ANTHROPOLOGICAL EXPEDITION IN MONGOLIA
Mongolia, known as the country of the “Eternal Blue Sky”, is a remote region with vast expanses of endless steppe, which cradles a multitude of nomadic peoples and ethnic groups. A land of intersecting cultures and religions, it has a diverse array of ecosystems, from the driest deserts on the planet to alpine glaciers that descend from peaks over 4,000 meters high, large lakes and lush coniferous forests. Surrounded by legend, Mongolia has been a mythical land since the times of the infamous Genghis Khan and, today, still preserves deep-rooted traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, shamanism, animism, and nomadic peoples.
Mongolia occupies an area of 1,564,116 km² which is approximately three times the size of Spain and has population of 3,075,647. It is the least densely populated sovereign state in the world, and a third of its inhabitants continue to lead a nomadic life. 90% of the population are of the Mongol ethnic group and 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.
In the first part of our trip we will make a long drive that will take us to the north of the country, crossing the huge central steppes of Mongolia until we reach the taiga near the sacred lake Khuvsgul, where one of the last nomadic peoples lives. The Tsaatan: an ethnic group of reindeer herders with whom we will live and explore and learn about their customs, in the midst of a wild landscape, far from civilization.
In the second part of this expedition we will explore Eastern Mongolia, close to the Altai Mountains which are the highest in the country, located in the extreme west and and forming the natural border between Mongolia, China and Russia; an area inhabited by nomads of the Kazakh origin. This landscape is characterized by high mountains, tundra, forests, lakes and river canyons. An area rich in fauna, with a number of rare and endangered species such as the argali, the mountain goat, the snow leopard and the saker falcon. All of this natural heritage is exploited by its human inhabitants who, in summer and autumn, use eagles as an effective way of locating and hunting animals such as hares, foxes or deer.
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 (D)
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. 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. 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.
DAY 3. ULAANBAATAR – KHARKHORIN (380 km ± 6 h) (B, L, D)
After having breakfast at the hotel, we will leave the city of Ulaanbaatar and move in a 4×4 car to the southwest until we reach Kharkhorin: the ancient capital of the Great Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan and founded in 1220. We will visit the Erdene zuu Monastery (Hundred Treasures) built in 1586, with its 108 stupas and the first Buddhist Lamasery (16th century), which 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 probably the best museum in the country outside of Ulaanbaatar. The exhibits include dozens of artifacts dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, plus prehistoric stone tools, pottery, bronzes, coins, religious statues, and stone inscriptions. Finally we will finish the visits to this emblematic city with the Turtle monument and the phallic symbol Boovon khad from the 18th century. Hotel accommodation.
DAY 4: KHARKHORIN –TSETSERLEG – MALCHIN AIL – STAY WITH NOMADIC FAMILY OF THE CENTRAL STEPP OF MONGOLIA (225 km ± 4 h) (B, L, D)
After breakfast we will start our driving day through the impressive steppes in a northwesterly direction , to the place where a traditional family that lives in the middle of the Mongolian steppe awaits us. We will live with these shepherds observing and participating in their daily tasks, such as making dairy products (cheeses, yogurts, cream, etc.). We will help collect livestock (horses, yaks, sheep and goats), we will milk the animals and share with them a typical Mongolian barbecue. A unique experience with very friendly and simple people willing to share what little they have. Accommodation in gers (traditional Mongolian nomad tents).
DAY 5: MALCHIN AIL – KHORGIIN TOGOO NATIONAL PARK (90 km ± 2 h) (B, L, D)
After breakfast, we will say goodbye to our nomadic family and head north to a magical and spectacular place, the Khorgo-Therkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park, one of the most beautiful views of central Mongolia. This park was established in 1997 to protect the magnificent mountainous landscape and endangered flora and fauna species. This place is surrounded by the Khangai Mountains, which reach 3,000 meters above sea level and in a relatively small area where there are a dozen extinct volcanoes. Very small crystalline lakes can still be seen in some of the craters. We will go up to the Khorgo Uul crater, located at an altitude of 2,210 meters, and to which we will climb some steps until we reach 200 meters in height (about 20-25 minutes of ascent). From the summit of this extinct volcano the views are fabulous.
We will also walk along the shores of the wonderful Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake (“The Great White Lake”). Thousands of years ago, an immense mass of red-hot lava once blocked the riverbed of the Terkh river and the water remained stagnant, forming this lake that is 16 kilometers long, 20 meters deep and 61 km². The lake is located at an altitude of 2,060 meters. The Suman River can also be seen cascading down from the lake in stormy torrents, traversing the rocks to form a canyon and several small lakes. The waters of the river are so turbulent that they do not freeze in the most severe winter frosts. In the middle of Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake, there is a volcanic island covered in nests made from the fragrant herb Sam Khan. In this spectacular park, throughout the day, you hear the hum and song of the birds and the squawk of the reddish duck and many other types of birds. It is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the impressive natural environment. Accommodation in gers (traditional Mongolian nomad tents).
DAY 6: KHORGIIN TOGOO NATIONAL PARK – ZUUN NUUR – MÖRÖN (320 km ± 12 h) (B, L, D)
After breakfast, we will leave quite early in the morning because a long day awaits us on dirt tracks. First we will go to Zuun Nuur Lake, a small salt water lake located about 175 km away (4 hours). Along the way we will observe how the track runs first bordering the Terkhiin Tsagaan and then crossing the Khangai mountain range and some mountain passes with wonderful views. The forests will gradually disappear. Along the way we can stop to see up close Neolithic or Bronze Age stone tombs that are located next to the track that we follow. We will arrive at Zuun Nuur at noon and take a walk along the shores of this beautiful lake surrounded by hills and which has a small peninsula that enters its waters. Here everything seems very harmonious, calm and quiet. Perhaps we are lucky enough to see some nomadic family settled in the area. A very pleasant place to walk and explore the natural surroundings of this wonderful lake. We will continue our journey until we reach Mörön in the late afternoon. Hotel accommodation.
DAY 7: – MÖRÖN – UUHIGIIN UVER- ULAAN-UUL – STAY WITH TSAATAN FAMILIES (380 km ± 12 h) (B, L, D)
After breakfast we will leave early in the morning by road to reach the northwest regions of the Khuvsgul. Today will also be a hard day by car but the tour is well worth it and we will make some technical stops to stretch our legs, take pictures and have lunch. Along the way, we will also deviate a bit to see an impressive Bronze Age cemetery with stone-stele tombs and drawings of sculpted deer. The ancient steppe tribes are believed to have believed that after death the soul left the underworld and ascended to heaven on the back of a deer. For this reason it is thought that they represented the deer engraved on these stones. Their role is believed to have been primarily religious or spiritual.
Of the 700 deer stones found worldwide, 500 are in Mongolia. The best collection in the world is in this cemetery that we will visit in Uuhigiin Uver. Here, 14 deer stones that have survived inclement weather (including hurricane winds) and history rise to form one of the most important Bronze Age archaeological sites in the country today. They are between 2,500 and 4,000 years old and some have curious white drawings engraved on an ocher background. After this interesting visit we will continue to Ulaan-Uul that marks the beginning of the Darkhad depression, an area crossed by several small streams and rivers, which disappear in the steppe and create multiple lakes and lagoons that shine in the center of this wide green valley. The white spots of the nomadic camp gers spread like white flowers in this charming and endless green meadow. We will continue our journey towards the wooded area where the Tsaatan live. Reindeer graze in these taiga regions surrounded by mountains that reach 3,000 meters above sea level. This area is ideal for grazing reindeer and yaks, a region where summer is short and winter very long and cold. In this idyllic but tough place we will spend two days living with local families. Accommodation in teepe, traditional tsaatan tents.
DAY 8: STAY WITH TSAATAN FAMILIES (B, L, D)
Relaxing day to immerse ourselves in this pure nature and living with one of the most traditional nomadic ethnic groups that remain on this planet. We will be able to take a walk with reindeer, an animal that the Tsaatan also use to move around the taiga. An incredible animal, with fast and short movements. In practice, riding a reindeer is easier than it seems at first, since the progression is always safe, whatever the surface they move on, be they rocks, peat swamps, streams and even rivers, they do not bother to this animal that is perfectly adapted to the taiga. During the day we will learn about the life of the shepherds, about their culture, dedicated entirely to the reindeer, at a calm pace, where everyone has their own place, their own role and their own habits. Also during our stay in Tsaatan territory we will have the opportunity to discover the world of shamanism through an authentic Tsaatan shaman. There are two types of shamans: male (Zairan) and female (Udgan). A shaman woman is more powerful than a shaman man among the Tsaatan. A shaman woman is more powerful than a shaman man among the Tsaatan.
During the day we will continue learning about the life of this nomadic people. We will be able to observe its peculiar adaptation to the environment, its harmonious coexistence and in perfect symbiosis with nature. We will collaborate in your daily tasks, such as gathering firewood, preparing food, milking reindeer and using milk to make butter, cheese and yogurt, helping with the reindeer herd, making bread, etc. In short, we will have an authentic experience of life away from our comfort zone. This will be our greatest challenge in one of the most hostile and wild environments on the planet and surrounded by truly impressive landscapes. Accommodation in teepe, traditional tsaatan tents.
DAY 9: TSAATAN FAMILY – LAKE KHÖVSGÖL NUUR (350 km ± 10 h) (B, L, D)
In the morning we will enjoy our last experiences with the family, and after breakfast, we will say goodbye to our Tsaatan friends and head towards the spectacular and superlative Lake Khuvsgul or Khövsgöl nuur National Park, known as the younger sister of its neighbor the lake Baikal, located just over 200 km and in Siberian territory. The Khövsgöl nuur is the largest freshwater lake in Mongolia by volume, the second largest by area and the second deepest in Central Asia. It is 136 km long, 39 km wide and 267 m at its deepest point. It contains 1% of fresh water from the entire planet and 46 rivers flow into it, although only the Egiin Gol River comes out of the lake. Furthermore Khuvsgul is one of the seventeen oldest lakes in the world, is over 2 million years old and is the most pristine (other than Lake Vostok). It is a sacred place for the Mongols since they consider it the “mother lake”. It is located at 1,645 m above sea level. Due to its geographical location, the predominant climate is the sub-arctic, reaching temperatures of -40 ° C in its long winters, which cause the lake surface to freeze. Accommodation in gers (traditional Mongolian nomad tents).
DAY 10: KHÖVSGÖL NUUR NATIONAL PARK (B, L, D)
Rest and relaxation day. Today we will spend the whole day in our camping area on the shores of Lake Khuvsgul. In the morning we will take a gentle walk through the forest to enjoy the views of this spectacular place. At noon, we will return to the camp for lunch. In the afternoon, apart from resting, we can do some optional activity such as a boat trip on the lake or horseback riding. Accommodation in gers (traditional Mongolian nomad tents).
DAY 11: KHÖVSGÖL NUUR NATIONAL PARK – MÖRÖN – ULAANBAATAR (120 km ± 2.5 h) (D, A)
After breakfast and after enjoying our last hours in this wonderful place we will move to Mörön at the agreed time to catch a flight back to the capital. The flight lasts 1.5 hours. Arrival in Ulaanbaatar and transfer to our hotel in the center. Rest of the afternoon free to rest and / or do some shopping. If we have time, there is the option of attending a traditional Mongolian dance and music performance known as the Khumii show. Hotel accommodation.
DAY 12. FLIGHT ULAANBAATAR – ÖLGII (D, A, C)
In the morning we will transfer to the airport to catch a 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 start our visits today by going to the interesting Ölgii museum that 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 stores surrounding the market sell everything from high-end cashmere to construction materials.
After lunch, we will drive to the magnificent Lake Tolbo which is located about 50 km south of Ölgii, on the main road between Ölgii and Khovd. This freshwater lake is 2,080 meters high above sea level. The coast is treeless, has few mosquitoes, and many local people and families camp here every summer. The lake covers an extension of land of 185 km². After strolling along the banks of this beautiful and spectacular lake we will return to Ölgii to go up to the Nairandal viewpoint, from where we will contemplate the sunset with views of the city of Ölgii. It will be a special and magical moment for us. Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family.
DAY 13. GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL (B, L, D)
After breakfast we will attend the first day of the Golden Eagle Festival of the Kazakh people: a unique show that is sure to be an unforgettable experience. 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 usually always held on 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. Around 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 motif is also what makes him even more authentic. Everything is very simple and the focus is on the actual hunting competition. There are a few locals selling Kazakh crafts and traditional clothing, as well as hats. Around 10:00 am, the Golden Eagle Festival begins with a kind of fashion show as eagle hunters ride their horses, with their gleaming embroidered winter skins and brandishing their birds, while they are judged for their outfits. The various competitions and exhibitions of the festival, including a shakhyru call, during which the eagle must catch a piece of fox fur thrown from the back of 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. To be real, however, hunting is best 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. 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. To be real, however, hunting is best 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. 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. To be real, however, hunting is best 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.
DAY 14. GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL – STAY WITH KAZAJOS EAGLE HUNTERS (130 km ± 2 h) (B, L, D)
while this ethnic group only constitutes 5% of the population in the rest of the country. At the foot of the imposing Altái mountain range lives another ethnic minority, 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 where we will meet our Kazakh family. Accommodation in Ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family.
DAY 15. STAY WITH THE KAZAJOS EAGLE HUNTERS (D, A, C)
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 since 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 temperatures, 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 songs sung, while taking some local Kazakh dishes. Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family.
DAY 16. STAY WITH KAZAJOS HUNTERS – ÖLGII (130 km ± 2 h) (D, A, C)
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. Behind we will leave indelible memories with our friends the Kazakh hunters. Accommodation in ger and / or traditional house of a Kazakh family.
DAY 17. FLIGHT ÖLGII – ULAANBAATAR (D)
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 make the last purchases, and if we have time, perhaps make a visit that may have been pending on the City tour on the first day. Night in hotel.
DAY 18. ULAANBAATAR – INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT (D)
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.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the pandemic situation by COVID-19, this trip will be subject to possible restrictions and / or prohibitions on entering the country.
- Transfers to and from the airport / accommodation.
- Domestic flights Mörön – UB and UB – Ölgii – UB
- Hotel accommodation in Ulaanbaatar, Kharkhorin and Mörön on a breakfast basis
- Accommodation in local yurts or houses or tepee shops as described in the program
- All private ground transportation
- Local driver and 1 English-speaking guide
- Anthropological guide & coordinator of the X-PLORE team
- Two accompanying cooks during the first part of the tour (Ulaanbaatar-Mörön)
- Full board (except meals in Ulaanbaatar)
- Entrances to reserves, museums and national parks
- Invitation letter and necessary papers for visa processing
- First aid box
- International flight to Ulaanbaatar
- Visa (€ 95 per person)
- Personal expenses
- Excess luggage
- Individual clothing / equipment, travel bag, clothing, etc. (contact us for advice)
- Travel insurance
- Everything not specified in the “INCLUDES” section
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