Day 1. Arrival in Ulaanbaatar
Arrival in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital city. At 14:00 we meet our guide at the airport, and head to the city center. The short drive passes through the shanty town inhabited by those who were once nomads, but have neglected their traditional lifestyle in the hope of finding a little fortune in the city, which not too long ago has seen some rapid development. The urban landscape quickly changes into expansive shopping malls and brand new residential complexes, shifting again to the scenes of the city center, where modern high-rises are quickly built amidst soviet-era buildings. After checking into our hotel, and if time permits, we will have an orientation tour of the city center through the central square, which was recently renamed after Ghengis Khan, the nation’s forefather. Right at the heart of the square we see the figure of D. Sukhbaatar, one of the heroes of the communist revolution of 1920’s, boldly raising his arm towards the statue of the Great Khan, whose name wasn’t allowed to be mentioned during the 70-year communist reign. We then visit the National History Museum, which holds a permanent exhibition on the different civilizations that have inhabited the territory of Mongolia from prehistoric times to the present. This exhibition includes a significant display of objects from the era of the Great Mongol Empire. From here we take a short walk to the drama theater where we attend an impressive folk concert, featuring some traditional Mongolian art forms. After a welcome dinner, we drive back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Day 2. Ulaanbaatar – Mongol Nomadic – Elsen Tasarkhai
Today we drive back in time, to a place that recreates the lives of Mongolian nomads at the beginning of the 20th century. This was when Mongolia gained its independence from the Qing Dynasty and established itself as a reemerging nation under a living god-king. Here we shall attend a demonstration of how the nomads lived their lives during this era, and learn about some traditions that are carried on to this very day. After lunch we continue driving west for another four hours. Marking the northern edge of the great Gobi Desert, Elsiin Tasarkhai stretches over 130 km north into the heart of Central Mongolia. We take a hike for a marvelous view over the dune, that seems as if it’s locked between two mighty mountain ranges. If weather permit, we witness the sun sets over the huge dune. This is also where we encounter the famous two-humped Bactrian camel, the sturdy Central Asian desert ship. Overnight in a ger camp- the cozy yet simple, Mongolian version of a lodge, consisting of traditional felt-made dwellings the nomads of Central Asia often refer to as yurt.
Day 3. Elsen Tasarkhai – The Red Waterfall (B,L,D)
From the Khangai Mountain Range the Orkhon River runs all the way to Lake Baikal in Siberia. A UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape, the valley has been the center of several kingdoms and empires that have ruled much of Central Asia. The UNESCO committee states: “Collectively the remains in the site reflect the symbiotic links between nomadic, pastoral societies and their administrative and religious centres, and the importance of the Orkhon valley in the history of central Asia.” (UNESCO website). Today we head south, driving along the river valley. Late in the afternoon we arrive to the beautiful volcanic canyon through which the Orkhon River flows. Here we will take an easy hike along the canyon floor, and end up at the pool at the bottom of the Red Waterfall. For the brave at heart, a cool swim awaits! Not far from the waterfall we break camp, and spend our first night bush camping.
Day 4. The Red Waterfall – Uliastai River
This our first day of riding. In the morning we load our luggage on the pack horses, and mount our horses. As this is our first day with our horses, we will take a rather easy ride up the Orkhon Valley. The landscape today would vary- from wide open steppes to rolling hills, and all the way to the rising Khangai Mountain range- Mongolia’s second largest mountain range. Early in the evening we reach the confluence of the Orkhon and Uliastai Rivers, were we set camp for the night. Overnight bush camping.
Day 5. Uliasti River – Amgalan Lake
Our day begins with a ride along the hills running along the Uliastai River valley. We then climb up out of the valley to a mountain pass rising to some 2230 meter above sea level, for a beautiful vista over the valleys of the eastern Khangai. En route we pass and pause by the camps of nomadic families, as we stop for a cup of (salty) tea, and a friendly chat. Our destination today is the shores of Amgalan Lake, a seasonal lake that usually over summer is filled with water. We again set camp, and spend the night bush camping
Day 6. Amgalan Lake - Huis Lake
For most of the day we shall be riding through the fertile lands of the Khangai Mountains. Khangai literally means in Mongolian- fertile, and indeed this region is known to Mongolians as the ‘the paradise of the horse herders’ because of its lush grass and open valleys. At the afternoon we start climbing into the Eight Lake Nature Reserve, reaching in the afternoon at the shores of Huis Lake, where we stay the night, bush camping.
Day 7. Huis Lake – Shireet Lake – Huis Lake
Today we cross the Eight Lakes Protected Area, lying at some 2500 meters above sea level. On the way we walk past several small lakes and in the afternoon we reach Shireet Lake, probably the most beautiful of all the lakes in this nature reserve. After picnic lunch on the lake’s shores, we continue our ride through the southern part of the nature reserve. We pause by the beautiful Haluut and Shanna Lakes, and late in the afternoon we reach back our camp by Huis Lake, where we spend our last night of bush camping.
Day 8. Huis Lake – Borog – The Orkhon Valley
On our last riding day, we ride out of the Eight Lakes Nature Reserve. Passing by large volcanic basalt fields, and through thick forests, at time the descent would turn so steep, we would have to dismount our horses and walk beside them. At the afternoon we reach Borog, where we once again meet our vehicles. We load our luggage on to our vehicles, say farewell to the local support team which have accompanied us over the last 5 days, and take the four-hours’ drive back to the Orkhon Valley. Here we check-in into a ger camp overlooking a beautiful canyon, and enjoy a much needed warm shower, and solid bed for the night. Overnight in a ger camp.
Day 9. The Orkhon Valley - Tuvkhon Monastery - Kharkhorin
Driving north along the Orkhon River, we will visit one of Mongolia’s most impressive monasteries, where we take a 3 hours’ hike (of which, about 1.5 hours uphill). Located at the top of a high hill with a view of endless pine forests, Tuvkhon Monastery was established during the 1650’s by Zanbazar, one of Mongolia’s most respected religious leaders. Fleeing the Manchu Emperor, the Zanbazar built a monastery in this hidden place, using a natural system of caves and adding small wooden buildings. In the afternoon we keep on driving up the river to Kharkhorin. Overnight in ger camp.
Day 10. Kharkhorin –Ulaanbaatar
Built by Ghengis Khan about 800 years ago, Kharkhorin, better known as Karakorum, was famed throughout Asia as the capital of the Mongol Empire. Within the walls of this spectacular city, kings were chosen, laws made, and the fate of the next city to be conquered were determined. We will visit the ruins of the old city, the Erdene Zuu monastery, and other historical monuments in the area for as long as time permits. After lunch we take the six hours’ drive back to the Mongolia capital, arriving in time for a farewell dinner followed by a climb to Zaisan Hill, for a view over the city at night, We then drive to our hotel in the city center, for our last night in Mongolia.
Day 11. Departure from Ulaanbaatar
After breakfast at our hotel, we will drive to the airport for our international departing flight.