Monday, 25 September 2017

Naadam Festival in Mongolia - "The Three Games of Men"

Wrestling Mongolian style

Mongolia’s annual Naadam Festival first ran in 1920 but has its roots in the centuries-old traditions of the great Khans. The “three manly sports” of wrestling, archery and horse racing — the three skills that Chingis Khan valued most for his Mongol warriors — are showcased each July as part of Mongolia’s annual Naadam Festival.

Mongolia in general and the Naadam Festival in particular have started to attract world-wide attention from those tourists seeking unique travel experiences. Unfortunately, increasing tourism has seen the part of the Festival held in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar turn into a modern spectacle which at times feels like a performance created just for tourists. Travellers are crammed into a large stadium and a great amount of pomp creates a carnival-like atmosphere not unlike that of an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

In contrast, at many rural locations in the country, tucked away on a lake’s edge, in a mountainous region or on the vast steppes, locals experience a truly authentic Naadam Festival where wrestlers, archers and horse racers are not on display for tourists. They are simply locals participating in traditions so very vital to their Mongolian culture. They are not sponsored athletes but rather, simply local people honouring the traditions of their forefathers. The Naadam Festival is one of the most pure and honest cultural celebrations that to be experienced anywhere in the world.

Come join Blue Dot Travel as we travel Mongolia and experience the rural Naadam as part of our upcoming small group tours of Mongolia. Click here for more information.

Map of Mongolia
Opening ceremony of Naadam Festival

Naadam horse racing

Opening ceremony

Locals heading to rural Naadam

Getting ready for horse race

Wonderful costumes for Naadam

Monday, 18 September 2017

Infatuated by the beauty of Ilulissat Greenland

By Kate Goulston

Bucket lists were pretty much invented for places like Greenland. Perhaps it is because the immense sense of magic and wonder is present in every moment of every single day. There is not one part of this experience that does not impress and excite.

To reach Ilulissat, fly with Air Greenland from Reykjavik or Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq and catch a connecting flight from Kangerlussuaq to
Ilulissat,  The awe starts shortly after take-off with jaw-dropping views over slushy, icy seas before flying hundreds of kilometres across a mesmerising packed-snow landscape intermittently dotted with fluorescent blue melting waterholes.

The airport is tiny, a mere 5 minutes down the road from the town of Ilulissat which is small enough to fully explore in one morning. You can discover the fish market offering musk ox and whale blubber, the local school, colourful traditional wooden dwellings, a handful of shops and caf├ęs and the supermarket.  All the while you will be hearing the Greenland dogs howl inconsolably for food. Don’t be fooled though 
 the young ones may look cute but they would take your arm off as they exist on only the most meager of rations. 

At the edge of town, the entire view of the magnificent Ilulissat Icefjord is revealed and it is absolutely spectacular. This world famous UNESCO World Heritage Listed fjord runs 
40 km east from just south of the town of Ilulissat to the Greenlandic ice sheet. It is into this bay that giant chunks of ice “calve” away from the glacier and drop into the sea. You are surrounded by jaw dropping views of icebergs from every possible angle. Some icebergs are so enormous they get trapped for years until they roll or have melted enough to finally break free and drift north through the Arctic Ocean. One of the most remarkable buildings is the iconic Zion’s Kirke built in the 18th century and the largest man-made structure in Greenland at the time. If the sun is shining, your photos of this church could well be worthy of a National Geographic cover.

Blue Dot Travel has a three-week tour to Iceland/Svalbard with Greenland as an optional extra tour. Click here for more information.

Where is Greenland?

Brett and Kate Goulston in Greenland

Monday, 11 September 2017

Wadi Rum and its lunar like landscape

Wadi Rum and its lunar landscape
By Kate Goulston

Jordan had a little surprise in store for us: we came to tour Petra but it was Wadi Rum that blew us away with its special kind of magic. It is an ancient desert in Southern Jordan which encompasses over 700 square kilometres of jagged formations, towering dunes, cylindrical cliffs, natural rock bridges and an endless cascading red sand valley. Touring the desert in a 4WD pick-up truck is an unforgettable experience - a fun adventure ride rather than a scenic tour, taking you flying over the top of sand dunes and across the bumpy terrain. Be prepared to get stuck in sand and feel the driver skillfully manoeuvre backward and forward to release the wheels before commencing his daredevil descent down the face of the mountain. First photo stop on our tour was the magnificent Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an enormous stacked stone formation which has been named in honour of T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), a British solider who helped lead the Bedouin tribes to victory over the Ottoman Turks during the Arab Revolt of WWI.  Most of the classic movie was filmed here on location at Wadi Rum. This huge rock formation, with its seven fluted turrets, is spectacular in its scale and beauty. From there we were driven to a giant sand dune and invited to scramble up the top to take in the full drama of the desert panorama. Our shoes were filled to the brim with red sand but it was worth every grain. 

Our last stop is a visit to a Bedouin tent camp for refreshments, complete with a unique glimpse into the way of life. Bedouin means “inhabitant of the desert” and refers to a group of semi-nomadic, tribal Arab people. The Bedouin are renowned for their hospitality and live by the ethos that today you are a host but tomorrow you may be a guest. This understanding has a long tradition throughout the Middle East and is a means of survival for tribal people living and crossing some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth.

To tour Wadi Rum is to see a unique and beautiful place. Baked for centuries under the rays of the desert sun it glows a magnificent deep red orange. The colours are spectacular and against the purest blue sky backdrop your photos will look as if you have landed on Mars. The quiet and stillness of the desert is part of the wonder, only marred on occasion by the cranky bellow of a passing camel. Wadi Rum is a true gem.

If this is somewhere that interests you, join Blue Dot Travel's small group tour.  To find out more click here

Map of Jordan and Israel
A moment with one of the locals

Camels in the desert - no better transport

Amazing colours of the desert

Marnie and Holly Goulston around the indoor kitchen with the locals

Amazing desert landscapes

Brett Goulston hanging out with the locals

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Flaming Cliffs of Mongolia

Flaming Cliffs also known as Bayanzag
The Flaming Cliffs is an escarpment on the edge of the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia, by road some 660kms from the capital Ulaanbaatar. The cliffs became famous in 1923 when young American explorer and paleontologist Dr Roy Chapman Andrews from the American Museum of Natural History discovered the first dinosaur eggs and the now infamous velociraptor, the scarily intelligent dinosaur made famous by the 1993 movie Jurassic Park. This is one of the most significant sites on Earth for dinosaur fossils.

Part of Asia’s largest desert, the South Gobi was once an inland sea where life flourished some 80 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous Period. Many experts speculate that it was also a site of mass extinction where avalanche-like sand-slides both swept dinosaurs away and preserved their remains.

Apart from fossils the cliffs provide a wonderful vista of the steppes. At sunset, as the sun drops below the horizon, its rays bathe the sandstone cliffs in the fiery colours that give them their name. Blue Dot Travel offers Mongolia tours. 
Come and join us on a small group tour to this raw and wild destination and share a sundowner as the sun sets on this wonderful part of the Gobi Desert.  Find out more... click here.

Map of Mongolia
 Unique red sandstone formations in the Mongolian Desert

Brod Brennan in Mongolia

 Joanne Coughlan navigating her way down the cliff