Ulaanbaatar is an interesting example of what the Soviet Union did for and to its neighbours – but it’s not the real Mongolia. And no city or town would ever be the “real Mongolia”, because towns and cities are alien to Mongolian culture anyhow.
Elstei is a tour-lodge that offers the chance to spend some time in the Mongolian countryside, go riding with some nomads (earning extra cash by teaching their traditional skills as instructors), go walking in the huge open countryside, and live in a Mongolian ger tent whilst still having a civilized toilet and shower facility available in a special block a minute or two’s walk away. (When we mention that an authentic nomad stay would mean no kind of toilets or showers at all, this compromise miraculously doesn’t seem so terrible after all). The tour-lodge is entirely Mongolian run and provides fairly-salaried employment for quite a number of local people. The meals on offer are cooked by local staff, and always include a traditional Mongolian dish – but keep in mind that this would usually be mutton in some shape or form, because that’s what Mongolians like to eat. In parallel with the Mongolian food, there is always a “European-type” meal on offer, OR a meal from another cuisine in Asia (often Indian, since an expat Indian chef sometimes works at the kitchens when he is available). There is a small but friendly bar offering a variety of drinks – Mongolian local beer, or European wines, beers or other drinks too. There are frequent evening performances after supper – often of Mongolian traditional music, song or dance, or sometimes Mongolian contortionists (a long-established Mongolian tradition that goes back many centuries).
In a world where travel is increasingly packaged-up sets of clichés, Elstei defies this kind of cliché by offering the interests and pastimes of a complete society, without any “highlights”, or “boxes to tick”. Sometimes we find it hard to explain why we think it is so good, but we hope you’ll see roughly what we are offering here. Yes, it is a “softened-off” version of life on the Steppes – that’s why it is called a Ger Lodge, and no-one is pretending it is exactly as nomads live (we do offer an option that’s much closer to the real life of nomads, if you prefer to take it) – but Elstei offers many things which are authentically Mongolian (riding, walking, music and dance) within an infrastructure that’s not hard to tolerate, and remains fun and pleasant.