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Riding to the Ancient Tsaatan Shamans
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Riding to the Ancient Tsaatan Shamans

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 17 day(s)
Group Size: 2 - 12 people
Destination(s): Mongolia  
Specialty Categories: Horse Riding   Camping  
Season: July - September
Airfare Included: Yes
Tour Customizable: Yes
Minimum Per Person Price: 2019 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 2590 US Dollar (USD)

Tour Introduction:

In northern Mongolia behind a wall of mountains, sits a harsh but mystical landscape of prairie, forest, and a few hundred lakes scattered over a wide plain called the Darkhad Depression. Deer, wild boar, squirrel, beaver, otter, ermine, marten, sable and wolf inhabit the region.

The difficult access to the region ensures the unique Tsaatan people, who are among the inhabitants of the valleys, are able to continue their traditional lifestyle. Their daily life is largely dependent on domesticated reindeer, which they keep for riding, transport and for their meat and milk. Reindeer hides are used for making clothing and covering teepees. Here is one of Mongolia's last refuges of shamanism. The trip is your chance to drink reindeer milk and go for a reindeer ride!

These 14 days include 7 horse riding days. Ride across green valleys and icy streams of Darkhad country and meet Tsaatan people – a disappearing tribe still practicing shamanism. Second part of the riding tour will bring you to Khuvsgul lake, deepest and cleanest in all of Mongolia. Tented and ger overnights.

Tour Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival in Ulaanbaatar, guided city tour. Arrival in Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capital of Mongolia and transfer to a centrally located 4 star hotel. Afternoon guided city tour will introduce you to the highlights of the city: the Gandan Temple - city's main Buddhist center, the central city square with a grand statue of Genghis Khan and the Zaisan Memorial, an elevated hill on the city's edge providing a panoramic view of UB.

Then choose to visit one or two museums from the following: Museum of National History introducing Mongolia's history from early humans to modern era, Natural History Museum with a unique collection of dinosaur fossils, Choijin Lama or State Oracle Residence-museum displaying best samples of Buddhist artwork and religious masks. The Winter palace of Bogd Khan showcasing rare statues of Buddhist deities and items of personal use of this last theocratic ruler of Mongolia is also worth considering. A show of traditional music, throat singing and contortion at 6 PM will be followed by a welcome dinner. Hotel. Includes: (D)

Day 2: Flight to Northern Mongolia and drive to Beltes river. This morning take an hour and a half flight to Murun town in Northern Mongolia. Upon arrival meet with a support team of driver(s), cook(s) and a guide and head north to Darkhad depression. Soon after leaving Murun the landscape changes from hilly steppe to wooded mountains. Our destination today is the Beltes river. Rivers in this area and in Mongolia in general are small and shallow occasionally drying up but during the rainy season they rapidly rise and at times burst their banks. On arrival to the Beltes river we erect our tented camp. Dinner and overnight in tents. Tent. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 3: Traverse the Darkhad Depression to Tsagaan Nuur village. The Darkhad (meaning those exempt from taxes) ethnic people account for the majority of the local population. Higher levels of rainfall compared to the rest of Mongolia supports alpine wetlands across which we make our way on grassy jeep tracks and on dirt road. White felt covered tents known as 'gers' and many herds of yaks, sheep and horses dot the surroundings. We can stop a couple of times at Darkhad herding families and get a bit more than a glance of a way of life which seemingly has not changed since hundreds of years.

In the afternoon we arrive to Tsagaan Nuur town located by a large alpine lake in the north end of the depression. Here we get introduced to the Tsaatan Community Visitor Center (TCVC), one-of-a-kind facility owned and operated by the Tsaatan community, its services modestly priced and tourism incomes fairly distributed and dedicated to the sustainability of this small community as a whole. For the next 3 days we utilize TCVC services: their guides and horses for both riding and transporting our luggage. Dinner and overnight at the TCVC. Tent. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 4: Horseback riding from TCVC to Tsaatan's herding camps. After an early breakfast we drive to a drop off point at the edge of the taiga where TCVC guides and their horses will meet you. Riding the sturdy Mongolian horses is a style different from that of the West. Broken in at the age of 2 or 3 they listen to a different set of commands and, respond to a different behavior on the rider's end. Riding will be in open and wooded terrain with lots of mud puddles, almost entirely at a walking pace. Your entire luggage and camping equipment will be carried by pack horses driven by local residents.

As you ride accompanied by the guides you will pass from a steppe (grassland) ecosystem, into a taiga (boreal forest) ecosystem, delineated by a distinct change in vegetation and topography. Your TCVC guide will be a resident of the taiga you visit, and will be intimately familiar with the routes, history, and people of that region. Evening arrival to the Tsaatan's herding camp. Dinner and overnight in teepees or tents depending on the availability of the former. Tent. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 5: Day in taiga in the Tsaatan's herding camp. A full day to allow you to meet families, explore the stunning taiga ecosystem, and learn about Tsaatan life and traditions. You may play games with children, learn to cook bread, listen to storytelling, take a nature walk, go berry picking, or swim in the chilly lakes and rivers of the taiga. You may as well help with basic tasks around camp to experience a slice of daily life although many activities are best left to the herders and you should be prepared to ask questions or sit back, be quiet and observe. Tent. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 6: Return ride to TCVC, Tsagaan Nuur village. We say good-byes to our hosts and ride back to the Tsagaan Nuur village, the TCVC where we part with our local guides too. This evening riding guides and horses from the Khuvsgul lake area will arrive to accompany us during the second riding part during the next 4 days. Dinner and overnight. Tent. Includes: (B, L, D).

Days 7-10: Horseback riding to Khuvsgul lake. Back in the saddle we this time head east to cross the Khordiliin mountain range to reach the west shore of the Khuvsgul lake. During the first two days we ride across lush meadows and alpine wetlands crossing small rivers and countless streams. The second team of local guides will accompany us ensuring safe riding and peace of mind. Again our luggage and camp will be transported by pack horses.

On the 3rd day we ascend the wooded slopes of Khordil mountain and cross its main pass at over 2000 meters above sea level. On the 4th day we descend down the wooded east slope of Khirvist mountain to the Khuvsgul lake. But before the final descent we enjoy the view of the vast blue expanse of water lying beneath. Confined by above 2000 m high mountain chains and dense woods the lake holds 2 percent of Earth's fresh water reserves. Its recorded depth is 267 meters. Mongolians revere the Khuvsgul lake and call it "The Mother Sea".

The final few hours we ride along the lake and arrive to a visitor camp right on its shore. Off the saddle and we take hot showers and a relaxing body massage for a small additional fee. Tonight we celebrate our ride with a delicacy of the Mongolian cuisine called "Khorkhog". Chunks of meat and vegetables are pressure cooked with heated stones and served with salads. Overnight in "gers". Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 11: Rest day. A lazy day in the camp. You may go hiking, boating or take a dip in the cool waters of the lake. Overnight in the same camp. Ger. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 12: Drive to Murun town, visit deer steles of Bronze age. We today take a 4 hour drive to Murun airstrip. Along the way visit a series of Bronze age burial sites marked by artistically made "Deer steles". Overnight in a ger camp nearby the airstrip. Ger. Includes: (B, L, D).

Day 13: Return flight to Ulaanbaatar. Today we catch a return flight to Ulaanbaatar. On arrival, transfer to your hotel. Free afternoon for shopping and else. Farewell dinner. Hotel. Includes: (B, D).

Day 14: Departure transfer. Transfer to airport for your return flight home. Includes: (B).

Notes:
Airfare is included in the tour price.

Price per person:
- Hotel single room extra: 60 USD
- 2 pax: 2590 USD
- 3-4 pax: 2140 USD
- 5-7 pax: 2019 USD.

Price Includes:
- All accommodation (twin shared)
- All transfers including arrival and departure
- Internal flights
- Meals (B-breakfast, L-lunch, D-dinner)
- Visits and national park fees
- Camping equipment
- English speaking guide
- Expedition cook
- Riding guides
- Horse hire

Price Excludes:
- Travel insurance
- Excess luggage fees on internal flights
- Meals not indicated
- Sleeping bags and pads
- Drinks
- Gratuities.

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