This is now a guaranteed departure for 2016!
Most of my guests have heard my philosophy behind our 'road trips' - that flying from place to place gives you no context, no real experience of the country. A majority of the western visitors at the Ice Festival fly in a day prior to the event but we do things differently. The power of the landscapes is an integral part of any journey in Mongolia and that’s what the first few days of this itinerary are about - experiencing Mongolia’s winter landscapes. This includes a two-day stay with Naraa and Bujee - herders living in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a hike to the little visited Aglag Buteel Meditation Monastery, exploring the Uran Togoo and Togoo mountains and Mongolia’s principal river - the Selenge.
You will then arrive at Khovsgol Nuur National Park where we work with a young herding family - led by Baasanchuluun. You will spend three nights living with them in their winter home - their ger located in their ‘winter pasture’ surrounded by mountain-forest steppe roughly 10km outside of Khatgal. We have left it flexible so you can decide on what to do once you’re there and also depending on the weather conditions. Naturally, time will also be spent in the company of Baasanchuluun and his family learning about their daily life as they tend their livestock.
The itinerary finishes with the two-day Ice Festival - where you will be accompanied by Baasanchuluun as his special guests. It is a celebration of local community, networking and collaboration to ensure a better future for the region and its herding community. There will be a horse-sledge race (12km) and ice-skating race (up to 100km around a 6km circuit) and creative ice sculptures.
Day 1 & 2: Ulaanbaatar (UB) - City Walking Tour.
Final arrival day into Ulaan Baatar: UB maintains a strong Mongolian identity of its own and has a ‘frontier’ feel and vibrancy. It is a city well-worth exploring as it is home to 45% of Mongolia's population and provides a contrast to the lives of those in rural areas. For those interested, we include a free walking tour to help introduce you to the city.
In the afternoon transfer to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park where your acommodation is provided by Naraa and Bujee - a herding family that move twice a year. In February they are located in their winter pasture in a mountain valley 8km away from the developed area of Terelj. You'll have almost two days to explore these wilderness landscapes and to understand the way of life of Naraa and Bujee.
Day 3: Erdenet
An early morning departure from UB to Aglag Buteel Temple. Since the collapse of communism in the 1990’s and as Mongolia’s religious freedom has returned, a number of Buddhist monasteries have been newly established. Aglag Buteel is one of these. Established by Mongolia’s renowned Buddhist lama and artist Purevbat, it is located within a stunning mountain forest steppe landscape. Granite rocks have been carved as statues of Buddhist tradition, each signifying a particular symbolic meaning. There is also a road ‘a kora’ meditation route designed to harmonise with the natural environment.
On your departure, continue your drive north through Mongolia’s main agricultural zones of the Selenge Province. Your final destination is Erdenet.
Day 4: Khutag Ondor
Today’s journey will take you through Bulgan Aimag. Take time out exploring Uran Uul an extinct volcano in the Uran-Togoo Tulga National Park - the peak stands at 1686m but there are smaller volcanos surrounding as well. The names of the peaks allude to their volcanic past with designations borrowed from around the fireplace. The Uran Togoo and Togoo mountains are named for their bowl shape, the Tulga mountain for its three mounds reminding of the traditional iron tripod kettle support. Jalavch is a term for a small pot.
Spend this evening in the small rural community of Khutag Ondor.
Day 5: Selenge Gol and Murun
Formed by the confluence of the Ider and Delger rivers, the Selenge is Mongolia’s principal river and a critical ground water source for Mongolia as well as the most substantial source of water for Lake Baikal in Siberia. The Selenge basin covers 173,000 square miles and is a nationally significant region in terms of natural ecology. Spend time exploring the winter landscapes of this spectacular river valley.
You will then continue on to Murun - the lively capital town of Khovsgol Province which bears the hallmarks of being a trading outpost close to the border with Russian Siberia, in that it is slightly wild and rough around the edges. However, this adds to its charm and unique atmosphere – especially the bustling market in the centre of town.
Day 6 to 8: Khatgal and Khovsgol Nuur National Park
At Khovsgol you will be hosted by the Basaanchuluu (Bambakh for short!) family. They are a family of young traditional ‘malchin’ or herders who make their home in the mountain forest steppe roughly 8km from the small community of Khatgal at the southern edge of Khovsgol Nuur.
You have three free days to explore and discover the remarkable landscapes surrounding Bambakh’s winter pasture home. We have left it flexible so you can decide on what to do once you’re there and also depending on the weather conditions. Naturally, time will also be spent in the company of Bambakh and his family learning about their daily life as they tend their livestock . A couple of options to help illustrate what’s available:
A horse trek accompanied by Bambakh across the winter landscapes.
Driving in the Furgon over the Jankhai Davaa to spend the day exploring the western shoreline of Khovsgol Nuur. If you’re feeling energetic this can include a hike up to the incredible Khoridol Saridag Mountain Range.
Walk along the shoreline from Khatgal - meandering through pine forests and coming across high open view points and open meadows. It’s a flat walk but is long at around 15km. It takes roughly 4.5 hours. Let us know if you are interested as the vehicle would be able to collect you from the other end!
Day 9 & 10: Ice Festival
Held at Khatgal to promote tourism outside of the main tourist season and help promote local industry by focusing on the region's special features. Don’t get caught up in notions of authenticity - the Ice Festival features a lot of local involvement. The festival draws local Mongolian spectators as well as westerners and the locals are always more enthusiastic. You’ll be accompanied by Baasanchuluun and your EL team.
It is a celebration of local community, networking and collaboration to ensure a better future for the region and its herding community. There will be a horse-sledge race (12km) and ice-skating race (up to 100km around a 6km circuit) and creative ice sculptures. Other scheduled events include a wrestling competition, ankle bone shooting and also evening entertainment.
Day 11: Ulaanbaatar
You have two options. Either return by domestic flight (price not included - approximately 170,000 MNT) or with the EL team (this option is free - you would return to UB in the early evening of March 5th).
Just so you know:
As a team (I am the only westerner, the rest of my small team are Mongolian) we research, design and operate all aspects of the holidays we offer - there are no outside agencies or suppliers apart from the rural families that provide accommodation or who provide services such as our pack-horses during any treks we offer. Why?
Supporting local is at the heart of what we do and at the centre of each itinerary we offer. I firmly believe that going directly to the local people not only helps to support the rural communities through which you travel but it also allows us to source local knowledge. This leads to a more personal style of trip where you experience a more local way of travel.
This trip is already a guaranteed departure with two bookings. The maximum is six, providing you with a more individual style of trip. I work hard to make sure that our itineraries provide variety, are flexible and provide a genuine introduction that will enable you to get under the surface and experience the real local Mongolia.
This small group adventure ensures you will leave Mongolia feeling you have had a truly refreshing and individual experience. We can also offer it as a private tailor made holiday - adapted to your time frame, budget and and personal interests.
For all of our small group trips I offer a sliding price scale. I appreciate your holiday funds are precious and so the more individual travellers that book so the price comes down and everyone benefits.
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Asia Mongolia Local Culture Festival Tours Cultural Journey