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Asia travel

How to enjoy Mongolia by bike, and help its poorest children

Sign up for next year’s charity Mongolia Bike Ride to see the country’s amazing landscape and stay in a traditional ger. The money raised will help fund a free kindergarten that schools and feed kids from the poorest families in Ulan Bator

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 5:25pm

Mongolia and its vast grasslands, glacial lakes, natural hot springs, thick forests and valleys is one of the last travel destinations to be tainted by tourism. Nomadic herders roam the countryside, following their grazing yaks. Gers – round tents the herders live in – dot the land.

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One of the best ways to explore its unspoilt landscapes is by bike, and in 2018, riders of all levels will be able to do just that while throwing a lifeline to some of the country’s most poverty-stricken children.

Many communities, remain crippled by poverty, and alcoholism plagues the yurt settlements where the majority are unemployed – 62 per cent, according to the World Bank.

“Life is tough in Mongolia,” says Marc-Henry Lebrun, the treasurer of Tsolmon Ireedui Foundation (TIF). “Many children have very hard lives and come from families with many problems; alcoholism is the major one. A lot of kids don’t go to school and stay at home alone, sometimes without heating. Temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius; so there’s a sense of urgency to help these children be safe and fed.”

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This sense of urgency was the reason TIF launched seven years ago, operating a free kindergarten to provide daytime shelter to youngsters from the poorest families living in the sprawling suburbs of the capital, Ulan Bator.

Youngsters are given three hot meals a day, receive regular visits from paediatricians and the children are encouraged to play and socialise. The organisation also works with local schools to help the young get back into the education system.

Registration has now opened for TIF’s main annual fundraiser, the Mongolia Bike Ride. Taking place from June 30 to July 1 2018, the charity challenge takes riders through the breathtaking scenery of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. “This offers full immersion in Mongolia for three days and a great opportunity to discover the country by bike,” Lebrun says.

Now in its third outing, the ride offers two trails, catering for different levels. The easy trail – the most popular – is a relaxed ride, with children aged 12 joining in last year’s jaunt with their parents. “The idea is you enjoy a gentle ride with friends,” adds Lebrun. “Any children comfortable on a bike can come, it’s ideal for families.”

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Competent riders can sign up for the expert trail, designed for those with more endurance. Covering 50km of more challenging terrain each day, the course delves more into the park’s heartland. Cyclists on both rides are hosted in traditional Mongolian ger camps.

The ride also includes a visit to TIF’s kindergarten to meet the children they are raising funds for. “We did this last year and it was a fantastic experience; the emotion was running so high. People came back with such strong memories,” says Lebrun.

Registration is HK$4,700, which includes transport to and from the airport, medical insurance, food, accommodation, bicycle rental and safety equipment. Participants will be expected to raise additional donations, with targets set by TIF based on individual circumstances.

TIF aims to raise US$50,000 to cover the kindergarten’s annual running costs, with a minimum of 60 cyclists needed. For more information, visit tifcharity.org.

Mongolian Airlines flies four times a week from Hong Kong to Ulan Bator.