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LAPIS SKY CAMP

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Happy is he whom guests frequent. Joyful is he at whose door guests’ horses are always tethered.” – Mongolian proverb


 

Welcome to Lapis Sky Camp, located in the Bunkhan Valley in the province of Arkhangai. Bunkhan means “Valley of the Ancestors” because the valley is filled with ancient Scythian burial mounds dating around 3000 years old. As one enters the valley, they do so via a pass referred to as Princess Pass, for a Uigyur Princess in her palanquin who is believed to have stopped to picnic here. The Tamir River sings to us daily, and the sacred larch-covered Bayondur mountain looms above our glacial-created valley. 

 

Elemental:

Lapis Sky Camp is a simple eco camp where we try to leave as little trace on the land as possible. A place to return to our primal nature, a wilderness family-style camp with the zen luxury of living authentically close to the elements and off the grid. A place to truly enjoy the quiet spaces of the vast untouched Mongolian wilderness. Lapis Camp is a place to shed excess needs and desires—we have tried to create an eco-camp and in the name of adventure with a pioneering spirit we ask you to bear with the ruggedness to discover the treasures of this region. Living very similarly to the nomads we live near and who help us run our camp. Our staff are from the local nomadic community and our meals are homemade. We hope you will discover and appreciate the way of life in the Bunkhan Valley at Lapis Sky Camp.

 

Gher:

At Lapis sky camp, we will all be living in ghers before and after our horse trip. Ghers are the Mongol term for "yurts." They are extremely comfortable and rather simple. The high point of a gher is considered to be the "crown", this is where sunlight enters the home. Around the crown are wooden divots that long poles stick into, these poles connect from the crown to the lattice walls. The walls are attached with horse hair ropes, different gher sizes depend on how many walls they may have. 

In the center of the gher are two columns which are the main support structure. On top of the foundation of the gher is a felt lining for heat, a canvas layer for waterproofing, and a cloth layer on the exterior for appearance. In the middle of the gher is a stove for heat and cooking. There is one door that always faces south. If there is weather approaching, there is a flap that can cover part of the crown to prevent rain or snow from entering. Also, please keep the flap away from the stove pipe at all times, especially when there is a fire in the stove.

 

Drinking Water:

Drinking water is in the dining gher. We have two water dispensers and hot water in a thermos available at all times. We encourage guests to stay hydrated as the days are long and active. We have steripens available for use to cleanse river water if out and about and thirsty. Tea,  coffee and natural juices  are also provided throughout the day in the big gher.

 

Meal Times:

Coffee & tea are available from 7 a.m. onwards in the dining gher. Days are long here in the north, with the last of the sun disappearing at 10 p.m. As a result, breakfasts are late here, beginning at 9:45 a.m. Dinner is at 8:30 p.m. and lunch time varies as per the schedule. Lunch and dinner are buffet style to make sure everyone gets the amount of food they desire. We use a large gong to let guests know grub is on the table and mealtime has begun.

 

Toilets:

There are three outhouse toilets, two containing American sit-down toilets, and one squatter toilet with handles. Kindly erect the blessing scarf stick at the handwashing station before entering the restroom, so others know it's occupied.

 

Showers:

While some intrepid guests in the past chose to dip into the Tamir River for a bracing morning wake-up, we do have a shower gher and a camping shower tent in the trees. We have a signup board for showers in the big kitchen gher, simply write your name down in a shower slot and walk to the shower gher by the river with your towel and toiletries. Kindly once again put up the blessing scarf when the shower is occupied. 

 

Clothes Washing:

There are two washing bins in the shower gher with laundry soap if you like to do your own. Always wash and rinse away from the river. Staff can do laundry for a small fee, as long as there is sun for clothes to dry.There are no driers, so clothes will only dry in good weather.

 

Fire:

You will find a stove and kindling in your gher. There will be a demonstration on how to light your stove. The staff are happy to come around and start evening and morning fires upon request. Most important is to make sure your gher flap is far away from the stove pipe to prevent the spread of fire. We do have plenty of kindling, which you can simply ask for but if you feel like being self-sufficient feel free to add kindling to your box while out on a walk—gather dry small sticks and save burnable trash, ideal for helping make a fire. 

 

Lights:

We are off the grid in our rustic back-to-nature camp, with limited access to power. In each gher there are solar Lucie lights. Good to hang Lucie light outside your gher every morning for charging. 

 

Power:

Energy for recharging batteries. We have ample  solar dry cell batteries and charging stations at our public dining her.  Our charging system is stellar but when we support 16 people on solar charging it can run out without optimal sunlight. A few of our local staff live in the local town and commute daily to work, there is always the option to have them charge things for you and return them the following day. 

 

Communication:

Depends on your carrier. Some phones pick up reception in Bunkhan Valley, but most do not. The best telephone communication is from the top of a mountain overlooking the camp. We have an emergency SAT phone available at $3.00 per minute, or an inreach to send text messages out from. 

 

Security:

All ghers have locks which you can choose to use or not—our neighbor nomads keep their doors wide open. Store non-used clothing and goods away in bags while we depart on the horse trip. Grunting near your headrest at night is most likely a grazing yak.

 

Waste:

We like to sort our garbage-burnable, biodegradable, plastic and metal. We appreciate your cooperation and support of this ethos and encourage your help in trying to leave as little trace as possible on this landscape. Please leave caps on plastic water bottles, as the locals will only reuse them with the caps. 

 

Sky Cloud Blessing Bar:

Wine, Beer, Vodka, Juices,  Coca-Cola, Soda water, Tonic, and snacks are available. Keep a tab and settle up at the end of the trip.

 

Guest Chef:

We always welcome guest chefs. Come visit, and teach our staff/learn from our staff, they love to learn new dishes.

 

Library:

Small and eclectic, we love contributions. 

 

Fishing:

We have fly fishing rods and reels for guests to use. Galen and Thomas can show you the best holes and give you a lesson. Catch and release below 16 inches for grayling and lenok. Both are delicious fish and hopefully, we will be able to eat some on our horse trip!

 

Photography:

Thomas Kelly is a tenured National Geographic photographer. Talk to him about his assignments in Africa, South America, Burma, and throughout the Himalayas, or better yet, sign up and head out for a class.

 

Botany and Geology walks :

Our local Mongol Guides are ready to share their knowledge with you.

 

Calligrapher, WaterColor Painter, Horse Head Fiddler. 

Available workshops can be set up. Sign up schedule can be arranged. 

 

Yoga and Pranayama:

Weather permitting, yoga is most mornings except on the horse trip. Yoga instructors are certified  Times to be announced. 7:30-9:15 optional yoga and pranayama every morning. Yoga matts are available.

 

Nomad lifestyle:

Learn how to milk a yak, make cheese, distill vodka and enjoy a gher set up demonstration. 

 

Horse Riding:

We have two rides a day, one at 11 and another at 4. Let us know if you plan on riding during these sessions. We have a vast array of saddles, western, English, Australian, Chinese army, and small Mongol.

 

 Mongol Horse Riding Tips:

“He is no man who rides his horse downhill, and he is no horse that cannot carry a man uphill.”

– Tibetan Khampa Horse saying

 

Riding Attire – riding pants or jeans are good to ride in. Consider wearing yoga pants or bike shorts beneath pants to avoid chafing. Long-sleeved sun shirts are good tops to wear. Plan on wearing layers as the weather can change quickly. Sports bras are highly recommended for ladies. Hiking boots, recommend Airat or boots with a heel are essential. We can provide half chaps. 

 

Helmet –  We have an assortment of helmets but recommend you bring your own. Always make sure your helmet fits you properly. Make adjustments before you mount your horse.

 

What to Bring – try to carry as little as possible. Essentials: water, sunscreen, chapstick, ger gifts, small snacks. Fanny packs are nice so shoulders don’t get sore.

 

Safety, Horse Behavior, and Emotions – you can get an idea of what a horse is feeling by looking at its ears. Ears forward means the horse is interested and alert. When they move backward and forward the horse is alert and listening. When the horse's ears are facing backwards the horse could be a little grumpy. Be careful when the horses are pinned back, this means he could be pretty angry.

 

Mounting and Dismounting – always mount and dismount your horse on the horse’s left side. The horseman will hold your horse for you while you mount. Put your left foot in the stirrup, and hold onto the saddle with your right hand and the horse’s mane with the left hand. Bounce up with your right leg and swing it up and over. It is a spring action rather than climbing up your horse. Try not to thump down into the saddle, this hurts your horse’s back. Sit gently in the saddle. Be sure your horseman has a hold of your horse, some horses are eager to get started as soon as you get on, even if you are not ready.

 

Stirrups – you want to have your stirrups long enough to be able to stand up during a trot but not so short that you end up with sore knees. A good guideline to start is to have a fist's worth of space between you and the saddle when you stand up in your stirrups. When riding, keep your stirrups at the balls of your feet and remember to keep your heels down, and toes up. Proper foot placement will prevent your foot from being caught in the stirrups. If you need to, you want to be able to get your feet out of your stirrups immediately.

 

Reins – best to hold reins close to the neck of your horse. You want to have contact with your horse’s mouth but not too tight. Hold the reins in one hand. We will show you how to steer using the neck reining technique. If you would like you can hold the lead rope in your other hand and use it as a whip.

 

Seat and Riding Style – essentially there are 3 ways to ride your horse – standing up in your stirrups with your knees slightly bent like a Mongol, sitting in a slouch with your pelvis titled forward like a drunken cowboy, or posting during the trot, English style. You may find one style works best for you or you may alternate between the styles.

 

Balance and Using Your Core Muscles – is the key to happy riding. Try not to clamp your knees or thighs to hold on but rather find your balance in the pit of your stomach. Relax your seat and legs and let your horse move your body.

 

How to Start – lean forward a bit, be sure to give your horse enough reins, give the Mongol verbal command of “choo”, and jiggle your feet (or perhaps give a clear kick if you have a lazy horse). Mongol ponies have 4 gaits: walk, trot, canter, gallop. Trotting is their preferred gait.

 

Read the Landscape – keep an eye out at all times watching for marmot holes, big rocks, sudden drop-offs, etc. Don’t go fast over stones and rocky areas.

 

Increasing Speed – going uphill is a good time to practice with faster gaits, they provide a natural speed control. To make your horse go faster, lean forward, jiggle or kick your feet, and if needed use your lead rope to whip the backside of your horse. Our horse trips are easy going!

 

How to Stop – lean back a bit and pull back with the reins. The Mongolian word for stop is “zokch.”

 

Emergency Brake – if you are on a runaway horse, pull hard on one rein, turning your horse in circles. This will slow your horse down and allow you to regain control.

 

Spooking – Mongol horses can be easily spooked by a variety of things – garbage bags, shiny things, unexpected movements, etc. If you want to put on or take off a layer of clothing while on your horse you must get off your horse to do so. Let horsemen  know you need assistance and they will hold your horse for you. Also, be very aware of any of your clothing flapping in the wind while riding, such as a jacket tied around your waist, this could easily frighten a Mongol horse.

 

*Our Lapis Sky Camp expert wrangler provides comprehensive horse riding instructions prior to

the  first day of riding. Before joining our trip, horse riding lessons are recommended. On our three day horse trip, we have vehicle support in case you wish ride with our Mongol drivers.

Your Guides:

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Thomas L. Kelly

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Thomas L. Kelly is a native of Santa Fe, has lived in Nepal since 1978. Formerly a Peace Corps volunteer and Care Program officer, he has been a renowned professional photographer since 1985 and is now a documentary film maker. He has led cross-cultural trips throughout South Asia and Mongolia for over 20 years.

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Galen Kelly

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Galen was raised in the foothills of the Himalayas and the Mongol steppe. He learned how to ride as a toddler in Mongolia and even raced as a jockey in the local naadams. In addition to being an expert horse rider and teacher, he’s an angler who facilitates incredible fishing and rafting experiences on the Tamir river. He’s guided adventures in Kenya, Alaska, Idaho and Mongolia. Alongside fishing, rafting and riding Galen is a great exercise partner and a joyful person to explore the steppe with. Galen looks forward to sharing his childhood summer home with you.

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Stephanie "Chase"Miller

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Stephanie "Chase" Miller grew up on the back of a horse. She worked for over 10 years training horses and their riders for competitions. In addition to being a competition rider and instructor she also developed a therapeutic riding program for local children and adults. In 2018 she co lead her first international equestrian expedition with National Geographic in Mongolia. And in the years since she has developed a deep affection for the people and culture of Mongolia. Her passion for leadership in the outdoors pushed her to earn her Wilderness EMT and Wilderness Medicine Certification from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently working on a masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in hopes of blending her passion for mental health with her love of the outdoors. She is trained to teach several different styles of yoga, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, and Senior Yoga. She is now based in the Teton Valley Idaho, where she can enjoy endless horseback riding opportunities. She is an avid rock/ice climber, skier, kayaker and more. But what gives her the most joy is the opportunity to share her love of the outdoors with others.

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Carroll Dunham

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Carroll Dunham is a Princeton University anthropologist, writer, documentary film maker, yoga instructor and director of Wild Earth Nepal. She has authored the books: Sacred Landscape and Pilgrimage in Tibet-In Search of the Lost Kingdom of Bon, Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life, The Hidden Himalayas, Abbeville Press, N.Y., N.Y. She has also led cross-cultural trips throughout South Asia, Tibet and Mongolia.

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