Mongolia – In Search of Dragons and Eagles

Mongolia is an unspoiled wonder, a land where sand dunes sing, horses roam wild and nomadic herders greet strangers with open doors. Travel with an open mind and expect the unexpected.

Mongolia. The word alone stirs up visions of nomadic herders, thundering horses and, of course, the warrior-emperor Genghis Khan. The Mongols conquered half the known world in the 13th century and while their empire is long gone, visitors are still drawn to this magical land.

Mongolians know they live in a unique country. Ask anyone and they will probably start gushing about the vast steppes, rugged mountains and clear lakes. Just as appealing is Mongolia’s nomadic culture, still going strong in the 21st century. The chance to sleep in a ger, help herd the sheep and milk a cow is one of the ultimate “back to basics” experiences, made possible only because of the tremendous hospitality that exists here.

There are a few countries in the world, however, with such a stark difference between the rural and urban populations. While nomadic mongols live the simple life, their counsins in Ulaanbaatar are lurching headlong into the future. The capital is changing at a dazzling pace as Mongolia rushes to be part of the global community.

Where and How to visit in Mongolia? Which are the iconic regions and locations offering once in a life time experiences?

  • Getting around Mongolia usually requires flying or long drives.
  • Nomadic Expeditions always use Toyota Land Cruisers in the countryside. For
  • larger family in Ulaanbaatar and the surrounding areas, they use touring vans.
  • Flying around Mongolia usually requires overnight stays in Ulaanbaatar as scheduled domestic flights do not connect with one another. This means that if clients would like to visit the north first & then southern Mongolia, they will need to overnight in UB. But it is possible to fly private with charter helicopters and cessna fixed wing aircrafts.

NORTHERN MONGOLIA:

• Lake Hovsgol is the biggest attraction in Northern Mongolia.
• The lake is a sister lake to Lake Baikal and its crystal clear waters and the surrounding scenery entice clients to visit.
• To visit the area you must fly to Murun and drive to the lake (about two hours).
• Ger camps in the area are quite basic but possible to use a comfortable one which has Wooden Cottage Rooms with en suite bathrooms.
• For adept horseback riders, a visit to see the Tsataan people can be arranged.

• Activities at the lake include horseback riding, kayaking, hiking etc.

CENTRAL MONGOLIA:

• Central Mongolia is the cultural heart of the country.
• Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) set up his capital at Kharakhorum and the Erdene Zuu Monastery remains an important Buddhist center.
• The Orkhon Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• To reach this area, you must drive about five hours from Ulaanbaatar or charter a Cessna or helicopter and use the private airstrip nearby.
• There are local ger camps, a local hotel and Nomadic Expeditions will be setting up a private expedition camp for the 2021 season.
• The hiking & horseback riding in this area is phenomenal and cultural visits to the Kharakhorum Museum, Erdene Zuu Monastery, and local families make this a great destination for travelers.
• En route to Kharakhorum (or as a day trip from Ulaanbaatar) you can visit Hustain Nuruu National Park. The park is home to the Przewalski’s horse or Takhi, the last wild species of horse in the world.

WESTERN MONGOLIA

• Western Mongolia is one of the most striking regions of the country.
• Mongolia, Russia, and China converge at a point and the landscape is dotted with dramatic mountain scenery
• Visiting this region requires a domestic flight to Ulgii.
• For travellers wishing to do animal-supported treks, it is possible to do it in true expedition style trekking with tent stays.
Nomadic Expeditions will also be setting up a private ger camp in this region as well in 2021.
• Hiking is a major draw to Western Mongolia. The altitude is low enough that medication is not required but the scenery is striking and it is great for moderate to advanced hikers.
• Western Mongolia is also unique in that it is home to Kazakh people who practice eagle hunting.
• The Golden Eagle Festival, which takes place the first weekend of October, will be entering its 22th year in 2021.

THE GOBI

• The Gobi is Mongolia’s most Iconic region.
• To reach the Gobi, you fly to Dalanzadgad and then drive about 1.5 hours to the Three Camel Lodge (owned by Nomadic Expeditions). There is also a nearby landing strip for Cessnas & Helicopters as well
• Travellers are able to explore the region and its sights such as Moltsog Els, the Flaming Cliffs, Yol Valley National Park, and other areas

When to visit Mongolia:


• The main season for Mongolia is mid May to mid October. June, July, and August are most popular months to visit.
• July 11 – 13 is the Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar. This event attracts many tourists and rates are at their highest from July 5 – 20.
• In the shoulder months (May, September, and October) the domestic flight schedule is sporadic.
• Naadam is a term that refers to festivals that occur during the summer and feature the “three manly games” of wrestling, horseback riding, and archery.
• In addition to the main Naadam, there are also smaller, locally organized events throughout the summer.
• The Three Camel Lodge will host two Naadam festivals in 2021 on June 19 and August 21.

How best to discover Mongolia, it’s sights and sounds including it’s famous festivals? Below are my recommendations for travel in 2021 or 2022:

ITINERARY 1: IN SEARCH OF DRAGONS AND EAGLES (with Golden Eagle Festival)

Tour Mongolia and discover two of the most fascinating regions, the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia, where Kazakh hunters celebrate their traditional culture and magnificent golden eagles, and the diverse ecosystems of the Gobi Desert.

This luxury journey through Mongolia begins in Bayan-Ulgii Province at the Golden Eagle Festival. This will be the 21stannual festival, with more visitors attending each year from all over the world.

Golden Eagles have been used in the everyday lifestyle of nomadic Kazakhs for millennia for the purposes of hunting; both the Berkut Association and the Golden Eagle Festival were established in 1999 by Nomadic Expeditions’s Founder and CEO Jalsa Urubshurow to preserve this ancient tradition and protect this rare species.

Each year, the region’s Kazakh hunters attend the festival with their golden eagles, entering them in competitions testing speed, agility, and accuracy. Ceremonies, dance performances, a parade in the provincial capital’s city square, and a Kazakh play are held in honor of the hunters and their eagles. This authentic Kazakh experience is a highlight of any visit to Mongolia.

Continuing the Mongolian expedition in the vast and dramatic Gobi, explore an incredible array of unforgettable landscapes, including the sand dunes of Hongoryn Els and the deep desert valley of Yol Valley National Park. Visit the Flaming Cliffs, the legendary site where the first nest of dinosaur eggs was discovered, and Tugrugyn Shiree, where paleontologists unearthed the “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil.

Outline Itinerary

Day 1-2 | Ulaanbaatar

Arrive in Ulaanbaatar. Spend the following day at Gandan Monastery, the recently renovated Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig, “the lord who looks in every direction.” In the afternoon, visit the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, named in honor of Zanabazar, the renowned 17th-century artist and politician, who was also the first Buddhist leader of Mongolia.

Days 3-5 | Ulgii | Golden Eagle Festival

Fly to Ulgii and visit Lake Tolbo before enjoying two days of festivities surrounding the Golden Eagle Festival.

Day 6 | Return to Ulaanbaatar

Spend the afternoon at leisure in Ulaanbaatar and in the evening enjoy a performance featuring traditional dancers and khoomi throat singers.

Day 7-9 | Gobi Desert

Fly to the Gobi, and upon arrival drive to Moltsog Els, one of the few regions of the Gobi covered by sand dunes. Explore the sand dunes on foot or on back of a Bactrian camel. In the upcoming days, continue exploring the diverse landscapes of the Gobi. Drive to the site of the Khavtsgait Petroglyphs, hundreds of stone carvings that date to the Bronze Age. Later, head to the legendary Flaming Cliffs, discovered by legendary adventurer Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews in 1923.

On your final day in the Gobi, visit Yol Valley. A remarkable landscape that is home to a wide range of wildlife, Yol Valley is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert. Drive to the Three Camel Lodge, our award-winning ecolodge located near Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.

Day 10| Ulaanbaatar

Return to Ulaanbaatar, visit the renowned Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. Built in the late 19th century, the Winter Palace was home to the monarch of the first independent Mongolian state for twenty years.

Day 11 | Ulaanbaatar Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Visit Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, in the foothills of the Khentii Mountain Range, where you will embark on a hike to Aryabal Monastery, ride horses, and explore this magnificent landscape.

Day 12 | Departure

Dates:

Sep 29, 2021 – Oct 10, 2021
Sep 28, 2022 – Oct 9, 2022


ITINERARY 2: ICONIC MONGOLIA (with Nadaam Festival)

For awe-inspiring scenic beauty, Mongolia has few rivals, and this journey is one of our most popular introductions to its extraordinary biodiversity. Experience the hospitality of Mongolia’s nomads while exploring a wide variety of landscapes, from the clear waters of Lake Hovsgol in the far north to the magnificent Gobi Desert in the south.

Begin this tour in Mongolia’s dark blue pearl, Lake Hovsgol, believed by scientists to be the cleanest freshwater lake on the planet, before traveling overland to the former site of Karakorum, the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire. Mongolia’s largest monastery, Erdene Zuu, was built nearby during the 16th century, reputedly from the remnants of this once-thriving city.

The adventure concludes in the Gobi Desert, where towering sand dunes can be explored from the back of a Bactrian camel. A special offering on this year’s trip, travelers will attend a local Nadaam Festival in the Gobi, the traditional “Three Manly Sports” festival which includes competitions in wrestling, archery, and horseracing.

Outline Itinerary

Days 1-2 Ulaanbaatar

This Mongolia group tour begins with your arrival in the capital. Explore Gandan Monastery, as well as Ulaanbaatar’s top sites, including the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, National History Museum, and Zaisan Memorial.

Days 3-5 Lake Hovsgol | Ulaanbaatar

Spend two days at Lake Hovsgol exploring the mountains, meadows, and lakeshore by foot or on horseback. Return to Ulaanbaatar and visit Lake Irkh, a small saltwater lake in the midst of the steppe that is a habitat for a number of birds.

Days 6-8 Kharakhorum | Ulaanbaatar

Travel to Kharakhorum, site of the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire, stopping along the way at Shankh Hiid and Erdene Zuu Monastery. Return to Ulaanbaatar and visit with a nomadic horse-breeding family.

Day 9 Gobi Gurvansaikhan | Hongoryn Els

Travel to the Gobi, Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Drive to the towering dunes of Hongoryn Els, the most magnificent sand dunes in the Gobi. Visit a camel-herding family and explore the area on foot, or on the back of a Bactrian camel.

Day 10-11 Three Camel Lodge | Nadaam

Spend another day exploring the dunes known as the “singing sands”due to the remarkable low-pitched groan that is emitted when the surface is disturbed by wind. Next, begin your drive to the award-winning Three Camel Lodge. On the way, stop at Gegeet valley, habitat of the elusive snow leopard. The next day, witness a local Nadaam Festival, which includes competitions in the “three manly sports”: wrestling, archery and horseracing.

Day 12 Yol Valley | Flaming Cliffs

Visit Yol Valley in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, a surprisingly green valley. Hike through the valley as you observe the habitat of indigenous vulture-like Lammergeiers, Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks, and Argali mountain sheep. In the late afternoon, drive to the legendary Flaming Cliffs, named for the red-orange sandstone that glows brilliantly at sunrise and sunset. It was here in 1923 that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his team found the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen.

Day 13 Ulaanbaatar

End your tour of Mongolia with a visit to the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum. In the evening, enjoy a traditional throat singing and dance performance at your farewell dinner.

Day 14 Departure

Dates:

Jun 9, 2021 – Jun 22, 2021
Aug 11, 2021 – Aug 24, 2021
Jun 15, 2022 – Jul 28, 2022
Aug 3, 2022 – Aug 16, 2022


ITINERARY 3: Adventure Trekking in the Altai Mountains

For an unforgettable outdoor adventure, take this journey on a trek through the magnificent Altai Mountains, located at the borders of Russia, China, and Mongolia. One of the last untouched wilderness areas of Asia, the stunning beauty of these peaks–Mongolia’s highest, with several reaching upwards of 14,000 feet–will be the backdrop of our journey.

Western Mongolia is still relatively unexplored, and this expedition offers active travelers a unique opportunity to trek among the region’s snow-capped mountains and camp beside pristine rivers and lakes. Highlights include trekking through the foothills of Tsambagarav Mountain, exploring the forests of Maraat Valley, and visiting peaceful Tolbo Lake. Traveling through this spectacular landscape affords travelers the opportunity to interact with local nomadic Kazakh families and experience the unique culture that has been preserved in this remarkable and isolated part of the world.

Outline Itinerary:

Day 1-2 | Ulaanbaatar & Ulgii
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar. Fly to Ulgii the following day and drive to the campsite at the Khatuugiin River.

Days 3-4 | Tsambagarav, Namarjin Valley, & Tavan Belchir Gorge
Begin the trek towards the permanently snow-capped peak of Tsambagarav Mountain, passing through the stunning Namarjin Valley and Tavan Belchir Gorge.

Days 5-6 | Tsambagarav, Har Asga Camp, & Maraat Valley
Continue through the foothills of Tsambagarav Mountain, across glaciers, boulders, and grassy hills, visiting Uuld and Kazakh families along the way.

Days 7-8 | Had Uzuur Bridge & Tolbo Lake
After hiking down Bayan Gol Zuslan, complete the trek at Had Uzuur Bridge. The following day, drive to crystal clear Tolbo Lake, stopping to visit the homes of Uriankhai families whose culture and traditions have been preserved for centuries.

Days 9-10 | Ulaanbaatar
Following a visit to a museum and mosque in Ulgii, return to Ulaanbaatar. Spend the day exploring Gandan Monastery, the National History Museum, and the Zaisan Memorial. Enjoy an evening performance of throat singing to conclude this exciting trek in Mongolia.

Day 11 | Departure

Dates:
This is a private journey offered from May through October

Activity Level for this journey:
Active trekkers who want to explore western Mongolia’s majestic Altai Mountains, and who are comfortable with moderately strenuous hikes on uneven terrain at altitudes of up to 9,500 feet.


ACCOMMODATION:

THREE CAMEL LODGE, THE GOBI, SOUTHERN MONGOLIA:

Three Camel Lodge offers a slice of the nomadic lifestyle with an elevated take on the classic ger. The simple elegance of the gers blends with the Gobi’s remarkable landscape, and in keeping with Mongolian tradition, each has a southward-facing entrance.

Three Camel Lodge is comprised of 35 individual gers. Handmade using a latticed wood construction and covered with layers of felt and canvas, each ger at the Three Camel Lodge is heated by a wood stove and appointed with handpainted wood-framed king or double beds and custom furnishings.

Each ger also features a private bathroom equipped with a toilet, sink and shower. Mongolian felt slippers and bathrobes are among the locally influenced inroom amenities.

Three Camel Lodge provides a true escape from the everyday. As such, there are no telephones or access to the Internet. It has been chosen as one of the 50 Best Eco-Lodges by National Geographic Adventure.

SHANGRI-LA HOTEL, ULAANBAATAR

Shangri-La Hotel, Ulaanbaatar, is located right in the heart of the city centre. It is an ideal base for holiday travellers and within walking distance of the famous Government House, Great Chinggis Khaan Square and main offices and embassies. Chinggis Khan International

The hotel features 290 elegant and spacious guestrooms with a minimum of 42 sqm and contemporary and indigenous fusion design. All guest rooms and suites overlook either Nayramdal Park to the south or Great Chinggis Khaan Square and panoramic vistas of the city to the north.

MUNKH TENGER GER CAMP, CENTRAL HEARTLAND MONGOLIA:

Located in Karakorum, Munkh Tenger Ger Camp is a traditional Mongolian camp and a popular base for exploring the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire and the Orkhon Valley. Unlike many ger camps, it offers 24-hour electricity, WiFi and running water.

The camp accommodates up to 140 people in 40 warm, comfortable gers, with traditional furniture, cosy textiles, and a wood-burning stove. Most guests use a communal bathroom block with toilets and hot showers. However, on your journey you will be booked in one of the 10 deluxe gers with private bathrooms.

GOBI ERDENE GER CAMP, SOUTHERN MONGOLIA (used as an overnight stay enroute from Ulaanbaatar to Three Camel Lodge in Gobi Desert):

Located in the Gurvan Saikhan National Park in the heart of the Gobi Desert, the Gobi Erdene Ger Camp offers basic yet comfortable accommodation. This simple camp is the best option for exploring the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, known as the Singing Dunes.

It has traditional Mongolian accommodation of 33 gers, which share a communal shower and toilet blocks. But on this trip you will stay in one of 24 rustic log cabins with private bathrooms. The camp has limited generator electricity during the evenings.

NOMADIC EXPEDITIONS WILDERNESS CAMP (various locations in Mongolia):

They have an exclusive setting, can be set up anywhere depending on trip itinerary. The camp’s gers are constructed in the same way the nomadic tribespeople of Mongolia have been building their dwellings for centuries. These round tents are private, spacious and comfortable, with double beds, a small wash basin and a wood burning stove. A generator creates enough electricity for personal electronic items such as cameras and phones to be charged in your ger. They offer private ensuite facilities, and services of a private Chef.


How to book:

Above journeys are curated and executed by Nomadic Expeditions, an award-winning tour operator in Mongolia since last 28 years. You can book any of above journeys or get a new journey customized as per your preferences and expectations using their partner agent in India – Experiential Travel Journeys Pvt. Ltd., based out of New Delhi. They are a boutique travel design company specialising in unique, off-beat, once in a lifetime expeditions to destinations worldwide including Mongolia.

– Amit Kalsi, Private Travel Designer

Published by experientialtraveljourneys

A Private Travel Designer specialising in private, luxury, experiential, transformational, off-beat, off-the-grid, bespoke, tailor-made, bespoke, authentic, sustainable journeys to destinations worldwide.

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