|Unuudur newspaper interviewed N.Baigalmaa, who is gaining attention worldwide as the Mongolian woman on a 12,000-kilometer camel trip from Ulaanbaatar to London, via the internet. She talks about how she came up with the idea, how she’s coping after her seven companions left, and all other details of her journey.|
How is your travel? How much distance have you covered so far?
It’s going very well. We started our journey on November 8 and have traveled over 800 kilometers, arriving in Buutsagaan soum in Bayankhongor Province. Today (January 13), we covered 30 more kilometers. It’s been a difficult journey as we had tons of trouble such as getting lost and having to endure the cold weather. We stumbled across around 10 storms.
I’m feeling quite good since I’m realizing my dream. I knew from the start that my journey will be adventurous and risky. I mentally prepared myself for anything that could happen in advance so I will not give up easily. It was hard to travel because there have been many snow blizzards lately. The Traffic Police is helping me out by providing escorts in-between soums.
Many people are very proud of you for having the courage to start a 12,000-kilometer journey on camelback, requiring you to pass through 15 countries along the Silk Road. How did you come up with this idea?
A few years back, Australian traveler Tim Cope bought two horses in Mongolia and rode them to Hungary. I felt so proud but at the same time, envious. Most foreigners know about his epic journey through its name “On the Trail of Genghis Khan”. Back then, I thought about whether Mongolians go on travels significant enough to promote our nation and ancestors even though we’re nomads. I mean, a foreigner has shown the strength and perseverance of Mongolian horses; why can’t do we do the same, right? So that’s when I came up with the idea to travel along the Silk Road, a clear travel path left by our ancestors but didn’t know how to do it. Many travelers have traveled on foot or yak and horses. So I needed a new means of transportation.
Promoting our nation, demonstrating the perseverance of Mongolian people and advertising our tradition was my biggest aspiration. After pondering about it for a long time, I decided to travel on a camel. To be honest, it was a dream rather than a decision. At the time, I wouldn’t have ever imagined myself fulfilling that dream as I am now. I won’t hide that I feared it wouldn’t work out.
There are many legends, myths, and stories about Mongolian horses. Thanks to them, many foreigners became aware of Mongolian horses and their strength. But they don’t know much about Mongolian camels. I don’t think we care for camels as much as we need to besides talking about the fact that their population isn’t growing and need protection. Therefore, I chose to ride a camel to show what a lovely, calm and enduring animal it is. The fact that I’m not just riding it but also carrying some baggage with me is attracting attention from all over the world. Moreover, my 11 years of experience in the tourism sector and a few years of doing mountain sports influenced my conviction to start this journey. My childhood spent near animal farms and hardships in life have been helping me out a lot.
It’s hard to imagine how you’re managing to set up gers in the wilderness and travel on a camel during the coldest time of the year. How did your family react when they heard about your travel?
Honestly, they weren’t so happy at first. I finally got their permission after persistently telling them that I could do it. My husband, on the other hand, is always supportive of my decisions. He works in the tourism and enjoys mountain sports just like me. He wanted to travel with me but someone had to look after our kids so he had no choice but to stay behind. We’ve been married for 10 years and have two daughters.
How do you stay in touch with them?
I try to call them every two or three days. I miss my daughters and husband very much. I’m sure my mum is very worried. My parents live in Uvs Province but my mum’s staying in Ulaanbaatar to help look after the kids. I will stop by my home during my travel if I get the chance. I think I might have to do that when I travel across Kazakhstan since it’s a large country and I might not be able to travel to the other side before my visa expires.
What was your biggest challenge before setting off on your journey?
Finance was my biggest problem. I had to train 10 camels and gather seven travelers from five countries. But that didn’t stop me from going through with my plan. I planned my 12,000-kilometer journey across 15 countries for three years. I might have to skip a few countries along the way, though.
…I believe that my journey is significant to the Mongolian tourism. It’s sad that fewer people are using camels for transportation and overland cargo-hauling. Two-humped camels are very strong and sturdy animals and I want to promote them worldwide…
You started your journey with seven foreign travelers. Did you invite any Mongolians?
I really wanted to travel with Mongolians, but no one agreed. Most of the people I asked thought it was a joke and I was heart-broken when they mocked my idea. J.Zoljargal, whom many recognize as Amai, said he can travel with me for three days from Govi-Altai Province and share some of his experience. The first person who supported my idea was Karl Bushby, a British ex-paratrooper, walking adventurer and author who’s been traveling for 18 years. Like this, I managed to form a team with seven experienced and famous travelers.
You’re now traveling alone. Why did your companions end their journey?
Karl was supposed to go with me until we reached London and the rest until the Chinese border. However, they couldn’t bear Mongolia’s winter and left mid-way. One of them gave up when we just passed the 22nd Checkpoint. Karl took back the 10 million MNT contribution for buying camels, which was a big hit to me both mentally and financially. We traveled together for three days. It’s been six days since he stopped his journey.
Did you have to take them all back to Ulaanbaatar?
Yes. I had to temporarily halt my journey, ask a herder who was nearby to look after my camels and take them back to the city. I lost quite a lot of time making seven trips to and from Ulaanbaatar.
How do you feel about having to continue your journey alone?
Rather than feeling upset, I felt more determined and motivated to carry on. I realized that I could rely only on myself. My younger brother came a few days ago and has been a great help. He will help me get to the Chinese border and go back. I didn’t ask him to come, he just came on his own accord.
Has anyone asked to join you?
No. Many people comment on my posts saying that they want to travel with me or want to financially contribute. But only a few have asked for my bank account and sent funds.
Have you named your camels? Which one is the most comfortable to ride?
I named them Chinggis, Govi and Luu (Dragon). I preferred Luu in the beginning. I named him that because I was born in the Year of the Dragon. Now, I usually ride Govi.
What do you plan to do after you complete your journey?
I try to help and support as many people as possible with everything I have. After finishing my travel, I hope to start a charity campaign and help those in need. I’m proud to be traveling along the route our ancestors who ruled half of the world used. I’m sure my ancestors are watching me from above and are happy to see me do this.
I believe that my journey is significant to the Mongolian tourism. It’s sad that fewer people are using camels for transportation and overland cargo-hauling. Two-humped camels are very strong and sturdy animals and I want to promote them worldwide. Many Mongolians have shown their support for me. I was so happy when two people said that they would hold a celebration if I came to their town with my camels. Fellow Mongolians living abroad told me the nicest and most encouraging things. I wish that some people in Mongolia think a little more broadly. They don’t have to support me. All they have to do is to stop criticizing and give a little bit of encouragement such as “good luck” or “you’re doing great”.
Do you have any last comments?
I’d like to thank everyone who is helping me become more determined with their words of encouragement and criticism. Some things I said before about Mongolians might come off offensive or too harsh. But personally, I don’t care about criticisms questioning why I would start this journey when I’m supposedly not going to finish it. On the contrary, these comments help me fix my mistakes and make me want to be better. The only thing that’s bothering me now is that I’m getting way more criticism than I expected and it’s quite hard.
I’m avoiding writing new posts on my social media and also reading comments below articles about my journey. People are writing all sorts of things. For example, they’re writing that I was wasting my money, that I was simply fraternizing with foreigners, and that I set off on this journey to entertain people or give a good show. I try to calm myself saying that it’s all due to social pressure and stress. I’m usually a positive person. Oh well, this is my life. These people will probably understand me when I realize my dream.
The hope that my journey will contribute to the Mongolian tourism, even a little, and promote our nation is motivating me to carry on. I wish all Mongolians the best of luck in everything they do and that they live happily and content after overcoming the harsh winter.