Highlights of Mongolia

June 26 – July 10, 2023

 

After having traveled to Mongolia more than a dozen times, it is difficult to design the itinerary because there is so much to see, and we can’t include everything.  The attached program is a collection of the highlights of this beautiful country including the   visit to the Takhi horses in Hustain Nuruu National Park, the eagle hunters, the Gobi and more.

To see more images, please watch the slideshow – ENJOY!

 

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Mongolia 2023

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Trip Details

Itinerary – for a full itinerary with photos, please email me at info@phototours.us

Day 1, June 26   Arrival

                                         

Upon arrival at the airport, transfer to the centrally located hotel in downtown Ulaanbaatar. In the evening, we will provide your pre-trip briefing and then host a welcome dinner at a fine local restaurant. (Hotel Bayangol or similar; D) 

Day 2, June 27                               Ulaanbaatar – Bayan Ulgii

 Today, fly (3 hours) to Bayan Ulgii, westernmost province where majority of the population is ethnic Kazakh. Kazakhs are a group of Central Asian nomads with Turkik origins and nowadays live in Kazakhstan, North Western China and Mongolia. Upon arrival meet your local drivers, transfer to Altai Sum, located in 125 km west of the capital. Bayan Olgii province consists of 14 sub-districts called Soum. Kazakh women are renowned for their skilled embroidery, and their homes are beautifully decorated with ornate tapestries on the walls, ceiling and floor, with each design unique to a particular family. (Tents with communal gers; B, L, D)

 

Day 3, June 28                 Photographing Kazakh families 

Today, spend a full day at the host Kazakh family observing their daily rituals from milking their yaks to making traditional dishes. Colorful Kazakh gers in the picturesque summer camping landscape offer excellent photographing opportunity. Each ger is decorated with tapestries woven by Kazakh women and each tapestry is decorated with unique patterns designed by the family. Kazakh women are renowned for their handcraft and tapestry skills and Kazakh men train Golden Eagles for hunting, an age-old tradition that has survived amongst the Mongolian Kazakh population during the 20th century. Learn about daily chores of Kazakh herders looking after their yaks and sheep. Overnight in tents. (Tents with communal gers; B, L, D)

A group of Kazakh Eagle hunters and their Golden eagles on horseback on the way to the Golden Eagle Festival near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Day 4, June 29                 Photographing with eagle hunters

 For one full day, we will spend the time with about a dozen Golden Eagle hunters for exclusive photo shootings. Eagles are caught from the wilderness and trained for hunting for over 10 years before they are released back into the wilderness. Normally, a female eagle is used. Because of her maternity instincts she is more aggressive and determined in hunt and usually outweighs the males. Learn all about different techniques and gadgets used in eagle hunting. Kazakhs hunters will show you how eagles are trained and they offer you food and shelter, like any other nomadic families in the country. (Tents with communal gers; B, L, D)

 Day 5, June 30   Visiting Local Uriankhai archers

Today, we continue driving along about 3 eagle hunters into Holtsiit valley, visiting local Uriankhai families. Each Uriankhai family has an archer who still practices the ancient technique of making and competing in traditional arrows and bows. (Tents with communal gers; B, L, D)

 

Day 6, July 1                    Tolbo Lake / Ulgii / Ulaanbaatar

This morning, we will drive to back Ulgii, passing through Tolbo Lake. For a picnic lunch along the way. In the afternoon, fly back to Ulaanbaatar and transfer to your hotel. Dinner is independent.

(Bayangol hotel or similar; B, L)

Day 7, July 2                    Ulaanbaatar / Hustain Nuruu National Park

 In the morning, drive to the magnificent Hustain Nuruu National Park. Throughout the tour we will keep a lookout for exciting raptors such as Steppe Eagle, Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon. We should reach the national park in time for lunch, and we will have time to settle into our tourist ‘ger’ camp. Each ‘ger’ (or yurt) generally consists of twin beds with a central heating unit. Although simple, the gers are far more comfortable than the old alternative of field camping! Following lunch, we will start exploring the upland steppe habitat of Hustai National Park. One of the principal attractions of the reserve is a population of highly endangered Przewalski’s Horse, and we will look to visit a small spring where they are known to drink in the late afternoon. At one time they were totally extinct in the wild, but thankfully a dedicated team were able to reintroduce them and Hustai is now one of the few strongholds for this impressive inhabitant of these beautiful upland slopes. (Ger camp; B, L, D)

Przewalski horses (Equus przewalskii) or Takhi mutual preening, the only still living wild ancestor of the domestic horses, at Hustai National Park, Mongolia.

Day 8, July 3                   Hustai National Park – Kharakhorum

After breakfast, begin your overland journey towards Kharakhorum. The construction of Kharakhorum city was completed during Ogedei Khan, Chinggis Khan’s third son who inherited the empire his father created after his death in 1228. It’s located within a beautiful valley of Orkhon river, which bears hundreds of historically and archeologically significant sites, awaiting its unlocking, including 2000 years old burials, deer stones (believed to a form of burial) and ruins of cities pre-dating the time of Chinggis Khan (contrary to the popular spelling of “Genghis Khan” in the west, the correct pronunciation of his name among Mongolians is Chinggis Khan). The remaining ruins were used in the construction of Mongolia’s largest Buddhist Monastery Erdenezuu, erected on its’ place, which stands today. Visit the monastery grounds in the afternoon.

Day 9, July 4                      Kharakhorum – Ongi Monastery

Today, begin your overland journey south to the Gobi desert via Ongiin Hiid Monastery. We will also have our first opportunity to stop along the way and visit a nomadic horse herder family. Mongolians are known for their hospitality offered in form of food and shelter. Nomadic children, who often spend their summer school breaks with their parents, are found helping their parents. Continue driving until you reach Ongiin Hiid Monastery, a ruin of monastery located on the northern tip of the Gobi desert. The Ongiin Monastery was once called the “Pearl of the Gobi” and was on the cross roads of Central Asian Silk road camel caravan merchants. We will explore the monastery ruins and surrounding hills on foot and stay at a ger camp located on the Ongi river banks. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

 Day 10, July 5                    Hongoryn Els Sand dunes

Descending onto the desert steppe below, we continue our journey westwards, stopping to try to locate the elegant Oriental Plover on the open desert steppe if our early efforts were fruitless. We have a long drive today, but there will be plenty of opportunities to stop for any interesting birds and wildlife, or indeed to simply step out of the vehicle to soak up the views and the silence of the open desert steppe. One such journey’s halt will be a spring which can attract thousands of Pallas’s Sandgrouse, and we’ll be hoping our luck is in to witness this impressive gathering of one of the iconic birds of the region. We may also enjoy our picnic lunch here, but this will depend on our progress. (Ger camp; B, L, D)

Day 11, July 6                 Khongoryn Els Sand dunes

Today we will enjoy a full day of gentle birding and wildlife excursions. One of the highlights of our stay in this southern Gobi region will be the opportunity to explore the mysterious Saxaul Forests – a globally threatened habitat found in or on the boundaries of sandy and steppe deserts that range from mid to central Asia. Enjoy walking around the towering sand dunes of Khongoryn Els. (Ger camp; B, L, D)

Day 12, July 7                   Hongoryn Els – Gobi Gurvansaikhan mountains

After breakfast, begin driving to your ger camp Gobi Mirage located near the beautiful Gobi Gurvansaikhan mountains. Enjoy the rest of the day relaxing at the ger camp. (Ger camp; B, L, D)

 Day 13, July 8                  Yolyn Am / Flaming Cliffs

After breakfast, drive a short distance to mountains of Yolyn Am. Enjoy some gentle hiking through steep-sided gorges and high altitude meadows. Birding these beautiful slopes is a real pleasure and we’ll be on the lookout for exciting species such as Chukar, Daurian Partridge, Bearded and Himalayan Vulture and Saker Falcon. Another key target today will be the little known and near endemic Kozlov’s (Mongolian) Accentor, which are only known to breed in these stunning mountains. While exploring the valleys, slopes and ridges, we will be on the lookout for a wide range of mountain species, including the impressive Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), a couple of pairs of which nest in the canyons here. Another major target is the localised Altai Snowcock, which often give their characteristic whistling calls in the early morning just after dawn.

In the afternoon, travel to the legendary to the Flaming Cliffs, red sandstone formations that stretching over 3 kilometers in width, where hundreds of dinosaur fossils have been discovered over the course of the last century.  Paleontological expeditions from many countries, including from the U.S, Poland, Japan and Russia have worked here during last 90 years. Each year, rain and wind reveal yet more fossils and every summer, exceptional new discoveries are made. We will explore the cliffs in the footsteps of legendary American explorer Roy Chapmen Andrews who discovered the first dinosaur eggs here, that the world had ever seen. Enjoy a sun-down and renturn back to the ger camp for dinner.  (Ger camp; B, L, D)

 Day 14, July 9                  Ulaanbaatar

In the morning, begin driving back to Ulaanbaatar, enjoying a picnic lunch along the way. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel.

In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner at one of the city’s fine local restaurants. Overnight at hotel. (Bayangol hotel or similar; B, L, D)

Day 15, July 10  Departure or optional Naadam Festival Extension please see below

After breakfast transfer to the airport for your return flight home. (B)

B = Breakfast L = Lunch D = Dinner

Run with the Wolfies reserves the right to alter the above itinerary if deemed necessary. Western Mongolia domestic flights have been very sporadic and with lots of schedule changes. The actual flight dates to/from Ulgii might change depending on the flight schedule, usually released by the early summer. This past summer some trips with 5 days became 4 and some with 3 days became 4 day journeys. So that is something to keep in mind.

 For international arrival or even at departure, I would encourage you to arrive one day early, just to be on the safe side. The extra night hotel is $150 per night per room including breakfast and taxes.

Optional Naadam Festival Extension

POST-TRIP NAADAM EXTENSION

July 10 – 13, 2023

Trip Itinerary

Day 1, July 10                  Ulaanbaatar

Begin the day with a visit to the Sukhbaatar Square, where the annual national flag day parade takes place. Little known to travelers, this two-hour event offers an excellent insight into Mongolia’s uniformed community from the national guard units with traditional outfits and on horsebacks to firefighters and army units.

After lunch, visit the central stadium where the Naadam archery pre-contests are already taking place. Instead of visiting the sight on the crowded first day of the Naadam, this offers a much closer and intimate experience of the archery games. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. (Bayangol hotel or similar; B, L, D)

 Day 2-3, July 11-12                       Ulaanbaatar

Enjoy two full days in the city, attending the Naadam festival games, consisting of wrestling, archery and horse racing. The festival is also an occasion for family reunions and big feasts.

Three manly sports are believed to exist pre Chinggis Khaan himself and served as a way to train for military campaigns. Nowadays the archery competitions exist for both men and women and usually take place just outside the main stadium in Ulaanbaatar. Unlike our warlike ancestors modern archers compete on moderate distances between 70-100 meters.

Wrestling is big in Mongolia and while for newcomers it might seem unfair – there are no age or weight restrictions and often one can see big guys wrestling small athletes – it is an ages old tradition where in a battle field one can not choose his opponent and has to fight anyone.

Horseracing takes place outside of the city and divided into 6 horse age groups, starting from 2 year old. Usually, the jockeys are young children aged between 6-12 years. And the race is more about endurance than speed, as even the two year old horses need to race for 12 km and adult horses racing for over 30 km at once.

You will be able to attend all three competitions and various events of sport and culture arranged during this centuries old celebrations.

In the evening, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

(Bayangol hotel or similar; B, L, D)

Day 4, July 13                  Departure

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for departure. (B)