A few months ago we met photographer Thomas Kelly and his wife, the anthropologist Carroll Dunham, during their visit to Mallorca. This fascinating couple has seen many parts of our world but has decided to settle in Asia where they live a totally different life from the one we know here on the island. They have shared with us their unique experiences and stories of living in Mongolia.
A Passion for Wandering
There are not too many people who lead a lifestyle as exceptional as this family’s one. Most people are attracted to cosmopolitan areas or living in more developed countries. However, Thomas, Carroll and their two sons have decided to go back to the roots and spend their summers living in Mongolia with nomadic tribes and animals. Traveling in cycles, they split their time between Nepal and India in winter and Mongolia in summer where they run an eco-camp that welcomes guests from all over the world. Driven by curiosity and passion for humankind, and also humanity, their work has taken them all over the world giving them the opportunity to meet a great number of different kinds of people and tribes.
Carroll and Tom are unusual anthropologists. While most anthropologists go live in a new place for two or three years and then leave, the couple has decided to make a life in the foreign. Traveling is one of the couple’s greatest passions, but what is it that motivates them to explore the world? Carroll tells us many people argue that we are driven by a wanderlust gene. Genetically we’re tribal by nature and we can never break that down as humans. In her opinion traveling makes us more human because “we learn about different ways of being human and understand the common things that we share beyond the exotic, the foreign or the different. At the same time we can bring back really powerful possibilities and expand what it means to be human for ourselves”, she says.
Wanderlust gene: Makes us travel the world in search of new places and cultural immersion.
Feeling at Home in Asia
The couple has been living in Asia for over 40 years now. Asking about their decision to settle in this continent Thomas says “there is a certain level of familiarity. In Asia my heart is open. I feel at peace and more at home rather than walking down a shopping street in commercial Paris.” He fully enjoys the Asian food, the notion of the extended family, living culture and ritual there. In Asia, and especially in Mongolia, Thomas sees a chance to get in contact with authenticity. “It takes a real master to work with animals. To be able to understand nature and not necessarily change it, just be with it. And that’s quite rare these days.”
Carroll on the other hand loves the raw, wild spaces of Asia, the spiritual traditions and deep relationships. “That’s what keeps us there. At the end of the day that’s where our hearts are, our destiny and our work is.”
Living in Mongolia
The Mongolian tribes Thomas and Carroll’s family lives with in summer are one of the last and largest nomadic civilizations. Carroll is fascinated by the pure nature of the country that makes one feel like a tiny part of something much bigger. “There is this vastness of Mongolia’s space, steppes and sky. It is total freedom without any fences.” She tells us that living in Mongolia, in “the humility of that silence and infinite nature”, is very different from living in the modern, western world. Here, making a living and deadlines, driving cars or being dependent on digital devices impact our nervous systems negatively. Whereas in Mongolia the humans live from and with the nature. They bond so intimately with their animals that they almost become animals themselves, tells us Carroll. A profound relationship that in most parts of the world we don’t have anymore.
Fact: Mongolia is an Asian country of Europe’s size that most people don’t know too much about. Only about 3 million people but 70 million animals live there.
Uniting Cultures and Generations at the Eco-Camp
Thomas and Carroll have decided to share their beloved ‘summer residence’ in Mongolia with friends and foreigners. They can visit the eco-camp which the couple founded to offer an unique experience for people who want to get close to the nomadic culture, in touch with nature or enjoy a quiet space to let their nervous system rest. At the camp, they live off the grid under the canopy of stars in yurts, called ‘ger’ in Mongolian, the traditional homes for over 2000 years. There is no electricity, no running water. The camp works with solar energy, fire and water from unpolluted streams.
The couple runs the summer camp with local nomads, their Mongolian partners, who cook and help out. They welcome visitors from different countries with great joy. Because the Mongolian nomads live a quite isolated existence with their animals. At the camp guests of all ages can experience what it’s like living in Mongolia with tribes. They can connect with nature and the elements through various activities from fishing to yoga and even milking a yak. They also have the chance to get in touch with locals. Guests can participate in the locals’ daily activities and even shamanic rituals to call and question their ancestors. An undoubtedly unique experience for all those who want to get back to the roots. And who also want to disconnect from their otherwise busy lives in the West for a while.
Visit www.wildearthjourneys.com for more information about the Lapis Sky Camp!
Mongolia Travel Tips
You would love to experience Mongolia’s vastness, freedom and a unique connection with nature? Travelling to and living in Mongolia can be quite difficult for non-seasoned travellers. Here are some tips to make your trip easier.
Best time to go
May to September are the best months to visit Mongolia as the temperatures are higher and the weather better.
Where to go
Popular destinations are Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, the Gobi Desert and eco-camps in the steppes.
How to get there from Spain
Flying to Mongolia usually requires one or two stops en route to get to the major international Chinggis Khaan Airport in Ulaanbaatar. You will have to fly via Berlin or Frankfurt, Istanbul, Moscow or even Beijing to get there. Fly with airlines such as MIAT, Turkish Airlines, Air China or Aeroflot.
What to bring
As temperatures may vary bring loose-fitting, lightweight clothes for warm days and fleece tops, jumpers, and water-/windproof jackets for colder days. In case you go horse or camel riding bring long pants and proper footwear for hiking trips. Bring any medication you need and insect repellent. You may also want to bring spare batteries or powerbanks for cameras and phones as there might be no electricity.
All photos by Thomas L. Kelly, visit www.thomaslkellyphotos.com for more fascinating images.