Blue Lakes

Areas of peacefulness

Blue lake with Yaks on the foreground


Crystal Clear Water

With more than 3.000 big & small lakes, of which several deep and highly transparent, fresh water lakes. Thanks to the low density of human population and their mostly traditional occupations, consisting mostly of livestock grazing, the Mongolian lakes and rivers are still today preserved in a pristine condition. All over Mongolia there is an abundance of shallow lakes and lagoons famous for their fish and birdlife. In the Northern region, between the Altai and Khangai mountain ranges, lies the Great Lakes region, with more than 300 mostly saline lakes including the largest lake of Mongolia Uvs Nuur (3.350km2).


The darkblue pearl

A little to the East of the Great Lakes region you will find the Khovsgol Nuur, the largest fresh water lake of Mongolia. With its crystal clear water and its wonderfull surrounding, it is called the Darkblue Pearl of Mongolia. It provides 65% of Mongolia’s fresh water and up to 2% of the worlds fresh water! With snow mountains as the perfect backdrop it is the area where ibex, argali, wolves, bears, reindeers and snow leopards feel at home. In this area the nomadic Turcs and Mongols used to meet and echange their products. It is still a place today where a lot of minorities reside.


Man kayaking on the blue lake

Reindeers in fromt of the lake


Tsaatan & reindeers

The ‘Reindeer people’ are a nomadic people, originally from Tuva in Siberia, that roam around the Taiga area of the Khovsgoll province. They move very frequently in their tipi-like tents, in search of fresh lichens for their reindeers. They use the reindeers for milking and for transport, and hunt other animals for supplementary foods. They are still following their Sjamanistic rituals. There are not a lot of left that continue with this nomadic life, so every encounter with them is likely to leave an powerfull impression.






From Mud Spa's to bird sanctuaries

All over Mongolia you will find thousands of smaller lakes, like the Ogii lake, they are essential for the vast flocks of migrating birds you can see at the edges of the lakes. Some of those lakes. Other lakes, like Avarga Toson area, are famous for the rich minerals in the water and in the mud around the lake. Here you will find a mineral spring where Ogodei Khaan was cured from a serious stomach ailment and many locals bathing and swimming in the lake.


People around and in the lake

On the road

On the road





Golden Gobi

Wild, beautiful & unexpectedly divers

Singing sand dunes

Sand

Hearing the name Gobi brings images of a golden desert with camels, endless dunes of sand and heroes in dangerous adventures discovering strange animals and dinosaur bones... The Gobi desert is more than twice the size of France, of which about half in Mongolia The total area of the sand dunes comprises only 3% of the total area, but the 'Singing Sand dunes' of Khongoryn els can still stretch for more than 10 km wide and 100km long with some as high as 300m! They continually change shape due to the wind and reflect different yellow colours during different times of the day. As the sand is moved dur to the winds, a strange singing sound is made...


Ice

Yolyn Am “the mouth of the vulture” is a remarkable place in the Gobi desert. Here you can find an ice canyon, and even some ice-waterfalls untill the end of June! The dramatic rock cliffs with narrow canyons provide enough shade for the frozen river-water and waterfall to last into the hot desert summer… The ice canyon can be 10m high and 10km long. But even after the melting of the ice it's still a wonderful place to visit, with lots of Pikas, a rabbit-like creature that is the favourite food of the many eagles in the valley. Also famous is the Lammergeier, a vulture that is capable to fly away with bones of up to 4kg to munch on the bone marrow, some say they can even carry away babies…


History & Culture


On the road


Dinosaurs

In the 1920’s of last century, the American adventurer Roy Chapmann Andrews organized an expedition to the Gobi desert. He got the permission of the Mongolian government after he promised to bring them an ‘Olgoi Khorkoi’, the legendary worm that lives in the sand and instantly kills people that touch it… He didn’t find the worm, but he did find an immense treasure trove, of dinosaur bones that started the world-wide interest in dinosaurs. It is said that Indiana Jones got his inspiration from him…



Camels

The Bactrian camel is a truly remarkable animal, perfectly adapted for desert life: it can drink up to 90 liters of water in a few minutes, and then last for more than 2 weeks without drinking… It can stand better the heat and drought than his cousin, the Dromedary and it can transport up to 250kg. The humps on his back insulate his body against the heat of the sun when it is high in the sky and provide it with the necessary food reserves. His feet and nose are perfectly adapted to living in the sand and with its thick lips it can eat the aptly named Camel thorn bush…


Mongolian gers


On the road

On the road





Green Steppe

Endless grasslands, homeland of Chinggis Khaan


The Far East

The Eastern provinces have an enormous teritory: 1/3rd of the country! Humans do live here but with only 200.000 inhabitants for the entire region there is still enough space for unspoilt, raw and beautiful nature. Mongolians say that here heaven and earth touch each other. Endless horizons with flowers, lakes, rivers and nomads with their animals… Here you will encounter monuments, springs and lakes associated with the life of Chinggis Khaan but also neolithic monuments, deer and balbal stones, as well as the occasional museum, hunting lodge and monastery.


The Secret History of the Mongols

Through sheer willpower he united the scattered Mongol tribes, and then set off to conquer the rest of the world. Named as the most important man of the last millenium there is much more to Chinggis Khaan than the ruthless conqueror we all got to know… His youth and ascension to power are meticulously noted in the wonderfull 'Secret History of the Mongols', which could be used as a guidebook through the steppe of the country: over 50 sites are associated with the life of the great man.


History & Culture

On the road

The Great Eastern Steppe

A sea of grass colliding with the eternal blue sky, populated by tens of thousands gazelles, marmots and rare crane birds… In the past this steppe could provide food for entire armies and it was here that Japanese ambition to extent their Manchurian colony to the West was definitively stopped, so they focused their attention on the Pacific in stead… A range of strictly protected nature reserves can hopefully protect this unique ecological system from the mining companies that are eager to exploit the area…



Siberian borderland

Runs from Terelj across the Khentii province to the Russian border, the homeland of the Buryats. It is an ancient and heavily eroded mountain range with average altitudes of 2.000m. Its highest peak is the Burkhan Khaldun, where Chinggis Khaan prayed before battle. It is also the sourse of 3 magnificent rivers, that are perfect for some canoeing trips. In the North you will find Birch and pinetree forests, that provide shelter, hunting grounds and wood for building the typical log cabins. It is called the lumberjack capital of Mongolia! If it didn’t rain here a lot in the summer, it would be an absolute highlight in Mongolian tourism: lakes, rivers, forests, log cabins… in the sunshine it is very pittoresque!


Mongolian gers


On the road
On the road





Wild West

Remote, authentic and wild

On the road

Eagle Hunters

The famous eagle hunters live in the high mountains of the Altai range of western Mongolia. They belong to the Khazakh minority in Bayan-Olgii province. The skills of domesticating, then hunting with eagles is passed through generations from ancient times. Experienced hunters take eagles at a very young age and domesticate them, then train them to hunt. They keep them for four to five years then release them back to the wild, where they can live to around thirty years old. They release them at night to prevent them following the hunter home! The highly acclaimed movie “The Eagle Huntress” follows a 13-year old girl to become the first female in her family to become a famous eagle huntress.


Altai Tavan Bogd

The Altai Tavan Bogd mountain range is in the remote west of Mongolia, in Bayan-Olgii province, bordering China and Russia. Its highest peak – Huiten Peak – is the highest point in Mongolia at 4374m. Altai Tavan Bogd National Park contains more than 250 lakes and many rivers which attract a wide variety of migratory birds in spring and summer. It also is home to many endangered animals including argali (a species of wild sheep), snow leopard, river otter, red deer and ibex, and several rare bird species. The Park provides wonderful opportunities for fishing, horse riding, camel riding, water rafting and hiking in summer and autumn, and its spectacular mountains are snowcapped year round.


History & Culture


On the road


Deer Stones

Another important aspect of this area is the presence of rock paintings and carvings. They are up to 3000 years old and depict men and animals. The Petroglyph Complexes of the Mongolian Altai is a UNESCO world heritage site. In addition there are around 1200 examples of the enigmatic ‘deer stones’. This form of rock art is widespread throughout northern Mongolia and the south Siberian steppe. They depict the figure of a flying deer and hunting weapons, and so represent the importance of the deer and the warrior-hunter since ancient times.




Snow Leopard

The snow leopard is the most mysterious and least studied of the worlds large cats. It is extremely beautiful but rarely seen. It is mainly solitary and lives at high altitudes usually above 3000m and much higher in summer. In Mongolia the snow leopard lives in the Altai mountains. It also is present (though in diminishing numbers everywhere) in the central Himalayas and the Tien Shan and Pamir mountains of central Asia. There are estimated to be only four to six thousand of these magnificent animals left world-wide.


Mongolian gers





National Parks

Protected areas

On the road

Hustai Nuuru National Park

The 3 provinces of North Mongolia all have a border with Russia and have a different look & feel than other parts of Mongolia. The Selenge province looks Russian with lots of farm fields, 40% of all Mongolian grain is harvested here. It is also the location of one of the most beautifull, but carefully hidden away, monasteries of Mongolia. But the entire area around the dark blue pearl of Mongolia is considered to be one of the most beautifull places of Mongolia, with the Tsaatan reindeer people populating the Taiga area North of the lake.


Terelj National Park

Is located only 80 km from UlaanBaatar and a very popular place for locals and foreign tourists. It is famous for its beautiful natural scenery and interesting rock formations. The park lies at 1600metres high and offers great opportunities for hiking, horse-riding, and rock climbing. The park is very large and almost uninhabited by humans only by a few nomads and farmers. Inside the park, there are ranges of protected animals such as moose, deer, gazelle, marmot, wild cat, squirrel, hedgehog, lynx, wolverine, and sable. In the valley of the Terelj National Park, there is very special rock formation which is called ‘Turtle Rock’, because of it is looks like real turtle from a distance. You can climb behind the rock and access to the head of the turtle from where you will see around the whole valley.






History & Culture



On the road

Gun Galuut National Park

Yet another naturally beautiful part of Mongolia is the Gun-Galuut Nature reserve. It is 130kms to the south-east of Ulaanbaatar in Tuv province. There are high mountains, wide-endless steppes and rivers and lakes with crystal clear waters. The Reserve has a rich variety of flora and fauna – the peace and quiet only disturbed by the sound of birdsong. Protected here are animals threatened globally such as the argali (wild sheep), the Siberian white crane and other species of bird and fish. There are 81 species of bird, 38 species of fish, 60 species of mammal and 3 amphibian species living here in their natural habitat. Fox, grey wolf, pica, ground squirrel, lynx, wild cat and marmot are the most common mammalian species to be found here. Bird watchers will delight in the many avian species here including Mongolia’s national bird the Saker Falcon.





Buddhism

Heritage of Mongolian Buddhism



On the road

Ganden Monastery

During the religious purges of 1937, only a few temples remained, one of the most important is the Ganden monastery: ‘the great place of complete joy’. Since 1990 it is open again, and it has become the most important institute for Buddhism in Mongolia with about 600 monks now belonging to the monastery. Building was started in 1838 by the fourth Bogd Gegeen, but is was the eighth Bogd Khan who commissioned a statue to be build, in the hope that it might restore his eyesight. The Russians however, destroyed the statue and used the metal to make bullets… A new statue has been made, with the help of other buddhist countries. It is 26m hight and made of copper with gilt gold covering. The hollow statue contains 27 tonnes of medicinal herbs, 334 Sutras, two million bundles of mantras, plus an entire ger with furniture!


Erdene Zuu ‘Hundred Treasures’

Dating from the 16th century, this was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. The Stalinist purges of 1937 put it completely out of business and only in 1990 it became active again. The main temple dates fromt the 16th century, with at its peak around 100 temples with up to 1000 monks in residence, most of which were send to the Siberian gulags... Only 3 temples escaped the destructions, but a large number of statues and religious artefacts were saved by the local people, at great risks to them. Most date from the 18th century and many are in excellent condition.
Around the monastery is an immense wall, with 108 stupas spaced evenly along the wall. Three temples were not destroyed in the 1930’s. They are dedicated to the three stages of Buddha’s life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood.




History & Culture


On the road

Amarbayasgalant

is considered as one of the most important and beautiful monasteries in Mongolia and the most intact ancient architectural building. It is located in Selenge province and not easy to reach, but surprisingly it has escaped total destruction during the purges. It is built in the 18th century by the Manchu emperor Yongzheng, and dedicated to Zanabazar, a direct descendant of Chinggis Khaan who was later recognized as an important Buddhist reincarnation and became a religious leader that tried to unite the Mongols. He had an enormous spiritual influence and created a new Mongolian script and founded a new art style. He is sometimes called the ‘Michaelangelo of Asia’.



Onghin Khiid

The river flowing through the area used to provide water for one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia, with 28 temples in total along with four Buddhist universities and more than a thousand monks residing here. During the purges of 1937 over 200 lamas were murdered, and the rest of them conscripted to the communist army. The river was diverted to support local mines and when it finally dried up, most people were forced to move in search of water. Fortunately some local people buried some artefacts in the area and after independence, again some monks choose to reside here and they have constructed a small new temple, incorporating some original beams from the old ruined monastery in the new structure. A few monks live here full time, and every morning, before an altar flickering with candles and graced with a framed photo of the Dalai Lama, they worship and chant.



Mongolian gers





Shamanism

Direct contact witht the ancient spirits

On the road


Ovoo's

Ovoo worship ceremony originated in Mongolia as the traditional respect and worship of Nature. It has been going on for thousands of years in Mongolia. An Ovoo is a pyramid shaped pile of stones, bones, woods and other objects placed on the top of hill or mountain. Because it is believed that Ovoo is close to the sky and spirits from the top of sacred mountain and hill. Ovoos are sacred. If you walk around it three clock-wise, good luck will follow and your wish may be granted. A silk prayer cloth known as the “Khadag” is the main symbol of offering.


Shamans

Shamanism is an animist religion with many different beliefs and practices. It has traditionally been practiced among several of the ethnic groups found in Mongolia. The following groups practice shamanism: Darkhat, Buryat, Khotgoid, Uriankhai and Tsaatan. This last group, the Tsaatan, is also known as the reindeer people. Darkhat and Tsaatan people live in the forests near Lake Khovsgol, and have practiced shamanism throughout their history. One of the central beliefs of shamanism in Mongolia is the worship of the blue sky as the place of eternal heaven. Unlike Buddhism, there are no temples, special places, or special scriptures in shamanism.


History & Culture


On the road




The beliefs are found in the spirits, in the wind, in the sun, and the natural objects that grow and crawl on the earth. A male shaman is known as “Boo” and a female shaman is an “Udgan.” A shaman is selected from a tribe as the leader of their spiritual property. A shaman’s food, clothing, tools and belongings are used as part of the shaman’s ritual existence.







Seasonal Living

Life in the Mongolian countryside



On the road

Spring

Nomadic families try to blend ancient ways of living that have survived since the time of Chinggis Khaan in 1200AD with elements of the modern world. They have a remarkable capacity to thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments.
Most nomadic families make four major long-distance moves each year, corresponding to the demands of the four seasons. After the harsh winter, the temperatures start to rise, the snows start to melt and they seek out early spring forage to allow their animals to fatten up before the birthing-season. This is the time of the births of foals, calves, lambs and kids… and once they don’t need to nurse all day, the milking of the animals can begin.But it can also be the time when sudden change of temperatures causes problems for the animals and the nomads.

Summer

The availability of water is key as the summertime is crucial to strengthen all the animals for the rest of the year. Families are camping together and take joint responsibility for the animals. During the day their animals are herded together and at milking time each family keeps its milking animals separate.
They milk their horses, cows, yaks and goats as dairy foods are an important paart of their diet. Goats are milked only in June and July, mares from July to November. The horses are milked every two hours, up to eight times a day… The mares milk is churned up to 10.000 times by all the members of the family to make airag (same as in the times of Chinggis Khaan!) In the summer they eat dried meat and fresh cheese and in the winter frozen meat and dried cheese.



History & Culture


On the road

Autumn

In september the schools start again. In Mongolia education is compulsary, under Comunist rule boarding schools were provided for all the herders’ children starting at age eight. Now the schooling is still free,but room and board is extra, so the number of nomad children in the schools is dropping. Today many children will stay with relatives in the town or one of the parents moves with them. In the towns there is usually a generator and people can watch TV, so the children get to see many different ways of life than their own. Meanwhile, the rest of the family stays in the countryside to look after their animals. They look for the late growing grasses to keep their animals well fed.



Winter

When the snows begin towards the end of November, it is time to move the family’s herd to winter pastures. As herders have nu supplemental food source, good winter grounds are critical, and the prime criteria for campsites are grassy areas with minimal snow coverage and the slopes where winter winds blow the snow away from the grazing areas. Areas suitable for winter pasture are used only in winter, so the forage will be plentiful. These areas are affected by both the summer and winter weather: if the summer is too dry, the grasses don’t grow as tall as usual, which can lead to a difficult winter for the animals. But the main concern is the occurance of the ZUUD, extreme winter conditions with extra deep snow or completely frozen grounds which can lead to massive starving of the animals.


Mongolian gers





Festival

Celebrations of Mongolian culture


On the road

Naadam

Is celebrated every year from July 11-13. The most popular sports of the Mongols are still the same as they were during the time of Chinggis Khaan! For women there is a separate competetion with only horse racing and archery. During the festival families will gather from all places and wear their traditional clothes.
Wrestling: no weight divisions or time limits, when one of the participants touches the ground with his knee or elbow, he loses the contest.
Horse racing: Up to 180,000 horses race in competitions held in the countries, the best compete in UB. Riders are children between the ages of six and ten years old, and the horses travel up to 35 km!
Archers: they will shoot small targets from a distance of seventy-five or eighty meters.

Tsagaan Sar

White symbolizes purity, mother’s milk and happiness, and the White Moon holiday is the Mongolian New Year, celebrated nation-wide as a way of saying goodbye to the cold, harsh winter, and welcoming the beginning of spring. This change takes place sometime in February and is celebrated with three days feasting with the family. Families usually kill the fattest sheep in the flock, and then display the boiled lower back and tail throughout the holiday.
On the last day of the old year, lunar New Year’s Eve, families gather around dinner tables that are richly adorned with the many delicious dishes. This day symbolizes that the table will be filled with food the entire year. Everything about this holiday is symbolic of happiness, joy, and prosperity in the coming year.


History & Culture


On the road

Ceremony of the first haircut

This is the traditional rite of passage for Mongolian children, it is believed that they have a special bond with the sky and the sacred spirits. The hair is considered a barrier between the child and these special things. To ensure a child can communicate freely, the first haircut and cutting the “virgin” hair is the means of removing the barrier to the spirits. .” Boys get their first haircut aged three to five and girls aged two to four. This is a very important occasion for the family. Guests are invited, and special foods are prepared. The oldest family member begins with the cutting and all friends and relatives take turns cutting the child's hair. The virgin hair is saved by the family and placed in side a container called a “Khadag.”

Nauryz festival

Nauryz is a New Year celebration for the Kazakh people in Bayan-Ulgii province of western Mongolia. The Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims but Nauryz is a not a religious ceremony. It is a celebration for people who are in close relationship with nature. It is held on the spring equinox – the 21st of March - and marks the renewal of life. The men plant trees and take part in heroic games displaying their horsemanship and bravery. Women sew clothing by hand and make decorations for their homes. Fresh new clothes are worn and visits made to family and friends. Traditional food is eaten, music played on the traditional ‘Doombor’ and old familiar songs sung. Nauryz is also celebrated in other Central Asian countries, and in Georgia, Iran, India, China, and Turkey.


Mongolian gers





Cities

Urban life in a Nomadic country

On the road

Ulaan Baatar

The capital city of Mongolia and was founded in 1639 by Zanabazar. The capital of Mongolia shifted location and changed its name many times. Finally, in 1778, the location became as it is today, on the banks of the Tuul River. The capital lies adjacent to the Bogd Khan Uul National Park. The valley where Ulaanbaatar is located is in view of a beautiful mountain range where four mountains surround the city. Ulaanbaatar has nine large districts and several smaller ones. Six of them are known as “Ger Districts” because they consist of the traditional dwellings throughout.


Ulaanbaatar is one of the coldest capitals in the world. Summer is a very short season and can be hot. Winter lasts a very long time, and is dry and extremely cold. Ulaanbaatar’s population has grown from just fifty thousand in 1910, to 1.2 million today. Recently, new construction has been booming. The capital has become the center for industries, schools, universities, hospitals, theatres, museums, and monasteries. The city has more than three hundred years of history. It is also the home of the young people of Mongolia, with about seventy percent of the population under the age of thirty...
This explains the many karaoke bars and nightclubs throughout the city. Contrast this with the many museums, and historic Buddhist temples.


History & Culture


On the road

Erdenet

Is located in a valley between the Orkhon and Selenge rivers in north-central Mongolia. It is linked to the Trans-Mongolian Railway which runs through Ulaanbaatar and connects with its neighbours China and Russia. The city was founded in 1973 and grew rapidly as a mining centre to become the third largest city in Mongolia.
Its climate is extreme, varying from -20 degrees Celcius in winter to +30 degrees in the summer.
The Orkhon aimag is an important contributor to the Mongolian economy mainly through the copper mine which is the fourthy largest in the world. Tourists are able to visit the mine and there is a Mining Museum in the town centre. Another main attraction in Erdenet is the Aimag Museum.

Darkhan

Is the third largest city in Mongolia and located in the northwest of Mongolia, some 230 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar. The city was founded in the so-called Valley of Gods. With a population of 180.738, is it the second largest city in population in the country. Hundreds of students come to Darkhan from other parts of Mongolia to study. Currently in Darkhan Uul Aimag there are ten institutions of higher education, Darkhan has a humid continental climate, closer to the more typical climate of northern Mongolia, which is found in higher areas near the city. This area has extremely cold and dry winters and very hot and humid summers. Darkhan is part of the Orkhon-Selenge Basin. The discovery of the Xiongnu tombs at the end of Tumurtai Mountain in Darkhan City was first discovered by scientist in 1946. The researchers determined that these graves date back to the 21st century B.C.



History & Culture