorated inside, with hand embroidered felt tapestries. There was also a shower tent with piping-hot water – something I certainly hadn’t expected – and a large dining tent. Oh, and a toilet tent of course.
What sort of food was on the menu?
Because the nights were cool, the food kept very well, and we enjoyed fresh vegetables and fruit every day for two weeks! We wanted to eat as authentically as possible, using whatever grew or could be sourced around us. We had grilled lamb from local herdsmen, fresh yoghurt and cheese, wild onions and rhubarb, wild herbs and freshly caught fish! Probably the best meal we’ve ever had as a family was one we shared with the eagle hunters – freshly caught fish stuffed with wild mint and thyme, and cooked over an open fire. Our host produced a bottle of white wine that he cooled in the river, and we shared the food and drinks with our guides and the eagle hunter family. There were so many laughs and songs around a big bonfire. We all went to bed with smiles on our faces that night.
On several occasions the locals also made the most delicious handmade noodles for us, our kids still talk about those as well.
What was the weather like?
I feel that we had all seasons in one. Beautiful sunshine and temperatures between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius most days, with the odd hailstorm followed by sunshine again! We had one windy night by one of the lakes while we were trekking, where we hid in our tents and watched the peaks around us slowly get covered in snow from a safe distance. With the families though, we were obviously snug in our gers at night.
How was it meeting the eagle hunters?
Fantastic! The first day we met them, we were immediately invited to a big family celebration with traditional Mongolian wrestling. It was one of the most extraordinary days in all of our lives! The following day, the oldest daughter demonstrated eagle hunting for us. We were in awe of her strength and skill – one of their two eagles weighed a whopping 10kg!
It was also a valuable lesson for our kids to meet all the nomadic kids, and see how they helped out with all the chores. Even the youngest fetched water from the rivers, looked after their siblings, and made sure the animals were safely locked away at the end of each day. They would all milk cows, horses and goats and assist in hunting and herding from a very young age.
Would you recommend the trip to others?
Absolutely, before it disappears for good! The trip is forever etched in our memories, because it was so far removed from our everyday lives; for the kids to see how other people live was very humbling indeed. Without Adrian’s strong relationships with the families on the ground, and his expert, first-hand knowledge from running multiple expeditions in this remote corner of Mongolia, we couldn’t have hoped to gain the access we did. We were incredibly well looked after by his team.
For more information about Whistling Arrow adventure holidays, along with current plans for Mongolia trips this summer and autumn (including COVID-19 considerations), call 2811 8892, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit whistlingarrow.com
This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.