Endless blue skies, a picturesque plateau, vast desert and welcoming nomadic hospitality is everything that is great about this exploration of Mongolia. As well as this we visit old monasteries, cross part of the great Gobi Desert and experience traditional Nomadic hospitality.
Nadaam Festival Departure – Experience Mongolia’s ‘3 sports festival’ including horse racing, wrestling and archery
Day 1 Join trip in Ulaanbaatar
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar, the largely modernised capital hub of Mongolia. Despite its concrete faade, this city is home to nearly half of the population, and many can be seen in their traditional dress with a huge proportion continuing to live in gers in the suburbs.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Ulaanbaatar at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Chinggis Khan International Airport (ULN), which is 30 minutes’ drive from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up in the hotel lobby on day two.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore locally on foot.
Day 2 Drive to Hogno Khan Mountain
Today, a long yet scenic drive takes us to Hogno Khan Mountain where we will spend the next two nights at our ger camp. Hogno Khan Mountain is a particularly serene spot and you will have plenty of time to explore and relax here.
Day 3 Explore the monastery and Hogno Khan Mountain
After breakfast there will be the opportunity to hike up Hogno Khan Mountain – a three hour walk that is amply rewarded with breathtaking views from the top. The beautiful flowers and butterflies en route also make it worthwhile. You may wish to visit the nearby freshwater pool and watch the impressive birdlife that inhabits this area. There is a chance to visit the Erdene Khombo monastery, led by a lady abbot located in the mountain nearby. Alternatively, simply relax with a good book and an exceptional view.
Day 4 Visit Erdene Zu Monastery en route to Karakorum
Leaving Hogno Khan we drive to Karakorum, Genghis Khan’s capital in the 13th century. En route, we’ll visit the immense Erdene Zuu Monastery – Mongolia’s first Buddhist centre established in the 16th century and now an active monastery as well as a museum. At its zenith, there were 1,000 resident monks and, although most of the temples were destroyed in the 1930s, the monastery is slowly being restored and is considered by many as the most important monastery in Mongolia. The political climate in Mongolia is changing and Buddhism, previously suppressed, is currently experiencing a resurgence. On a hill outside the monastery sits an interestingly shaped rock – a reminder for the monks to remain celibate. We also visit the Karakorum Museum which chronicles the history of the Khan Empire along with artefacts from the ruined city.
Day 5 Drive to our camp near to Saikhan Ovoo
Today we undertake the longest drive of the trip, but the scenery is so spectacular that the eight hours is sure to pass quickly, especially as it is interspersed with plenty of stops. Once again, there are no roads and few tracks to follow. The other thing that will doubtless strike you when travelling through these great expanses of Mongolia is the varied bird life. Mongolian Lark, Demoiselle Cranes and Black Vultures may be seen, to name but a very few. Very bizarrely, this land-locked country also seems to attract many coastal species, such as plover, redshank and avocet. Our accommodation for the night is in a permanent ger camp, so the bathroom and restaurant facilities are in a purpose-built block, as opposed to our previous ger accommodation which had separate kitchen, restaurant and shower gers. Next to the ger camp are the ruins of the Ongi Monastery – once home to over 1,000 lamas until it was destroyed during the Stalinist purges in the 1930s.
Day 6 Cross the Gobi Desert to Bayanzag
Today we drive through one of the remotest parts of our planet. The sheer vastness of the desert is awe-inspiring and, as our driver sets off across terrain with no tracks, let alone roads, we marvel at how he knows where he is going. The Mongol culture of today is still mainly pastoral and we hope to come across itinerant herdsmen, a group of two or three families, their gers pitched on the steppe. The nomads live in harmony with their surroundings and move with the seasons. Many rear camels, sheep and goats. It is likely that, at some point during our trip, we will be invited to share a drink of airag or koumiss (fermented mare’s milk) with these friendly people. There are many polite points of etiquette to learn, but our guide will help us through these so we do not inadvertently cause offence. The provision of a gift when you visit a ger is part of the culture in Mongolia, so feel free to pack something small. Practical items such as torches or sewing kits, that save a trip to town are often the most appreciated. We plan to visit the spot where the first dinosaur eggs were discovered in Central Asia.
Day 7 Drive to Dungenee and the Yol Valley
Moving on again today we make our way to Yol Valley. This gorge sees such little sunlight that there are usually traces of ice even though we are in the middle of the desert. Due to the altitude of the surrounding Gurvan Saikhan Mountains, a temperate ecosystem exists, with argali sheep, ibex and snow leopards living here – as opposed to the desert species we might expect. Our accommodation for the night is in a camp, with the smell of feverfew, camomile and thyme in the grass and looking out over the Gobi Desert and beside a mountain range, this spot exudes peace and tranquillity.
Day 8 Take a walk through the Yol Valley
We spend today exploring the Yol Valley starting with a visit to the small museum and then taking a short drive to the head of the valley where we take a leisurely walk. The scenery of the valley is very beautiful and has permanent glaciers, small waterfalls and a narrow, steep-sided canyon; rare animals live in the valley including Siberian Ibex, snow leopards and bearded vultures.
Day 9 Fly to Ulaan Baatar and visit Bogd Khan Palace
This morning we will take the short flight back to the capital. In the afternoon we have an opportunity to explore Ulaan Baatar. We will visit the National Musemum of Mongolia, which, although stuck in a time warp from a presentation perspective, contains an impressive array of exhibits taking you through the ancient and more recent history. We will also visit the Bogd Khan Palace. Built at the turn of the last century as a winter palace for the last king and eighth living Buddha of Mongolia, this simple two storey wooden building was, for many years, the tallest building in Mongolia.
Day 10 In Ulaan Baatar; afternoon drive to Jalman Meadows
An early start this morning to watch the lamas partake in their morning prayers at Ganden Lamasery. After soaking up the calm atmosphere, we leave the city and head for the countryside, driving for about three and a half hours through the stunning steppe landscape and stopping to admire the famous huge statue of Genghis Khan en route. Jalman Meadows is the peaceful setting of our semi-permanent ger camp which will be our home for the next two nights. Located in a true wilderness between steppe and taiga forest, the meadow may be covered in a blanket of wildflowers during July and August, with butterflies to rival those found in an English meadow one-hundred years ago. Your Tour Leader will lead you on one of the beautiful walks in the area, depending on the wishes of the group. Alternatively, you may wish to simply relax by the river and enjoy the tranquil surroundings.
Day 11 Relax or try rafting at Jalman Meadows
Today is free to continue to enjoy your surroundings. One option is a two-hour stroll upstream along the banks of the river in the company of a raft-pulling yak. The one-hour drift back to camp is gentle and with a serene soundtrack of birdsong. Whilst life jackets are provided for rafting, to take part in this optional excursion we recommend you are confident swimming at least 25 metres unaided.
Day 12 Morning at Jalman; return to Ulaan Baatar
You have the opportunity to spend the morning as you wish. You might choose to walk in the forest or relax at the ger camp, making the most of its well-stocked ‘Library ger’. Or, discovering your inner Mongol, you may choose to challenge the rest of your group to an archery competition, using the camp’s kit. After lunch we will drive back to the capital for our final night in Mongolia.
Day 13 Trip ends in Ulaanbaatar
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Ulaanbaatar.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Ulaanbaatar at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Chinggis Khan International Airport (ULN), which is 30 minutes’ drive from our hotel.