Thursday, January 29, 2004

Bodyo, Khatun Monkhtuya, and Urna

The other day I dropped in to see the good folks at Genghis Expeditions in their strategically located office just across the street from the main post office on the corner of Sukhebaatar Square. I first met Monkhtuya and Urna, two mainstays of this tour agency and outfitter six or seven years ago when they were working for another outfit. I met Bodyo later and did a trip to Kherman Tsav in the Gobi Desert with him. They have since gone out on their own and started Genghis Expeditions. I have hired a jeep and driver from them on numerous occasions. They charge the going rate for jeeps in Mongolia – 300 togrogs, or a little least than thirty cents, a kilometer, and they have of the added advantage of screening their drivers carefully and guaranteeing that their jeeps are in good shape. In addition, they provide good backup. Although I have never been in one of their jeeps when it suffered a serious breakdown I know of one case last summer when one did in Övörkhangai aimag. The driver phoned Ulaan Baatar and they immediately dispatched another jeep to Övörkhangai and the tourists were able to continue on their way with a minimum loss of time. If you hire a jeep and driver you just happen to met lurking about Sukhebaatar Square, on the other hand, you never know if he is a reliable person who knows his way around the countryside or if his vehicle is in good shape. I am constantly hearing stories about people who had to bail out of a jeep trip in some remote aimag because the driver got drunk, was plain incompetent, or his vehicle broke down and couldn’t be fixed. This won’t happen when you deal with an outfit like Genghis. They also have various package tours around Mongolia and maintain a ger camp near the town of Bayan Gov in Bayankhongor Aimag, where Bodyo was born. What Genghis really excels in however is arranging custom trips suited to individual interests and itineraries. They have contacts all over Mongolia and can arrange just about anything. Again, they offer the advantage of thoroughly screening guides, horse men, (or camel men) and translators, so you have little chance of ending up with people who are imcompetence or rip you off. Another partner in the company, Terbish, is a professor of biology at Mongolian State University and is one of the contributors to the Mongolian Red Book, a compendium of endangered species in Mongolia. As such he has a lot of contacts in the Mongolian scientific community who can provide information and assistance if you have scientific interests. Over his years of field work he has also built up an extensive network of acquaintances all over Mongolia who are very knowledgeable about local conditions.
Now Genghis is launching a program to aid herders who have been devastated by the disastrous zuds, or winter storms, which have killed millions of head of livestock in Mongolia over the last couple of years. Bayankhongor Aimag, where Bodyo is from, was especially bad hit. I myself was there last fall and talked to herdsmen who had lost more than half of their goats and sheep. Some families were reportedly wiped out completely, losing all of their livestock. Genghis Expeditions wants to do something to help these people. The plan is to buy goats from aimags to the north and give them herders to reseed their herds. Then the herders will give back part of the cashmere that the goats produce in the following years as payment. The cashmere will be sold and the proceeds used to buy additional goats for more families. Thus a self perpetrating fund will be set up to aid herders in distress. Of course, Genghis Expeditions would appreciate donations to help the seed money for this project. If you are interested or would like more information contact them from their Website.