CULTURAL CONTRASTS EXPEDITION IN MONGOLIA

Mongolia
GOBI DESERT, CENTRAL STEPPE MONGOLIA, BAYAN-ÖLGII
departure: September - October
Duration: 18 days

FROM

2.975

Mongolia, known as the “Eternal Blue Sky” country, is a remote region of vast expanses, endless steppes, and endless skies, the cradle of nomadic peoples and multitudes of ethnic groups. Land of intersection of cultures and religions, it has a wide variety of ecosystems, from the driest deserts on the planet to large glaciers that fall from peaks over 4,000 meters high, passing by large lakes and lush coniferous forests. Covered in legends, Mongolia has been a mythical and legendary land since the times of the famous Genghis Khan and still preserves deep-rooted Tibetan Buddhist traditions, shamanism, animism, and some nomadic peoples.

Mongolia has an extension of 1,564,116 km² (three times the size of Spain) and a population of 3,075,647 individuals. It is the least densely populated sovereign state in the world, and where a third of its inhabitants continue to lead a nomadic life. 90% of the population are of the Mongol ethnic group that share the same territory with other ethnic groups such as the Kazakhs and the Tsaatan. The majority of the Mongols are Buddhists, being next to Bhutan, the only two independent countries where this “philosophical and spiritual doctrine” is the predominant one.

In the first part of our trip we will make a long drive that will take us to the south of the country. Our tour will allow us to get to know in depth the different landscapes and ecosystems of Mongolia: the plains and sand dunes of the mythical Gobi desert, the impressive red cliffs, the green pastures of Orkhon and the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire, Kharkhorin. We will also have the opportunity to observe, live and interact with the nomadic shepherds of this wonderful region of the country.

In the second part of this expedition we will explore the heart of Eastern Mongolia, very close to the Altai Mountains, the highest in the country, located in the extreme west and which form the natural border between Mongolia, China and Russia, an area inhabited by nomads of Kazakh origin. A landscape characterized by high mountains, tundra, forests, lakes and river canyons. An area very rich in fauna, with some endangered species such as the argali, the mountain goat, the snow leopard and the saker falcon. All this natural wealth is exploited by its inhabitants who in summer and autumn use eagles as an effective way of locating and hunting animals such as hares, foxes or deer.

Best season:
SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER
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TYPE OF ACTIVITY:
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TRAVEL ITINERARY

DAY 1. FLIGHT FROM SPAIN TO MONGOLIA
Flight departure Barcelona / Madrid – Ulaanbaatar. Overnight on board.

DAY 2. ARRIVAL IN ULAANBAATAR, CAPITAL OF MONGOLIA. CITY TOUR
Breakfast.

Early morning arrival in the capital of Mongolia, transfer to the city center and check-in at the hotel. After breakfast, we will start a visit to Ulaanbaatar, built on the banks of the Tuul River, formerly called Urga, in honor of the son of a great Mongol lord. The current name was given after the proclamation of the People’s Republic of Mongolia and means “Red Hero”. The city is divided into different neighborhoods, with a great diversity among them and we can see from large modern buildings to gers built in the city center. We will visit Sükhbaatar Square and its historical buildings. Sükhbaatar Square is the central square of the city of Ulaanbaatar. It was named in honor of Damdin Sükhbaatar who owns an equestrian statue on site, and who was one of the leaders of the 1921 Mongolian revolution. The statue stands directly in front of the so-called “Ordon Saaral” (Government Palace). The Government Palace (built in 1951 on the site of the green domed theater) is located on the north side of the square and is crowned by a large colonnade-like monument of Genghis Khan, Ögedei Khan, and Kublai Khan, completed in 2006 in time for the anniversary of the 800th anniversary of the coronation of Genghis Khan. Then we will continue our visit to the Ganden Monastery (Gandan Khiid). In the early 19th century, over 100 süm (temples) and khiid (monasteries) served a population of approximately 50,000 people in Urga. Only a few of these buildings survived the religious purges of 1937. It was not until the early 1990s that the people of Mongolia began to openly practice Buddhism again. This monastery with its 25-meter golden Buddha is one of the most important in Mongolia, and also one of its biggest tourist attractions. Then we will visit the magnificent National Museum of Mongolia. It is a must-see, and very authentic, offering an unparalleled insight into Mongolian culture, ranging from stone age petroglyphs to the present day. There is also a full range of traditional ceremonial costumes, which undoubtedly inspired the appearance of Star Wars characters (pre-tails). There is also an important collection of real examples of 12th century Mongolian armor and correspondence between Pope Innocent IV and Guyuk Khan. Written in Latin and Persian and dated November 13, 1246, it bears the Khan’s seal. After lunch we will go to visit the Central Dinosaur Museum of Mongolia. Here we can see dinosaurs of all shapes, sizes and tastes that once wandered the Gobi desert. Its fossilized bones and eggs were first discovered by American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews in the 1920s.

The centerpiece of the museum is the Tarbosaurus bataar (a cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex) illuminated with ultraviolet light 4 tons tall and 3 tons meat and the smallest Saurolophus, with its distinctive cranial crest. The museum also includes examples of Velociraptor and Protoceratops, and an Oviraptor egg nest. Finally, we will finish our tour visiting the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan that was one of the imperial palaces of the Bogd Khan (1869-1924) and that is located in the south of Ulaanbaatar. The palace is the only one left of the four original residences of the eighth reincarnation of Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, later proclaimed Bogd Khan, or Emperor of Mongolia. We will finish the day going up to the Zaisan viewpoint. The Zaisan Memorial is a tribute by the Mongols to the soldiers and the Russian regime. It is located on top of the hill, allowing a perfect view of the entire city of Ulaanbaatar. Hotel accommodation, Ulaanbaatar.

DAY 3. ULAANBAATAR – TSAGAAN SUVARGA – GOBI MEDIO
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After having breakfast at the hotel, we will leave the city of Ulaanbaatar and we will travel, in a 4×4 car, to the south for about 7-8 hours (530 km) and until we reach the province of the Middle Gobi. Along the way we will see how the landscape changes from green pasture areas to more arid and desert areas, until we reach Tsagaan Suvarga, an area with spectacular tricolor rock cliffs (pink, red and orange) that is located in Ulziit Soum, in Dundgovi province. It is interesting to see the steep slope, oriented to the east, which from a distance seems to be the ruins of an ancient city. The cliff is 30 meters high and 100 meters wide. For thousands of years, the wind has created this incredible formation. This place was an ancient seabed with a sedimentary structure created for millions of years and the different colors of the soil represent different times. We will take a short walk around the surroundings until sunset, at which time Tsagaan Suvarga is enveloped in magic with the last lights of the day.

Accommodation in gers (traditional Mongolian nomad tents), Middle Gobi.

DAY 4. TSAGAAN SUVARGA – YOLYN AM VALLEY
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast we will go to Del uul to see rock drawings from the Bronze Age that are really spectacular. This place is considered the largest site of rock drawings in all Central Asia and little or nothing is frequented by tourism. After the visit, we will continue our journey driving through the Gobi until we reach the Saikhan Gurvan National Park, created in 1993 and which has a total area of ​​27,000 hectares, making it the largest protected area in the country. The park includes rocky and sandy desert areas. This is where the incredible Yolyn Am Valley (Bearded Vulture Canyon) is located, one of the most spectacular places on our tour. We will make a small trek through the gorges of the Züun Saikhan mountain, between rocky walls 200 meters high and an average height of 2,500 meters. Inside the canyon, in early summer, there are still snowfields of snow fallen during winter. Interestingly in the past, Russian military troops used this gorge to freeze meat in snowfields and keep it that way from fall to summer. In this national park there are species such as argali, wild horse, wild goats, Mongolian gazelles, pike mice, marmots and the elusive snow leopard. It is also common to find herds of yaks. Today’s tour by car will be 5-6 hours of walking and a distance of about 210 km.

Accommodation in gers (traditional Mongolian nomad tents), Yolym.

DAY 5. YOLYN AM VALLEY– KHONGORIIN ELS
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

In the morning and after breakfast, we will continue to the driest part of the Gobi desert. Little by little we will leave behind the rock formations, the green steppes and we will enter the sandy deserts of Khongoriin Els, a sector of dunes that reach 300 meters high and occupy an area of ​​180 km long for about 3-15 km wide. These dunes are located north of the Servei and Zuulun mountains. We will hike until we reach the top of one of these dunes to contemplate from the summit the wonderful and impressive landscape that surrounds this place and to see how the sun goes down. Also in this sector, the oasis of the Khongor River (Khongoriin Gol) stands out, which offers an interesting green contrast between the desert dunes, and where herds of Bactrian camels live. This region is rich in fossils and dinosaur remains, as well as mineral deposits. Today’s route by car will be about 3 hours and cover a distance of about 150 km.

Accommodation in gers, Khongoriin Els.

DAY 6. KHONGORIIN ELS – BAYANZAG
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast, we will leave in the morning towards Bayanzag. Today’s car route will take us 4-5 hours for a total journey of about 160 km on tracks. Arrived in Bayanzag we will visit the “Flamming Cliffs”, some reddish cliffs with rocks that date back 70 million years. First we will go to visit the only forest that exists in the Gobi desert, and formed by saxaúl bushes (precisely “Bayanzag” means “place rich in saxaúl bushes”). Then we will take a walk through the top of the cliffs and observe how they change color as it gets dark. With the last rays of light, this place acquires different reddish tones until it disappears in the dark. Additionally, this rocky outcrop is famous for the abundance of dinosaur fossils (bones and eggs), discovered in 1922 by American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews of the New York Museum of Natural History.

Accommodation in gers, Bayanzag

DAY 7. BAYANZAG – ONGIIN KHIID
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast, we will return to the reddish cliffs to see them from their bottom and from another perspective. We will also visit some places where dinosaur fossils were found in 1922. Next, we will continue our tour by car (250 km of roads and tracks, in about 5-6 hours). On this day we will leave the domains of the Gobi desert to head towards the steppes of Central Mongolia. Beyond we will continue the journey through the Delger Khangai mountains until we reach the ruins of the Ongii monastery (S. XVII). Located at the foot of Saiskhan Ovoo Mountain, it was once one of the most important monasteries in Mongolia with more than 1,000 monks. The area is divided into two parts: one located to the north of the Ongii River and the other to the south, called Khugtagh, which is the oldest area. Its foundation dates from 1660 and at its peak in these monasteries there were 17 temples on the north side of the river and 11 more temples on its southern bank. In addition, four Buddhist universities were also built here. Ongiin Khiid was a place of devotion and scholarship until the complex was destroyed in the communist purges carried out by Khorloogiin Choibalsan, the leader of the Mongolian Communist Party, in 1937-1939, when more than 200 lamas were killed and many surviving monks they were forcibly imprisoned or seized and recruited for the communist army. Currently, apart from the remains of the buildings and temples, you can visit an exhibition of objects, religious articles and original elements of the temples that have been preserved.

Accommodation in gers, Ongiin Khiid.

DAY 8. ONGIIN KHIID – ORKHON VALLEY
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast, we will start a long day of driving through the impressive steppes for about 300 km (7-8 h). Arrival in the Orkhon Valley, an emblematic place in Central Mongolia and a natural site of the highest order. Here are some of the richest pastures in all of Mongolia and it is for this reason that many nomadic families live on its land. This valley is located north of the Ovorkhangai, at the foot of the Khanghai mountain range and encompasses a protected area of ​​some 122,000 hectares. This region is also rich in archeology, since the Orkhon basin has been since Prehistory (60,000 years ago) home to different nomadic cultures. It has also been occupied by different ethnic groups such as the Huns, Turks, Uighurs and finally the Mongols. Of the best known vestiges are those of the 6th and 7th centuries, such as Khar Balgas. Along the way, we will also visit the Uurtiin Tokhoi valley, known as “the valley of the dead” since after the massacre of Buddhist monks carried out by the Soviet army, the Orkhon River was reddened by the blood spilled.

We will also see the interesting Temeen Chuluu Bonkhan cemetery. It is a Bronze Age cemetery belonging to the Turkish and Uighur cultures (III-I centuries BC) and where you can still see some tombs that are very well preserved. Accommodation in gers, Orkhon Valley.

DAY 9. ORKHON VALLEY
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Full day to rest and explore the Orkhon Valley, its nature and its people. Walk through the surroundings, discover its forests and live with nomadic herders and their families. After breakfast we will visit the beautiful waterfalls of Ulaan Tsutgalan, a waterfall ten meters wide and twenty meters high, which can sometimes dry out or even freeze during winter. About 250 meters downstream from the waterfall, you can descend to the bottom of the gorge, which is 22 meters deep and full of pine trees. It is a spectacular place where the leaves of the trees are stained with autumn ocher.

Accommodation in gers, Orkhon Valley.

DAY 10. ORKHON VALLEY – KHARKHORIN
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast we will continue our trip by 4×4 car. Little by little we will leave the lands of the Gobi to enter the central region of Mongolia and to our final destination Kharkhorin. Arrival in Kharkhorin after a 3 hour drive and about 140 km. Ancient capital of the Great Mongol Empire of Ghengis Khan and founded in 1220. We will visit the Erdene zuu Monastery (One Hundred Treasures) built in 1586, with its 108 stupas and the first Buddhist Lamasery (16th century) that was the most important religious seat. In this impressive complex we can see its walls, stupas and temples, which occupy an area of ​​400 square meters, and surrounded by the steppe. Of its more than 100 temples, only three have survived to our era, although it remains the most outstanding cultural vestige of Mongolia. We will also visit the Kharkhorin museum, although it is small, it is very impressive, probably the best museum in the country outside Ulaanbaatar. The exhibits include dozens of artifacts dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries that were recovered from the surrounding area, plus others that were found at archaeological sites in other parts of the aimag, including prehistoric stone tools, pottery, bronzes, coins, religious statues and stone inscriptions. Finally we will end up visiting the Turtle monument and the 18th century Boovon khad phallic symbol.

Hotel accommodation, Kharkhorin.

DAY 11. KHARKHORIN – KHUSTAIN NURUU NATIONAL PARK – ULAANBAATAR
Breakfast, lunch.

Travel back to the capital. 375 km car tour and about 6-7 hours. On the way we will make a short stop to visit the Khustain Nuruu National Park, the natural habitat of the Prezwalski wild horses. In 1967 Mongolian shepherds sighted the last wild herd, of just 12 or 15 specimens. A few years later the Przewalski Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Horse was created, which started a program to stimulate the exchange of animals between zoos and increase thus its little genetic variability. The success of the conservation programs allowed his condition to improve in late 2011. Currently about 300 specimens are in the Khustain Nuruu National Park. Arrival in the late afternoon in Ulaanbaatar.

Hotel accommodation, Ulaanbaatar.

DAY 12. FLIGHT ULAANBAATAR – ÖLGII
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

In the morning we will transfer to the airport to board the flight to Ölgii, capital of the only province of Muslim religion located in the west of the country. The flight lasts about 3 hours. Arrival in Ölgii, where we will meet our local Kazakh guides. We will first visit the interesting Ölgii museum which offers a basic overview of the Kazakh culture and geography of Bayan-Ölgii. In addition, it has a collection of balbals (Turkish stone figures believed to be gravediggers) in the outer courtyard. Next we will go to the local market called “bazaar” which is supplied with products from Kazakhstan. The sprawling market offers fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat (Halal-compliant horses, beef, goat, and sheep), as well as traditional Kazakh clothing and embroidery. Small vendors and shops surrounding the market sell everything from high-end cashmere to building materials. Tras el almuerzo, iremos en coche hasta el magnífico lago Tolbo que se encuentra a unos 50 km al sur de Ölgii, en la carretera principal entre Ölgii y Khovd. Este lago de agua dulce está a 2.080 mts de altura sobre el nivel del mar. La costa no tiene árboles, tiene pocos mosquitos y mucha gente y familias locales acampan aquí cada verano. El lago cubre una extensión de tierra de 185 km². Tras pasear por las orillas de este bonito lago regresaremos a Ölgii para subir al mirador Nairandal, desde donde contemplaremos la puesta de sol con vistas a la ciudad de Ölgii.

Alojamiento en ger y/o casa tradicional de una familia kazaja, Olgii.

DAY 13. GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast we will attend the first day of the Golden Eagle Festival of the Kazakh people. We must bear in mind that of all the hunters with eagles in the world, eighty percent live in this Bayan-Ölgii region. Today, up to 250 Kazakh eagle hunters still practice eagle hunting in western Mongolia, keeping this fascinating tradition alive and passing it down from generation to generation. The festival is held the first weekend of October. It takes place about 8 km outside the city Ölgii, in Bugat Sum. The festival is essentially a 2-day tournament with different competitions. About 70 eagle hunters from the area participate in front of a jury. The competition field is nothing more than a large space marked with a security tape and a jury tent and a small stage. But that’s also what makes it even more authentic. Everything is very simple and the focus is on the actual hunting competition. There are some locals selling Kazakh crafts and traditional clothing, as well as hats. Around 10:00 a.m. the Golden Eagle Festival begins with a kind of fashion show as the eagle hunters are mounted on their horses, with their gleaming embroidered winter skins and brandishing their birds, while they are judged by her outfit. The various competitions and exhibitions of the festival, including a shakhyru call, during which the eagle must catch a piece of fox fur thrown behind a galloping horse, take place over the weekend. The festival also includes traditional horse games and camel racing.

The most exciting are the kokpar (a tug-of-war with an animal skin between two riders) and tenge ilu (a competition in which riders must swoop down to pick up a piece of material from the galloping ground). Although the tradition dates back to around 2,000 years old, the practice of eagle hunting was ended under Soviet rule, and the festival was held again for the first time in 1999. However, for real hunting, it is better seeing it after the festival as it becomes a basic necessity and not a competition game. We will finish this exciting day by attending a traditional music concert at night that takes place at the National Theater of Kazakhstan.

Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family, Kazakh.

DAY 14. GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL – STAY WITH KAZAJOS HUNTERS
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

After breakfast we will go back to the Festival to watch some traditional games like the Kyz Kuar (“girl chase”, a man and a woman run on horseback while the woman whips the man to release the reins of the horse), or “pick up the flowers of the land mounted on horseback. “The festival culminates on Sunday, when a live fox (or sometimes a wolf cub) is released as bait for the top three eagles to hunt. Finally, prizes are awarded to the winner of each event. and the best dressed man, woman and child are also rewarded. After lunch, and at noon, we will leave Ölgii through a terrain of varied landscapes among rolling hills, green valleys with rivers, and large areas where yak herds graze, camels and white sheep, and where numerous gers settle in. In this territory 80% of the population are Kazakhs, while this ethnic group only constitutes 5% of the population in the rest of the country. Another ethnic minority lives in the Altai mountain range, the Tuvan, descendants of Turks and who still practice shamanism today. The Tuvan are no more than 2,000 individuals living scattered in this mountainous region of the Altai. Arrival in Sogoot (100 km / 2h), where we will meet our Kazakh family.

Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family, Kazakh.

DAY 15. STAY WITH THE EAGLE HUNTERS
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

We will have two almost complete days to live with our guests and share their traditional way of life and customs. Accompanied by our hunter we will be able to see this complicity, that symbiosis between man and his eagle. But as hunters are very proud of this cultural heritage, we will have to earn their trust to provide us with more details of their knowledge and thus we will be able to experience this experience in a more intense way. We will attend the hunter team meetings, where they will discuss which are the most favorable areas for hunting, according to the temperatures, the wind regimes and the presence of predators. It will take long hours of discussion before closing preparations and a hunting plan. During the night we will have a more relaxed activity with singing songs, while having some local Kazakh dishes.

Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family, Kazakh

DAY 16. STAY WITH KAZAJOS HUNTERS – ÖLGII
Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

With the sunrise the hunters will be prepared in the sector where hunting is organized. The hunts are done on horseback, so your Kazakh adventure will start in a kind of wild horde. We will witness all their movements and share what will be an adventure for us, but for them it is their usual way of life. Eagles hunt hares, foxes, young wolves, and antelopes, depending on the season. Moments and images that will remain in memory. In the afternoon we will return to Ölgii (100 km / 2h). Behind we will leave indelible memories with our friends the Kazakh hunters. Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family, Kazakh.

DAY 17. FLIGHT ÖLGII – ULAANBAATAR
Breakfast.

In the morning, and after breakfast, we will transfer to Ölgii airport to take the flight back to Ulaanbaatar. Arrival in the capital and transfer to our accommodation in the city center. Free time to walk, rest and do the last shopping.

Hotel accommodation, Ulaanbaatar.

DAY 18. ULAANBAATAR – INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT
Breakfast.

After breakfast, and at the agreed time, we will go to the Genghis Khan International Airport, which is about 15 km from the city center. Boarding on the flight back home. End of our services.

INCLUDED
  • 12 nights accommodation in Gers
  • 4 nights of hotel accommodation
  • Diet according to program
  • Local English-speaking X-plore guide
  • Transfers to and from the airport / accommodation
  • Domestic flights UB – Ölgii – UB
  • All private ground transportation
  • Anthropological guide coordinator of the X-PLORE team
  • Two accompanying cooks during the first part of the tour (Ulaanbaatar- Gobi desert-central steppe)
  • Entrances to reserves, museums and national parks
  • Letter of invitation and necessary papers for visa processing.
NOT INCLUDED
  • International flight to Ulaanbaatar
  • Visa (€ 95 per person)
  • Tips
  • Personal expenses
  • Excess luggage
  • Individual clothing / equipment, travel bag, clothing, etc. (contact us for advice)
  • Travel insurance
  • Anything not specified in the “INCLUDED” section.
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