Kharakhorum and Gobi Mongolia Itinerary

13 Days 12 Nights

Itinerary Overview

This exciting 12 – night Mongolia itinerary includes the city of Ulaanbaatar. Drive to Hustain Nuruu National Park, home to the last remaining species of wild horse. Stop at the Ongot stone complex near the Tuul River Basin, the largest grave complex in central Asia. The next day, drive to Kharakhorum, site of the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire. Hike in Orkhon Valley, attend a Shaman ceremony, visit the Kharakhorum Museum, and Erdene Zuu Monastery. Return to Ulaanbaatar for a night before driving to the Gobi where you will visit Yol Valley National Park and Havsgait Valley to view some of the precious petroglyphs. Fly back to Ulaanbataar to observe the Naadam Festival.
Photos credited to Nomadic Expeditions.

Day 1 Arrive Ulaanbaatar

Upon arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by your private guide and driver, and transferred to your hotel. The contrast between ancient traditions and a 21st century democracy is most visible in Ulaanbaatar, where traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries sit side by side with modern high-rises.

Hotel: Shangri – La Hotel
Day 2 Ulaanbaatar

Begin the day with a visit to Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Although Buddhist monasteries were either destroyed or converted into museums during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Gandan Monastery continued to operate as a showpiece for government officials. In spite of the government’s efforts to suppress Buddhism and other religious beliefs, Mongolia’s spirituality persisted and a significant resurgence of Buddhism began in 1990 when Mongolia became a democratic nation. Visit the recently renovated Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig. This 82-foot high statue, gilded in pure gold and clothed with silk and precious stones, completely fills one of Gandan’s Temples.

Explore the National Museum for an excellent overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. The newly remodeled museum displays traditional implements of daily nomadic life including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, historical costumes of Mongolia’s minority tribes, sacred religious relics, and agricultural, fishing, and hunting equipment.

After lunch, visit the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. Named in honor of Zanabazar, the renowned 17th century artist and politician was also the first Buddhist leader of Mongolia. The museum contains one of the best collections of Buddhist art and artifacts in the world, including many of Zanabazar’s original works.

Hotel: Shangri – La Hotel
Day 3 Ulaanbaatar - Hustain Nuruu National Park

Drive to Hustain Nuruu National Park (2 hours), home to the last remaining species of wild horse, the takhi, commonly known as Przewalski’s Horse. Twenty-five years after becoming extinct in the wild, the takhi was reintroduced to the Mongolian steppe from zoo populations by the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski’s Horse. Sixteen horses were flown from the Netherlands to Mongolia in 1994, and nearly 400 now roam in Mongolia and China. Learn about current conservation efforts and the status of the herds found within the reserve at the visitor’s center, before trying to spot these beautiful horses in their natural habitat. You will have the opportunity to ride the horses if you want.

If time permits, stop at the Ongot stone complex near the Tuul River Basin, the largest grave complex in central Asia. These mysterious stone figures depicting men date from the Turkic period (7th-9th centuries A.D.). They all face one direction and are behind one another as if in a line. Some interpret this configuration as depicting a nobleman or a general, with his subjects or soldiers following behind. These stones are rare historical evidence of the culture that dominated the area at the time and are especially important to historians, as few written accounts have survived the burden of Mongolia’s nomadic lifestyle and turbulent battling periods.

Hotel: HS Khaan Resort
Day 4 Hustain Nuruu National Park - Kharakhorum

Continue with your journey by heading to Kharakhorum (4 hours), site of the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire. The empire created by Chinggis Khan and his descendants was the largest contiguous land empire in recorded history, and its scope has never been matched. Travelers in the 13th century were impressed not only with the beauty of Kharakhorum, but also by the internationalism and openness of this city where traders, intellectuals, and clergy enjoyed religious freedom.

On arrival, settle into your camp overlooking the Orkhon River Valley.

Head out in the late afternoon for a hike through the magnificent grasslands of the Orkhon Valley, considered to be the cradle of Mongolian civilization. The beautiful Orkhon Valley is not just home to many archeological, cultural and historic sites but also stands testimony to how age-old nomadic culture that has shaped and influenced developmental changes in trade, commerce, military and religious practices.

After dinner, attend a Shaman ceremony. Shamanism was the main dominant religion throughout much of Mongolia’s history. Chinggis Khaan worshipped shamanism and consulted with the spirits for his campaigns that he led. Many researchers in the related field would agree that Core Shamanism exists in the central Asian plateau. Most shamans like to express that being shaman is a way of life, coexisting with nature around you.

Hotel: Wilderness Camp
Day 5 Kharakhorum

After breakfast, visit the Kharakhorum Museum. Founded to showcase the research findings from the ancient capital of Mongolia by the Mongolian and German joint archaeological expedition, the newly established museum offers fascinating insight into what was once the center of arts, politics, trades, and religions of the world.

It is impossible to mention Mongolia without conjuring up images of the great warrior, Chinggis Khan. The empire created by Chinggis and his descendants was the largest contiguous land empire in recorded history, and its scope has never been matched. The great Khan and his son created the beautiful and legendary Kharakhorum to serve as the heart of this monolithic empire. At the time, Kharakhorum was one of the largest junctions of the Silk Route, connecting the Oriental world with the West. Unfortunately, this bustling capital was abandoned by Khublai Khan and later fell into ruin. There are only a few traces left of this once great city.

The next stop is the Erdene Zuu Monastery. Mongolia’s largest monastery, neighboring Erdene Zuu, was reputedly constructed from the ruins of Kharakhorum in the 16th century. Surrounded by 108 stupas, Erdene Zuu has been a place of Buddhist activity for more than 500 years. Explore the monastery grounds and observe the monks as they perform their prayers and rituals. The temples are richly decorated with spectacular Buddhas, as well as Buddhist art and architecture. Just behind the monastery compound, visit the site of archeological digs being conducted by German archeologists at the former sight of Kharakhorum. Among the findings are an entire foundation of a house with a brick stove and a beautifully forged gold bracelet.

After lunch, drive to Shankh Hiid, a monastery, within a short driving distance of Erdene Zuu and Kharakhorum that was once frequented by Zanabazar, the renowned Buddhist artist and religious leader.

Hotel: Wilderness Camp
Day 6 Kharakhorum - Ulaanbaatar

Drive back to Ulaanbaatar (5-6 hours). En route visit Kultegin Monument, erected during the Turkic Empire in the 8th century. Built in honor of a prince, this magnificent statue has been the subject of research by archeologists from around the world, and many roof tiles found in the area along with other significant artifacts are today exhibited at the newly established museum funded by the government of Turkey.

Hotel: Shangri – La Hotel
Day 7 Ulaanbaatar - Gobi

Today continue south to the Gobi (1.5 hours), Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Contrary to the sameness that the word ‘desert’ suggests, the Gobi is a fascinating and diverse region, and includes sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. For the next three days, explore the stunning landscapes of the Gobi, habitat for Bactrian camels, Argali mountain sheep, Goitered gazelle, Golden eagles, Saker falcons, Jerboas (similar to kangaroo rats), and many endemic reptiles. The Gobi is also home to some of the Northern Hemisphere’s most rare and elusive mammals, such as the dhole, snow leopard, wild camel, and Gobi bear.

Upon arrival, drive to the Yol Valley National Park (45 mins), cradled in the foothills of the Altai Mountains. An ancient river carved this surprisingly green valley, and its remnant streams create ice formations that sometimes persist as late as July. A hike through the valley leads to the habitat of the indigenous vulture-like Lammergeiers, Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks, and Argali mountain sheep. After exploring the valley, visit the local natural history museum for an overview of the flora and fauna of the surrounding area.

Drive to Three Camel Lodge, located at Bulagtai Mountain, on the edge of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Spend the rest of the evening at leisure or explore the surroundings on your own. The lodge offers a wide variety of activities to travelers from reading a book on Mongolia to watching a documentary about nomadic culture, and from learning traditional Mongolian games to enjoying a relaxing massage.

Hotel: Three Camel Lodge
Day 8 Gobi

After breakfast, visit Bulgan Temple, the meditation temple built at Hoorhon Devseg Valley. This is the first meditation temple in this area since 1990 by local Lama Buyan and his disciples. Hike the 1800-meter mountain and visit the meditation temple on top. Enjoy spectacular views and explore the surrounding area before returning to Three Camel Lodge.

Later this afternoon, 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. You will also have the opportunity to visit a local camel herding family and experience their hospitality and way of living.

Hotel: Three Camel Lodge
Day 9 Gobi

Take a morning hike up in Havsgait Valley to see the amazing artwork of their ancestors. Preserved at the top of the mountain are some of the precious petroglyphs of the Gobi, ancient and beautiful works of art that can be clearly seen as the sun hits the rocks from the right angle. From the depictions of these amazing petroglyphs, gain a better understanding of the everyday lives of the people who lived in the Gobi during the Bronze Age.

Later this afternoon, drive to the legendary Flaming Cliffs, named for the orange glow of the rock at sunset. It was here in 1923 that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his exploration team from the American Museum of Natural History found the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen. Although not obvious to the untrained eye, the red sandstone of the Flaming Cliffs is rich with dinosaur fossils, and paleontological expeditions continue to make significant discoveries at this site.

Hotel: Three Camel Lodge
Day 10 Gobi - Ulaanbataar

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight back to Ulaanbataar. Upon arrival, drive to Chinggis Khan Equestrian Statue in Tsonjin Boldog. The massive statue made of 250 tons of gleaming stainless steel will take your breath away. Once inside the two-story base of the statue, you can see a replica of Chinggis Khan’s legendary golden whip. Take an elevator to a deck on the horse’s head and marvel at the surrounding area overlooking the beautiful Mongolian steppes.

Hotel: Shangri – La Hotel
Day 11 Ulaanbaatar

Wake early in the morning to attend the Naadam Festival, the most popular festival in Mongolia. Observe the celebration as it begins with a colorful parade of marching soldiers, athletes, musicians, and people dressed as ancient warriors. True to its name, the festival is dedicated to the “Three Manly Games.”

Archery: The skill of Mongolian archers and their advanced bow design was a significant asset to Chinggis Khan and his descendants during the years of Mongolian conquest. In the past, sharpshooters would practice by aiming for the heads of marmots.

Wrestling: Each wrestler wears trunks, an open-fronted long-sleeved silk vest, and ornamental knee boots with upturned toes. Before the wrestling match begins, the wrestlers perform the “eagle’s dance” symbolizing power and invincibility. The wrestler who forces his competitor to touch the ground with his knees or elbow is considered the winner. The victor then repeats the “eagle’s dance,” with his opponent passing under his arm (as though under a wing) as a sign of submission.

Horse racing: Horse racing originally involved adult jockeys and the most popular contests involved riding unbroken horses. Later, so as to ease the burden on horses in long-distance races, the adult riders were replaced by children as young as six years old riding broken horses. The racing is done both with and without saddles, and the horses that take part are two years and older.

Hotel: Shangri – La Hotel
Day 12 Ulaanbaatar

In the morning, drive to Khui Doloon Hudag, the famous horse racing field in Mongolia, to experience a true Mongolian horse race. Experience Soyolon horse race, the most spiritual age group of horses amongst other age groups. In the afternoon, return to downtown of Ulaanbaatar to see the semi-finals of wrestling and archery.

Hotel: Shangri – La Hotel
Day 13 Ulaanbaatar - Departure

Transfer to the airport for your departing flight.