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A lot of us think we are really brave and radical to make a career change. I certainly did. However, those of us that fall into this bracket may choose to eat a slice of humble pie when they hear Enke’s story.....

I have travelled extensively in Asia and lived in Nepal for 4 years, was this journey going to be that much different?......
Oh Yes!

— Pauline Sanderson

the land with no fences

I had been reading about the nomads of Mongolia. Despite a 70 year Russian intervention between the 1920’s and 1990’s, they continue to live and love the nomadic traditions that go back hundreds of years. Being a bit of a culture vulture, and completely hooked on the outdoor life, I decided to go and experience this ‘land without fences’ for myself. I wanted to be part of a migration, which happens twice or four times a year depending on where you live in Mongolia. I wanted to meet people that have never been to the city and live from the land, each other and their religion. I have travelled extensively in Asia and lived in Nepal for 4 years, was this journey going to be that much different? Oh Yes!

Good old Aeroflot, cheap cheerful and believe it or not very reliable. I ended up having a bit of a banter with a few young Mongolian police men who had good enough English to make me laugh. It ended with Enke coming and sitting next to me. He explained that he was living in Notting Hill with his wife, he worked in a hotel while studying for accountancy exams at the same time. His 8 year old daughter was being looked after in Ulan Battar by his wife’s parents. Family seems to be a much more flexible institution. If a member of your family is living with another part of the family, they are at home, so his daughter was not considered to be short changed because she was loved and looked after full time by family. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t mum and dad. The fact I have no children but I am married and 39, was a bit outside his scope of understanding. Why not? Who will look after you when you are old? Mate, I don’t have a pension and I live for the day. The thought of being 80 is as far removed from my planning as Mr Bush is from reality.

Ulan Battar

I explained my Mongolian mission to experience nomadic life. He casually mentioned that he had lived as a nomad until he was 18 and would be happy to take me to visit his old camps in the west. I hesitated ……..no I didn’t , but I told my husband I did. We had met less than one hour before our flight landed in Ulan Battar and he had taken responsibility for me from the moment I said yes. Getting through customs, carrying my bag, everything. His family were there to meet him and they didn’t batter an eye lid at his extra baggage and the fact I took them completely out of their way to find this cheap little hotel that I had ear marked from my Lonely Planet Guide. As it was they took me to a nicer place as he wanted to show his country off at a good standard, so I paid more than I had budgeted for but it was a good way to start a trip with a nice bathroom.

Only an hour after being dropped off I got a call to say there was a family picnic and that he would be picking me up in an hour. Great! His younger brother was the ‘chauffer’. He said nothing, drove well, didn’t smile much but seemed to be ready and willing to drop anything for any of us at any time. Then there were the 3 kids including Enke’s daughter Onka. We tried to teach each other our languages for the hour or so that we travelled around various districts, collecting and dropping off people and goods. Enke was very proud of his daughter and was really encouraging her to speak English with me as he believes that her future will depend on it.

Next was Mongolian detox special…. Fresh goats blood!


We passed the suburbs of Ulan Battar which were a stark contrast to Russian heritage of the city centre. Out here, stone buildings mixed with wooden shacks and felt gers (nomadic tent made of felt). As we left the built up areas behind us we moved into real Mongolia, wide open spaces, no fences and lush pastures. We crossed fields and rivers to end up at a small family homestay where we were to meet the rest of Enke’s family for a welcome home party. The kids and I jumped out of the jeep and ran straight to a small enclosure where their aunt was clipping cashmere from a goat. Then we raced to the river, skimmed stones, played tig. We communicated in that international jargon of body language which never fails.

After four years, love and marriage brought Pauline back to the UK, where she worked with a team building company in the Lake District.

Next was Mongolian detox special…. Fresh goats blood! Big brother No. 2 got the knife with us all gathered around, slit the goats neck, caught the blood in the bowl and offered it around. I had a vegetarian moment. The only way I like blood is in black pudding. I felt less of a whimp when a couple of the others declined too. Enke hated it but apparaently it does you good so went for it. YUK! Stage 2 was the skinning and choping of the goat which happened in the ger with a herder who was there and looks after their homestay. They keep this place to stay in touch with their roots I am sure and Enke took great pride in explaining the traditions and history of the process.

Enke's Family

he afternoon was spent, eating, and drinking traditional Mongolian food and drink. They made a point of this. The kids did lots of running races with us as the audience. It felt like one big happy family. It was the total harmony over three generations of this family that hit home. The story of this family deserves its own story as all of them have come from the far west and created their own success stories. There are four brothers and one sister. The sister still lives out in the west and we were to meet her soon. What a wonderful introduction to Mongolia. The modern Mongolian family who were still proud to practice the traditions of their heritage.

Next day I entertained myself by trying to find my way around Ulan Bataar where nobody speaks English, and the street signs are not in Roman type but Mongolian script????? Even with my Mongolian for idiots guide it was tough. Felt very safe and had a great day. My bus journeys were helped by friendly clippie conductors. I pointed to the map, they pointed me in the right direction. After finding a very nourishing German bakery, letting Phil know I was in safe hands via one of several internet sites I ended up going to an art gallery and saw Giselle the ballet at a theatre not dissimilar to The Old Vic in London. The dancing and the theatre were absolutely stunning. What a treat. Hardly roughing it in Outer Mongolia is it?

Next day I felt like a VIP as Enke and his brother Jaga chauffeured us around in his even bigger 4 wheel drive. We got our flight tickets booked and paid for. Not cheap as a tourist. It cost me $300 and Enke was $100. Logic seems fair to me, but at this point I wasn’t quite sure exactly what or where we were off to experience but I know my gut instinct has always served me well in the past and this was to be no exception. We popped in to see a friend of Jaga who happens to be the Head of the National Assembly of Mongolia, I’m glad I was wearing my best rucksack!

I bet not that many nomads need to go on a fitness programme. But what was nomad life ? I would soon find out


Enke went off for a party with some friends and Jaga took charge as tour guide. He is an engineer and seemed to have no trouble taking time off to be my host. We went an hour or so out to Manzshirkhid monestry. This was not completely destroyed by the Russians back in the 20’s and is set in stunning scenery. We had a great time as Jaga practiced his English which I am convinced was 10 times better by the end of the day. He is such a joker and I kept trying to imagine this city slicker living nomad life. He would have been fit and healthy and now he had trouble making the small hill up to the monastry. I bet not that many nomads need to go on a fitness programme. But what was nomad life ? I would soon find out.

Next morning it was an early wake-up call for a pick-up to an incredibly busy airport. Rumours of overbooking and weather left us with the possibility of not flying. Over booking comes as no surprise. It was only Enke’s connections that got us on this flight at this notice. Stay flexible in Asia and leave all the stress and deadlines for back at your office and you wont go far wrong.

Our final destination was Bulgan, a four hour flight west of Ulan Batar. Flying over Mongolia in a small plane was a great way to really get a grip on the vast and predominantly unpopulated landscape. Considering its size ( 1566500 sq km ), there are only two and a half million people living there. No wonder it is the land without fences….


We finally flew into Bulgan after a couple of stop offs. As you can imagine, it isn’t as much an airport as a flat piece of land and a small office. Enke had not been back for 10 years and I thought a lot may have changed, but apparently not. He saw his sister Monke, and I was surprised at the lack of hugs etc but I took my western hat off and recognised that this is just the way. They are not a huggy nation when they say hello or goodbye, just an acknowledgement is enough. She had her son Dalek who was 8 years old with her. She took me in her stride and I wasn’t quite sure how to take her so I held back on being pally pally just in case. Of course she proved to be exceptional and so welcoming and I couldn’t fault her hospitality. As we were waiting for the jeep (great Russian number that seems to last and go on for ever), a few people recognised Enke. He was wearing pinstriped trousers, very smart shoes and crisp white shirt and tank top. He was very much the gentleman with a statement to make, ‘I have moved on from here!!!’ One older gentleman came up and was talking to Enke and staring at me. He apparently had not seen a tourist before and was interested. I hope I lived up to expectations.

He apparently had not seen a tourist before and was interested. I hope I lived up to expectations

 Pauline Sanderson

We drove a short distance home to Monke’s flat. The town was another throwback of Russia. Characterless brick buildings but all functional with communal shack toilets in the square (conveniently only 150m from our place ). The flat was simple, clean and compact and typical of all the others in the blocks. A living room which turns into a bedroom at night, a kitchen area but without the mod cons of running water or a cooker, a bedroom and outside, a hand basin so you never get less than a fresh feeling when you wash.
We ate drank and talked as Enke got into full flow about his childhood. He seemed stimulated by being back here and having somebody from his new world (England) to see and experience the world he had come from. I was a sponge and listened with fascination as he told stories that I had been dying to hear but never knew if they would come. His childhood was not as easy one as he stayed with his grandparents lving in a ger, herding the goats and living a classic but very lonely existence. His father had become the secretary of the co-op and ended up living in town with the rest of the family. Enke ws needed on the land and lead a very typical life. Up early and from that point the day consisted of making or collecting food and herding the goats. He can’t remember having a bath before the age of nine when he started school. He loved school so much. It was in town but still had to return to his grandparents during the holidays. As I say, there is a book in his story and I presently trying to get him to write one, so watch this space for the adventures of a nomad.

Bulgan town is a throwback of a run down wild west set. Horses and camels tied up to various poles and trees with sand based dusty streets. I caught the local butcher with his back of a truck shop. There was no doubt you could get what joint you wanted as he cut what appendage of the animal off there and then, ‘ is that with or without the hoof madam?’ Lots of square and bland clay coloured shops next to each other all selling the same things. The population of this whole area is 10 000. Not many but enough to keep everybody ticking in business if you spread it around.

We visited several friends in gers and in flats in the town and in every one we were greeted with tea and various forms of food from biscuits to boiled mutton. The odd vodka helped to keep the flow going.

Enke explained that in this area, the nomadic people, moved four times a year. They always go to the same places. He was about to take me to his old patch. It was 10 miles out of town. It was an off road trip in a jeep that we would pay for in the UK. Hang on and enjoy the ride!

old ger camp

We spend so much time chasing a materialistic dream, we can miss the beauty and time to enjoy the biggest gift of all…time to enjoy our natural environment and each other

 Pauline Sanderson

It had been 10 years since Enke had visited his old ger camp. There were 4 gers and one brick building with 4 families. As we arrived we were met and ushered in for the traditional tea, cheese and bread again. The men handes around the snuff and they all made poite conversation without any of the ‘’wow how the hell are you ?!!’ kind of feeling. However as time went on the banter grew and grew. Enke was really keen to explain to me how far he had come from here and was apologetic for the basic level of life. I had to explain that he didn’t have to apologise for anything. I have respect and admiration for the way of life they continue to live. There is an envy in the west for the simple life without the trappings of modern life. We spend so much time chasing a materialistic dream, we can miss the beauty and time to enjoy the biggest gift of all…time to enjoy our natural environment and each other.

We all went outside and I became the entertainment as I attempted to ride one of their horses. Small but powerful beasts. I rode off from the main camp and couldn’t flaunt my riding skills as my 4 legged friend had a language problem with me. My audience however, were very entertained and Imagay (lovely 16 year old herder) gave me some great tips ‘choo choo’ and a good slap. Bingo, off I went, not the stylish laid back style of Mongolian herdsmen but it worked.

Enke went off to visit some ill friends and I was left to body language for my communication tool. We had a great time! Imagay and I went off on horses and herded up the goats from across the river. I was in heaven in the land with no fences. I was in the dream I had come to experience, with nomads, on horseback herding goats in a vast landscape with no fences. We had a really good time as we laughed at my attempts to copy his style and language for herding. As we came triumphantly back to base, with all the goats, I got involved with the next stage….milking.

Grandma took me under her wing. They tie the goats in long lines and get two lines to face each other and tie them in a lockheads position. Thing of a rugby scrum for goats! Then grand ma got her first goatand talked to me in fluent Mongolian about how to squeeze the teet to the very end. I explained in fluent English that I wasn’t quite getting it and could she give me a few more tips. We didn’t understand and word each other said but somehow we totally understood what we meant and I got it! A down goats later I had a decent amount of milk. A proud moment. We had us three women milking and the men were laughing and joking with us all the time. It was a surreal experience to feel like I fitted in so well to a lifestyle thousands of miles and cultures away from my home in the Lakes. I felt incredibly comfortable and so happy to be there.

Next it was time to release the baby goats to get the leftovers. It was mob control…youth of today.?!

I had brought a Polaroid camera so I could give people photos there and then. I took a picture of Patamesurum and her little boy. She loved it and soon it was a line up. I didn’t have enough film and so I ended up shooting nearly a whole film of them all and have sent them to Monke to give them. It was great fun taking photos and I was able to see them in their entertaining mode. Great characters, enjoying each other and the moment. Patamesurum and I bonded over more tea and then Imagay taught me to dance Mongolian style (waltz with a funny bit in the middle). The time seemed appropriate to dress me up in her traditional dress to look the part. I felt like we were playing at dressing up and being adults, great fun. Then Imagay got together with his mate and demonstrated some Mongolian wrestling and of course won. I was suitably impressed and if ever I had a daughter and Imagay was the boy she brought home, I would be very happy. He was polite, great fun and a real gentleman. Patamesurum was enjoying having somebody new around and they made my stay there a complete and inspirational experience.

Imagay and I went out for another ride to enjoy the sunset and freedom. Enke returned in time for us to take time to have tea/ vodka with the older couple of the camp who watched him grow up. He translated for me and he related some of their memories of him with pride. Maybe he was remembering the good parts of his nomad life now?

We said our goodbyes and I left feeling the luckiest person in the world

 Pauline Sanderson

We said our goodbyes and I left feeling the luckiest person in the world. I really want to come back and do the migration with them one day. It takes about 4 days June. They can take down a ger in about 40 minutes. It takes me that much time to pack to go away for a weekend! I went to sleep dreaming of the land with no fences.

My experience in the west continued to inspire me as we went looking for and found Kazak eagle hunters, went on a major off road experience to get to Khovd. However that is for another story. This is about Enke and his transition from nomad to Notting Hill. What a transition! He gave me first hand insight into a special world and I would like to thank him and his family for looking after me from the moment I arrived to the moment I left…literally! I was their first guest but I hope I am not their last. When Enke finishes studying in London for his accountancy exams, he will be back in Mongolia. He may even start his own travel company now he knows how enthralled foreigners are by his old world.

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