Mongolian adventurer seeks to retrace ancient Silk Road routes
“Everyone has a secret longing hidden deep down which transpires at some point and then fades. I am about to make one of these wishes come true”, said Mongolian adventurer Baigalmaa Norjmaa, speaking to MONTSAME correspondent B.Altankhuyag on a pleasant August evening.
Being an ardent lover of adventure, Baigalmaa has travelled all over Mongolia, has achieved a mountaineering degree after ascending almost all peaks in Mongolia and Mt. Elbrus, the highest peak of Europe and Mt. Kilimanjaro, and is a member of the Mountaineering association, the Mountain biking club and Mongolian Sky-running association. Baigalmaa has been fortunate enough to support herself by doing what she loves; she runs her own tour agency ‘Off Road Mongolia’ and has been in the business for more than 10 years.
In early September, Baigalmaa will embark on an epic adventure fulfilling her life-time dream. ‘Steppes to the West’ is an ambitious journey of Mongolians and world renowned walkers travelling 12,000 km on Bactrian camels from Ulaanbaatar, the heart of Mongolia, to Europe. “Adventure is a part of who I am, and it makes me truly happy”.
“Imagine walking with a camel caravan from Mongolia all the way to Europe”, Baigalmaa shared her wild dream with English walker Karl Bushby who was in Mongolia in the course of an another ambitious journey to walk approximately 36,000 miles from the bottom of South America back to the UK without any form of transport. The journey has spanned three continents and 21,000 miles over 15 years covering 16 countries. Today, he finds himself planning the remaining three years of his walk as part of the 'Steppes to the West'.
“I put the idea in his head, and he supported me”, Baigalmaa said, pointing-out how the journey would have remained a hidden wish were it not for Karl. She expressed her deepest gratitude to her co-journeyers - Karl Bushby, American walkers Angela Marie Maxwell and Anna Harrington, German adventurer Murat Tengrisson and Mongolian outdoor enthusiast and traveler Erdenechimeg Erdenebileg and others.
“It won’t be easy for individuals from different cultural and social background to form a team, and journey together”, Baigalmaa said. When it came to choosing team members, Baigalmaa consulted with her friends, experienced travelers and herself. “I looked for endurance, tolerance and courage, and I found them!”
With London as the fixed final destination, the journey will move forward through three stages. Stage one is Mongolia which offers opportunities for advanced training, to bond as a team, and create a content that should allow the team to attract funding. Stage two involves Asian countries like China/Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey, leaving Mongolia behind.
“We intend to walk through the lands of the Great Mongol Empire founded by Chinggis Khaan, and the ancient Silk Road routes”, Baigalmaa said, emphasizing on the historical significance of the Steppes To The West. The third and the last stage will see the team facing some challenges possibly due to heavy population and urbanization in European countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France and the UK.
“We won’t rush our journey”, Baigalmaa answered when asked about how long the journey will take. “Upon starting a trip, Mongolians never speculate when it would finish. They only wish the best of luck in the voyage”. Nonetheless, she shared her vision that Steppes to the West would complete within three years. As both humans and the animals must get rest, the journey will advance 30 km each day. The international walkers won’t be riding camels, the ‘furry’ members of the team. “The Mongolian members might use a ride, but they can walk as well”.
When asked about why she specifically chose camels as companions on the journey, rather than horses which Mongolia is known for, Baigalmaa began to explain, “Of course, Mongolian horses are famous for their stamina. There are claims Mongolian horses reached Berlin during the war”, and cited the story of an Australian adventurer who traveled from Mongolia to Hungary on horseback.
“Meanwhile, the world doesn’t know much about Bactrian camels. Yet tourists exhibit strong interest in riding Mongolian camels just like how we find ourselves excited about riding an elephant”, she said. The Bactrian camel is the largest mammal in its native range, and its two humps are suitable for sitting in between and loading baggage. The 2016 year-end livestock census counted 401.3 thousand camels constituting 0.7 percent of Mongolia’s 60 million livestock. The 'Steppes to the West' has ten furry team members. “It is important that I raise awareness of Mongolian camels that deserve more recognition”.
“I always thought I should do something for my country and the people while I am young and capable”, Baigalmaa noted. More importantly, she aims to promote Mongolia around the world with her adventurous walk. Having been to over 20 countries, Baigalmaa met some people who had no knowledge of Mongolia. “Now when we are out there on the road, people will be inquiring about who we are and what we are doing. This, as I see, is a great opportunity to introduce Mongolia in a unique and more appealing way”.
The journey will get international media coverage too. Supported by Westward Productions, the experienced TV and documentary production company will seek a partnership with media networks as in the past with National Geographic who has worked with Karl and Westward before.
Ahead of the journey, Karl Bushby spoke to the Mongol Messenger and shared his pre-journey impressions. “On a personal note, this is a huge departure from my normal mode of travel”, he says. Karl has traveled alone for a long time which is why working so closely with a team is a personal challenge. “Working with animals can also be a big challenge”, he adds. He has walked with a donkey and horses before and found that challenging. Karl said that he has a lot of respect for his camel companions. “Ultimately, this is about getting the camels to Europe; this team is working in support of the camels. We will move at the camels’ pace and rest when the camels need it”.
Talking about Steppes to the West, he continued, “This is truly an epic and extremely ambitious undertaking. The odds are against us and the bureaucratic obstacles are enormous”. According to him, the team will have to be extremely creative to find ways to get the animals across the many international borders and the journey will need political support if it hopes to succeed in its mission of reaching Europe and the UK. “However, we are here to take on that challenge. The fact that this is such a difficult challenge makes it worth the effort. If it was easy, why bother, that is not what adventure is about. True adventure is taking on the unknown and putting your heart and soul into a true challenge”, he noted.