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©Wolfgang Kaehler

2017 MONGOLIA: Gobi Desert & Golden Eagles

September 19 – October 4, 2017

Trip summary

Wolfgang Kaehler has traveled to Mongolia about a dozen times.  Over the years he has visited many places in this beautiful country and the itinerary below reflects the cultural and scenic highlights of his MONGOLIA 2017: From Gobi Desert to the Golden Eagle Festival tour.

After leaving Ulaanbaatar we journey to Hustain Nuruu National Park to watch and photograph the Takhi wild horses (Przewalski’s horse) which is a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horse native to the steppes of central Asia. At one time extinct in the wild, it has been reintroduced from zoos around the world – a conservation success story!

On the way to the Gobi Desert, we will visit Kharakhorum, built by Chingis Khan’s son, Ogodei, to serve as the capital of the Mongol Empire and the Ongiin Hiid Monastery.  Onto the Gobi Desert, which is a diverse ecosystem of Mongolia where high mountains, dry basins and grasslands all co-exist. Spend 2 full days at Gobi’s tallest sand dunes, the magnificent Hongoryn Els for various photo opportunities. You will be surprised by the beauty of the Gobi.

Next, fly over the high mountains to the western most part of Mongolia, to participate in the annual Golden Eagle Festival. Every year, over 70 hunter Kazakhs, who train Golden Eagles for hunting, gather around in a valley of Altai Mountains and celebrate the Golden Eagle Festival. There’s no age and gender restriction and in fact, the winner of the 2014 festival was a 13 year old girl who was taught to hunt with her eagles by her grandfather. Passed down to generations, the skill of hunting with eagles was only preserved among the Mongolian Kazakh community in Mongolia.  Thanks to the festival in the past 15 years, this unique tradition is coming back. Enjoy spending a private time with the hunters and their raptor birds for a close up interaction. This trip is one of the best examples of sustainable tourism supporting the local community.

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TOUR CLOSED. Please email us at photos@wkaehlerphoto.com for information about future editions of this tour.

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Trip Details

MONGOLIA: From Gobi Desert to the Golden Eagle Festival

September 26 – October 11, 2017 – A 16 day program

Mongolia Map

Tue, Sep 19     Leave USA

Wed, Sep 20   Arrival

Upon arrival at the airport, meet your guide and transfer to a centrally located hotel in downtown Ulaanbaatar. (Ulaanbaatar Hotel)

MONGOLIA, ULAANBAATAR, GANDAN HILL MONASTERY, TIBETAN BUDDHISM, COLORFUL BUDDHA STATUE

MONGOLIA, ULAANBAATAR, GANDAN HILL MONASTERY, TIBETAN BUDDHISM, COLORFUL BUDDHA STATUE

Thu, Sep 21     Ulaanbaatar / Hustain Nuruu National Park

In the morning, visit Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia.  Next, visit the National History museum which showcases Mongolia’s best collection of traditional tools, art crafts and other exhibits presenting different periods of Mongolia’s history. Among the museum highlights is the collection of traditional costumes of different tribes, hall of the 13th century Mongolia and section which showcases a typical Mongolian ger and various nomadic tools.

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

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

In the late afternoon, we will drive to the Hustain Nuruu National Park, to spot the Takhi wild horses in their natural habitat with a chance to photograph them. Spend the afternoon exploring the park’s various sites. Overnight in gers.  (Approx. 2 hours driving; Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Fri, Sep 22      Hustain Nuruu National Park

We will spend one full day exploring the sights and sounds of the Hustain Nuruu National Park. Visit the habitat area of the wild horses as well as a site of 7th century Turkik memorial. Overnight in gers. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Deer Stone with petroglyphs in Hustai National Park, Mongolia.

Deer Stone with petroglyphs in Hustai National Park, Mongolia.

 

A wall with stupas is surrounding the Erdene Zuu monastery in Kharakhorum (Karakorum), Mongolia.

A wall with stupas is surrounding the Erdene Zuu monastery in Kharakhorum (Karakorum), Mongolia.

Sat, Sep 23      Kharakhorum

After breakfast, drive to Kharakhorum, built by Chinggis Khan’s son, Ogodei, to serve as the capital of the Mongol Empire. Forty years after its construction, Kharakhorum was abandoned and the capital was moved to Khanbalik, in what is now Beijing. Few traces remain of this once- magnificent city, but the nearby Erdene Zuu Monastery was reputedly built from Kharakhorum’s ruins in the 16th century. Mongolia’s largest monastery and a place of Buddhist activity for centuries, Erdene Zuu’s temples are richly decorated with spectacular Buddhist art.

 

In the afternoon, begin the explorations of the Kharakhorum town. Begin with Erdenezuu Monastery, surrounded by 400 meters wall with 108 stupas. At its’ height, the monastery housed over 60 temples and 5000 monks. Discover the surrounding area including historical monuments located outside of its walls.

(Approx. 5 hours driving; Ger Camp; B, L, D)

The Ongiin Khiid was one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia; it was founded in 1660 and consisted of two temples complexes on the North and South of the Ongi Gol River. It was completely destroyed in 1939 under the Communist time of Mongolia.

The Ongiin Khiid was one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia; it was founded in 1660 and consisted of two temples complexes on the North and South of the Ongi Gol River. It was completely destroyed in 1939 under the Communist time of Mongolia.

Sun, Sept. 24      Ongi Monastery

Today, we will begin our overland journey north via the Ongiin Hiid Monastery. In the afternoon, we will reach the ruins of Ongiin Hiid Monastery, located on the northern tip of the Gobi desert. Ongiin Hiid Monastery, once called the “Pearl of the Gobi,” was on the crossroads of Central Asian Silk Road camel caravans. We will explore the monastery ruins and surrounding hills and stay at a ger camp located on the Ongi river banks. (Approx. 5 hours driving; Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Tourists photographing the Hongoryn Els sand dunes in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.

Tourists photographing the Hongoryn Els sand dunes in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.

Mon, Sept. 25     Gobi  / Hongoryn Els  sand dunes

After breakfast, we will drive south west to the towering Hongoryn Els sand dunes, Gobi’s largest of the dunes. Here, we will enjoy climbing the tallest dune and visit a camel herder family to sample ride Bactrian camels. Overnight at a tourist class ger camp. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Bactrian camels grazing in front of the Hongoryn Els sand dunes in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.

Bactrian camels grazing in front of the Hongoryn Els sand dunes in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.

 

Tue, Sept. 26      Hongoryn Els sand dunes

Spend one full day for various photography sessions including for the endemic Saxual tree forest, the incredible landscape and Mongolia’s two humped camels and friendly Mongolian herders. Overnight in gers. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

 

Wed, Sept. 27     Havtsgait Petroglyphs / Flaming Cliffs

In the morning, we will drive to the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park and visit Havtsgait Petroglyphs site, where hundreds of pre-historic rock drawings are found on a mountain top. Next, drive to the ger camp and enjoy lunch.

Evening sunshine on the orange rocks of Bayan Zag, commonly known as the Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi desert, Mongolia where important dinosaur fossils were found.

Evening sunshine on the orange rocks of Bayan Zag, commonly known as the Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi desert, Mongolia where important dinosaur fossils were found.

In the late afternoon, drive to the Flaming Cliffs, a red cliff stretching about 3 km in wide, where hundreds of dinosaur fossils have been found. Paleontological expeditions from many countries, including from U.S, Poland, Japan and Russia have worked here in the last 80 years.  Each year rain and wind reveals yet more fossils and every summer new discoveries are made.  We will equip ourselves with brushes and small cleaning materials and look for rare fossils hidden in the cliffs. Enjoy a sunset dinner at this majestic place before returning back to our ger camp. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

 

Thu, Sept. 28     Gobi Desert / Ulaanbaatar

In the morning, we will begin driving north back to Ulaanbaatar, stopping at a local town for lunch in route. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Remainder of the day and dinner is independent. Overnight at hotel. (Approx. 8 hours driving; Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)

 

Fri, Sept. 29       Ulaanbaatar / Bayan-Ulgii

In the morning, we will transfer to the airport for our flight to Ulgii, the capital city of Bayan-Ulgii, home to Kazakhs and many other minority groups. Though Kazakhs’ pastoral-nomadic lifestyle is similar to that of the Mongolians, these nomads are predominantly Moslem.

 

In the afternoon, we will transfer to our temporary rustic get camp set up near the festival site. There is an excellent chance to do evening fishing for trout.

Our ger camp next to the Hovd River near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Our ger camp next to the Hovd River near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Our Kazakh chef Janka was cooking delicious meals in our ger camp next to the Hovd River near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Our Kazakh chef Janka was cooking delicious meals in our ger camp next to the Hovd River near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the evening, there will be a chance to do a private photo session with a eagle hunter at our camp site. Overnight in gers. (Rustic Camp; B, L, D)

A Kazakh Eagle hunter with his Golden eagle in our ger camp near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

A Kazakh Eagle hunter with his Golden eagle in our ger camp near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Sat – Sun, Sep 30 – Oct 1     The Golden Eagle Festival

For two days, attend the magnificent Golden Eagle Festival. The festival begins with a march of eagle hunters coming into the central field and showcasing their hunter eagles to the public. Eagle skills are then tested by releasing them from a cliff top to time how fast she can land on their owners’ arms when called. Attend also a traditional tug of war game called kukbar, which is competed on a horse back. One of the highlights of the festival will be the archery contest by ethnic Uriankhai people, who will compete by their skills by traditional Mongolian arrow and bow which have retained the same design and force since the 13th century. In the evenings, enjoy a traditional Kazakh meals followed by a beautiful Kazakh singers performing for us on the last evening. Overnight in gers. (Rustic ger camp; B, L, D)

A group of Kazakh Eagle hunters and their Golden eagles arriving at the Golden Eagle Festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

A group of Kazakh Eagle hunters and their Golden eagles arriving at the Golden Eagle Festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Archer aiming during archery competition at the Golden Eagle Festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Archer aiming during archery competition at the Golden Eagle Festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Decorated horse saddle on a horse at the Golden Eagle Festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Decorated horse saddle on a horse at the Golden Eagle Festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kazakh eagle hunter showing off his golden eagle at the Golden Eagle Festival on the festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

A Kazakh eagle hunter showing off his golden eagle at the Golden Eagle Festival on the festival grounds near the city of Ulgii (Ölgii) in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in western Mongolia.

Mon, Oct 2     Tolbo Lake

After breakfast, make a short drive towards crystal-clear Tolbo Lake to the south, mirrored by the dramatic Khunguin Mountain peaks. This saline lake attracts water birds such as swans and gulls and is home to over 8 types of fish.  Spend some time trekking along the eastern shore of the lake and exploring the area.

In the afternoon, we will travel to a traditional Kazakh family to explore their way of living. We will have an opportunity to enjoy the family over dinner and enjoy their hospitality. (Rustic Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Tue, Oct 3     Ulgii / Ulaanbaatar

Morning is at leisure. We will pack and drive to the town. Explore the city and visit its’ market with a chance to purchase renowned Kazakh hand made art crafts including a rug. We will also visit a local museum, which displays excellent cultural and natural showcases. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

In the afternoon, we will transfer to the airport for our return flight to Ulaanbaatar. Enjoy dinner at a fine local restaurant.

(Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)

Wed, Oct 4    Manjushri Monastery / Departure

After breakfast, drive south to the Manjushri Monastery, originally built in 1733 in dedication of a bodhisattva of wisdom. The temple was one of the largest in the region before its destruction in 1937. Although not much remains today, the main temple is reconstructed and offers interesting Buddhist artcrafts and tools. Nestled in a picturesque mountain valley, it is a testament to the outstanding Buddhist architecture and traditional landscape designing by earlier Mongolian craftsman. Return back to Ulaanbaatar for lunch.

Afternoon is free for last minute shopping and sightseeing. In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner at a fine local restaurant and transfer to the airport for departure. (Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L)

B = Breakfast             L = Lunch                   D = Dinner

 For a Mongolia slideshow, please visit https://phototours.us/past-trips/mongolia-2015

 

This itinerary is subject to change because the flight schedule for the internal flights might change.