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Safe Mongolia Return
I've just now got back from the Gobi, on my latest of three ventures to trace some of those who were so kind to me as a young man. First (two years ago) I went to PNG to trace Korsai, and the Yaifo community that lives isolated in the Central Range, then last year headed to the Peruvian Amazon, successfully finding Lucy (no longer a little girl who taught me the rudiments of rain forest survival, but a powerful woman for her community and married to the Matses leader) and now set off for Mongolia.
This time I hoped to locate the family of Tsend, the blind shaman who predicted disaster for the journey of twenty-two years ago, but also Dundoi a notable Kazak herder, and others who assisted when disaster did indeed strike. And what of Kermit, the horseman who travelled with me for over three months on that 4500 km trek, and the numerous Mongolians who featured in Edge of Blue Heaven, the TV series I filmed as I went along? What of Mongolia itself – a country where half the population now live in the capital, Ulaan Baatar?
Mongolia did not disappoint. The country's proud tradition of hospitality was found to be alive and well. Even today, in 2019, a passing stranger may walk straight into a ger (felt tent home) without knocking, and expect to be given tea and hospitality. Once more, I was assisted by nomads every step of the way. First I tracked down Tsend's reindeer-herding son Gana, up in the Siberian portion of Mongolia. This was just one of many moving reunions – once again, we disgracefully shared a bottle of vodka together. I even found the little girl Uugantsetseg, once photographed walking the snow with her reindeer – she was reduced to tears by the cold - now with her own baby to care for. Dundoi too was alive and well – he'd just been awarded yet another medal for his herdsman skills; Kermit was found to be a taxi driver these days but again gathered himself – and completed an exhausting trek over ten days with me, and three camels, into the Gobi.
Now I am home, dusting the dust off and reflecting on another expedition that had proved incredibly heart-warming – just as in PNG and the Amazon, here again were a people largely in charge of their destiny and proud to their connection with the land that they knew as their home. We hear so much bad news about the environment – and there is INDEED much bad news (habitat destruction, species loss, climate crisis, and the refusal by our leaders to address that crisis) but to me such communities act like a symbol of hope. They are a reminder that there is still an extraordinary and rich world out there to cherish and fight for.
Next Expedition Mongolia!
You may remember Edge of Blue Heaven, the
This time, I'm hoping to find out what happened to Tsend, the blind shamaness (and indeed other members of the nomadic Tsaatan, or reindeer herding community) who launched me out. And what of the Kazaks of the Altai Range, who looked after me when all my animals were wiped out during a freak plague of blood-sucking flies? Finally, what about the remotest nomads of all, those I encountered during my six-week lone crossing of the Gobi, the temperature dropping half a degree a day as the dreaded Mongolian winter approached?
I'll film as I go – and hope this venture will form the third of a trilogy of self-filmed journeys back to people (in PNG, in the Peruvian Amazon and now Mongolia) who helped me on my way as a young man, and whose lives I documented a generation ago.
Hopefully, I'll be back before the beginning of July. But of course, with my expeditions you never quite know... As usual, no-one will hear anything from me til I'm safe and heading home.
Benedict Allen is (Not) Lost?
Home Coming! After decades of wandering the world, I'm at last coming back to where my journeys first began – Cheshire. On Sunday May 26th at noon, I'll be speaking at the Bollington Festival, just a stone's throw from my birthplace, Macclesfield. It was from near here – Woodfood Aerodrome – that my father tested the Vulcan bomber and it was perhaps these flights, some of them low over our house in Prestbury, that inspired me to head off into the blue and attempt to be a pioneer myself. Please do come and join me, if you can. The talk is entitled Benedict is (Not) Lost? However, I'm confident I'll find my way to the venue! Bollington is, after all, my home patch.