On this episode of the travel podcast Everywhere, host Daniel Scheffler tells us about his adventures in Mongolia to highlight one of his “travel commandments": 'Thou Shalt Throw Out The Checklist.' Instead of keeping to a prescribed list of attractions, restaurants, and resorts, Daniel says, it’s better to be spontaneous. So when he went to Mongolia, he had no plans except to ride a horse throughout the country for ten days. “Mongolia feels...a little otherworldly, like you're traveling into another universe...A country of shamans and nomads, where falconry, horse racing, and wrestling in very tight jackets and speedos is just another day in the Gobi,” Daniel describes. “It has a quiet, soothing way about it, that invites you as an outsider to observe and to marvel.” After a few days, “my hands felt thick...as I clenched these leather reins, and my thighs were getting their best Jane Fonda workout ever.”
During his horseback ride with his local guide, Zobi, Daniel experienced some incredible moments: Zobi would break out into traditional throat singing, “somewhere between a frog and Ed Sheeran...this beautiful sound floating across the Gobi Desert with us;” and had plenty of family to visit as well, some with extra yurts or, as they’re called in Mongolia, gers, Daniel could share. “Since these family was nomadic, we had an interesting time finding them. Entering a ger camp is done with no knocking. Mongolians have an open door policy for all.” He tried their fermented milk cookies (and got "obsessed" with them) and other traditional dishes, and took part in some of the traditional sports as well. These “flash Olympics,” as Daniel calls them, are sometimes competitions in wrestling, horseback riding, falconry, and archery put together casually between two families. “There are no weight classes, age limits, or even time limits in a match...so it's not uncommon to see a toddler wrestling a grown man during these nadaam festivals.” Daniel found himself outclassed in all the competitions he tried, but it didn’t matter. “I was experiencing the unexpected, with no formal plans...the moment I let go of these checklists...Mongolia just bloomed.”
Later, Stuff You Missed In History Class host Holly Frey joins Daniel to talk about Genghis Khan. “Mongolia was once the largest empire on earth, and today, locals celebrate this legacy with a reverence for Khan,” Daniel relates. “He comes up in every single conversation you have.” Turns out, Khan might be closer than you think: one genetic study showed that around 16 million people are descended from him. Daniel immediately pulls up his 23andMe profile, but no dice. On the plus side, he does discover that he’s descended from Louis XIV, and Holly says that must be why she loves him so much.
Then John Reede of Aman Resorts joins Daniel to tell the emotional story of how being in Bhutan on September 11, 2001 made him want to live there because of how the country treated the tragedy: they held a special ceremony with the King and Queens for any Americans who were in the country at the time, where monks prayed and chanted together with the mourners, and thousands of butter lamps were lit “to guide all of the souls that have been lost...over the last 24 hours.” The King and Queens cried with John and offered their condolences. “I just thought to myself, I’m in the most remote area of the Himalayas...I’ve only been here for a few days, and I have no idea what’s happened with my family back in the United States...and yet, these amazing, beautiful souls...have embraced me as one of their own, with so much outpouring of love and true emotion,” John marvels. “My wife and I had promised ourselves we would not make a decision about moving to Bhutan...but as we left that altar room...I just looked at her and said, ‘I think the decision’s made,’ and she said, ‘Yes.’”
Daniel is left speechless by this story, saying only, “We don’t need to talk anymore today.”
Join Daniel, Holly, and John to learn more about Mongolia, Genghis Khan, Bhutan, and plenty of reasons to lose your checklists, in this episode of Everywhere.
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