This exciting 12 – night Mongolia itinerary includes the city of Ulaanbaatar where you will visit the Ganden Monastery, the National History Museum, Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, and the Zaisan Memorial. Afterwards, fly to Murun and drive to Lake Hovsgol for two nights. En route, visit the Uushigiin Deer Stones. Enjoy walks, kayaking and horseback riding. Fly back to Ulaanbaatar. Take a day trip to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, hike to Aryabal Monastery and stop at Turtle Rock, a natural rock formation. Drive to the Gobi to visit Yol Valley National Park and explore the valley. The next day, visit Tugregiin Shiree that is best known for the famous ‘Fighting Dinosaurs”, a fossil of a Protoceratops and Velociraptor locked in combat. Enjoy time with a nomadic family, visit Moltsog Els, one of the few regions of the Gobi covered by sand dunes, and the Flaming Cliffs. Return to Ulaanbaatar to enjoy the Naadam Festival that is dedicated to archery, wrestling, and horse racing.
Photos credited to Nomadic Expeditions.
Upon arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by your private guide and driver and transferred to your hotel located just steps from various museums and shops. 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.
Begin the day with a visit to Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Woven through Mongolia’s nomadic culture is a rich Tibetan Buddhist tradition in which ancient shamanist practices are still evident. 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 democracy.
Experience these exciting developments first-hand at Gandan Monastery. Strolling through the monastery grounds, hear the low tones of the horns used to call the lamas to the temple and observe their daily rituals, including the reading of sutras and the teachings of the Buddha. Visit the recently renovated Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig, “the lord who looks in every direction.” This 82-foot high statue, gilded in pure gold and clothed with silk and precious stones, completely fills the biggest of Gandan’s Temples.
Drive through downtown Ulaanbaatar to the National History 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 Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum named in honor of Zanabazar, the renowned 17th century artist and politician who was 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.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Murun (1.5 hours), the capital of Hovsgol Province. On arrival, continue overland to Lake Hovsgol (approximately 2.5 – 3 hours), passing through the Mongolian steppe and forested mountains. En route stop to visit the Uushgiin Deer Stones. Dating back thousands of years, the Uushigiin Deer Stones are comprised of 14 magnificently preserved deer stones, lined up from north to south and often referred to as the “graveyard of deer stones.” Awareness of the Uushigiin Deer Stones has increased recently as a result of the Smithsonian Institute’s research at the site.
Continue your drive to Lake Hovsgol, Mongolia’s largest lake by water volume. Hovsgol extends 85 miles in length and 18 miles in width and is fed by over 90 streams and rivers. This crystal-clear alpine lake, known as Mongolia’s “dark blue pearl”, is situated among some of the most pristine forests, mountains, and meadows in the world. There will be ample time to discover the lake’s secrets during your stay.
In the morning, hike into the breathtakingly scenic Khoridal Saridag Mountains, bordering the western shore of Lake Hovsgol, where you will gain spectacular views of the lake from the mountaintop. Return to the camp and spend the rest of the day exploring the lakeshore and surrounding mountains and meadows.
Enjoy nature walks, kayak on the lake, or sample Mongolian-style horseback riding. Those who are interested will also have the opportunity to visit local nomads’ dwellings, and experience the ancient nomadic culture first hand.
After breakfast, return to Murun for your flight to Ulaanbaatar. Time permitting, stop at Lake Irkh, a small, pristine lake in the midst of the steppe that is popular with a variety of birds.
Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, transfer to your hotel. Spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure or explore the art galleries in Ulaanbaatar.
After breakfast, drive to nearby Gorkhi-Terelj National Park (1.5 hours). Comprised of the southern Khentii mountain range, this mountain, forest, steppe region provides habitat for a variety of bird and plant life. Sheltered in this protected area are endangered musk deer and moose, brown bear, roe, elk, wolf, fox, and badger.
On arrival, hike to Aryabal Monastery. A hike up along a steep road leads to a wooden suspended bridge called “The Bridge that leads to wisdom”. After crossing the bridge, trek up 108 steps to arrive at the temple. Along the way, the path is lined with signboards displaying Buddha’s teachings. The monastery is special for its spectacular views of the surrounding green valley.
The next stop is the Turtle Rock, a natural rock formation that resembles a turtle in its shell.
Return to Ulaanbaatar. En route, stop at the 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 and also take an elevator to a deck on the horse’s head and marvel at the surrounding area overlooking the beautiful Mongolian steppe.
Today continue your journey 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 four 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 your ger camp located at Bulagtai Mountain on the edge of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Spend the rest of the day 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, to learning traditional Mongolian games, and to enjoying a relaxing massage.
After breakfast, drive to Tugregiin Shiree (1.5 hours), first explored by Polish expeditions in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Tugregiin Shiree is best known for the famous ‘Fighting Dinosaurs”, a fossil of a Protoceratops and Velociraptor locked in combat.
In the afternoon, visit Bulgan, a small town near a natural spring. Bulgan has one of the only farms in the Gobi, which supplies local ger camps with fruits and vegetables, an example of local businesses being supported by ecotourism.
In the afternoon, visit a nearby nomadic family to learn more about a nomadic way of life and to help herd the animals, milk them or perhaps learn how to prepare a milk tea and learn more about herding life. Mongolia is a home to one of the last remaining nomadic cultures in the world. Often travelers compare Mongolia with traveling back in time to witness an old way of life that hasn’t changed for centuries. About 30% of Mongolia’s population still lead a nomadic way of life and move from a pasture to a pasture and live in harmony with nature off the land.
In the morning, 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 have the opportunity to visit a local camel herding family and to experience their hospitality and way of living.
In the late afternoon, travel to the legendary “Flaming Cliffs” (1 hour), named for the red-orange sandstone which glows brilliantly at sunrise and sunset. It was here, in 1922, 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. To the trained eye, the ancient formations of the Flaming Cliffs are rich with fossils, and paleontological expeditions continue to make significant discoveries at this site.
After breakfast, transfer to the local airport for your flight to Ulaanbaatar.
Upon arrival, visit the Bogd Khan Palace Museum, home of Mongolia’s last theocrat, Bogd Jabtzan Damba Hutagt VIII, which displays elaborate ceremonial robes, and other personal effects of Mongolia’s 8th Living Buddha.
Wake early in the morning to attend the Naadam Festival, the most popular festival in Mongolia. The celebrations begin 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.
In the morning, drive to Khui Doloon Hudag, the famous horse racing field in Mongolia, to experience a true Mongolian horse race. Experience the 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.
Transfer to the airport for your departing flight.