WILD EARTH JOURNEYS
LAPIS SKY CAMP
Video CREDIT: ITB Berlin 2015
“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, Arkhangai. Bunkhan means “Valley of the Ancestors” and the valley is rife with ancient Sythian burial mounds possibly 3000 years old. The pass is called Princess Pass, for a Uigyur Princess in her palequin is said to have stopped to picnic enjoying the view. The Tamir river sings to us daily, and the sacred larch covered Bayondur mountain looms above our glacial-created valley. Golden unicorn horse head mounts have been found on horse skull burials in the region.
Simple eco camp, we try to leave as little trace on the land as we can. Lapis Sky Camp is simple. A place to return to inner simplicity, a wilderness family style casual camp with a zen luxury of living authentically close to the elements off the grid. A place to truly enjoy the quiet spaces of wilderness. Lapis Camp is a place to shed exccess needs and desires—we have tried to create a simple 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 similarily to the nomads we live near and who help us run our camp. Our staff are from the local nomadic community, our meals are simple homemade, but we hope you will discover and appreciate the way of life here in the Bunkhan Valley at Lapis Sky Camp.
Like a ship, the flap cover is pulled closed during rain and open to let sunlight in during the day. Keep flap away from Stove pipe at all times when fire is burning in stove. Mongols are used to snow and rain and living with the elements intimately even in the center of their home- a sacred space where heaven or sky and earth meet.
Drinking Water is in the big gher. We have two water dispensers and hot water in thermos available at all times. We encourage guests to hydrate well ad take advantage of our steri pens for treating water. We will give a short training on their use. Steri pens help us to reduce the need for plastic. Steri pens are available on request to refill water bottles. Hot water available in the evenings to fill up water bottles- use as hot water bottles then drink the next day. Tea and coffee available all times in the big gher.
Meal times will be announced. 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 PM. As a result, breakfasts are late here, beginning at 9:45 Am. Dinner is at 8:30 Pm and lunch varies as per the schedule. Lunch is buffet and dinner is buffet and sit down. We use a large gong to let guests know grub is on the table and mealtime has begun.
TP in your gher. In 2 toilet outhouse. I squat toilet (w/handles) healthy Asian style, second American sit down. Simple, pre- Thomas Crapper, no water toilet. Do it as your ancestors did! Kindly put up the blessing scarf stick at the handwashing station before entering, so others know it is occupied.
While some intrepid guests in the past chose to dip into the Tamir River in the buff for a bracing morning wake up, we do have a shower gher, and camping shower tent in the trees. Bring your towel and toiletries. Solar showers by the river. Here in the wilderness, bathing is a treat. Solar shower bags usually take about 2-4 hours to heat up. We recommend mid day washes when the sun is high in the sky. Ask if you need help hanging solar heated water bags up on the high hook overhead. Let the staff know the night before and they can help you with your shower needs. There is a stove; we can heat water with a fire if cool or weather is inclement. Ask Gerlee or Tenzin if you need help. Kindly consider re-filling solar bags and put by river for next guest. Kindly put up blessing scarf stick when occupying shower gher. Consider bringing laundry essentials down to the river and wash up a few essentials if shower ghers are occupied.
There are two washing bins in shower gher with laundry soap if you like to do your own. Always wash and rinse away from river. Staff can do laundry-as long as there is sun for clothes to dry. Fee: 500 T per piece. There are no driers, so clothes will only dry in good weather.
You will find a stove and kindling in your ghers. We will give a demonstration in how to light your stove. The staff is 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 fire. Firewood, kindling, matches are all found in your gher. Feel free to add kindling to your box while out on a walk—gather dry small sticks. Save burnable trash ideal for helping make a fire. Fires need air oxygen-kindling, candle, paper near back of stove near the pipe shoot is the best with larger pieces of wood nearby. Staff can light fires for those of you unable. Let staff know if you’d like morning fire too. In case of fire out of the stove, do remember you have a bucket under your sink. Call for help immediately.
We have no electricity in our rustic back- to nature camp. Careful with candles, use bottles, not to close to ceiling, wind can blow over, blow out before you sleep. Working on solar lighting for each gher.
Energy for recharging batteries. We have solar batteries, best afternoon and of course on sunny days, Or best assured results ask Gerlee to charge for you. Give them to her before she leaves evening and she will return with them the next day.
Depends on your carrier. Some phones pick up reception in Bunkhan valley, most do not. Best telephone communication is from top of mountain overlooking camp. We have an emergency SAT phone available at $3.00 per minute.
All ghers have locks which you can choose to use or not—our neighbor nomads keep their doors wide open. Do give us your valuables you are concerned about and we can lock up and store for you until your departure. Store valuables away in bags while we depart on horse trip. Grunting near your headrest at night is most likely a grazing yak, and a drunken lover cowboy can sing his way or thunderhoof home on a late night summer rendez-vous—but these are not evening banditos.
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. Small waste bins are in you gher, and we ask you to sort waste in large gher and behind dining gher.
Sky Cloud Blessing Bar
Wine, Beer, Vodka, Coca Cola, Ssoda water, Tonic, and snacks available Keep a tab and settle up at the end of the trip.
We always welcome guest chefs in our challenge of simple, one pot meals. Come visit, teach our staff, the love to learn new dishes or supervise with spices and flavoring.
Ask Gerlee the day before. Most horses are out in the pastures in the morning. Best time to to ride is 2 onwards. Recommend 5-7. Western saddles, Chinese leather saddles.
Small eclectic, love contributions but write who you are and what you thought of the book…
We have 3 rods. Galen, Toro and Thomad can show you the best holes and give a lesson. Catch and release below X inches for greyling and lenok, deliscious fish and hopefully we will be abel to eat some on our horse trip!
Thomas Kelly, and Tenzin Paljor are both award-winning photographers. Thomas has made over 12 photo books, and Tenzin was recognized as the Galen Rowell Photographer of the year for the second year in a row. Talk to them about their shoots in Africa, South America, Burma and throughout the Himalayas or better yet, sign up and head out for a class.
Weather permitting, yoga is most mornings except on the horse trip. Times to be announced. 8:15-9:15 optional yoga every morning.
We have a big raft which holds 4. If the river is high you can be dropped off near Mukh Dalai’s and picked up near Red Rock. Our kids Liam and Galen have rafted down on the bed rests!
Yup, we are far north. While we don’t have mosquitos the size of helicoptors like in Alaska, we do have black flies and horseflies and well, Mongolia has over 15,000 insects- a true entomologist’s paradise. When the grasses exploed for the brief time called summer, the flowers are a buzz with flies. Cool ghers in the middle of the day, down near the river, are good ways to avoid pesky critters. At night, moths may be attracted to the light. We have bug spray if you need it or like to use on your horse.
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 beneah pants to avoid chaffing. Long sleeved sun-shirts are good tops to wear. Definitely plan on wearing layers as weather can change quickly. Sport bras are essential for ladies. Boots with a heel are also important.
Helmet – 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 snack. 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 horses 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 fot in the stirrup, 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 fists 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, 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.
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 run away 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 ponies 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 someone know you need assistance and someone 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 pony.
Falling – it is good to know how to fall. Always think of getting your feet out of the stirrups as fast as you can. Try to roll forward off the side shoulder, protecting your collar bone, and try to roll onto the ground. Thankfully the mongol ponies are short and the steppes, for the most part, are soft. If you fall, stay still! We will come for you.
Thunderhoof – never gallop near gers, there are often dogs nearby and they can scare a galloping horse. It is best to gallop close by roads where the grass is short, the path is smooth, and there are few marmot holes. Always gallop away from the group, far from beginner riders, and avoid passing from behind.
***If you would prefer, at any time, horseman can lead you and your horse.***