Largely unpopulated, Northern Mongolia is one of the most beautiful areas of the country with densely forested mountains and steppe. The meadows in spring are blanketed with wildflowers and the air is filled with the voices of migrating birds.
Considered by scientists to be the aquatic equivalent of a rainforest, Lake Hovsgol–the “blue pearl” of Mongolia–is found within the country’s largest and most spectacular protected park. Mirroring lush meadows, tall, coniferous taiga forest, and the Sayan mountain range, Lake Hovsgol’s beauty is legendary. Untouched by industry and development, the lake’s water is pure enough to drink and home to a variety of fish including Siberian grayling and lenok. Fed by over ninety rivers and streams, Lake Hovsgol drains only into the Egiin River which then joins the Selenge River, the main tributary of Lake Baikal in neighboring Siberia.
The Hovsgol region is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Choose from hiking, birding, fishing, horseriding, kayaking and canoeing. Venturing further into the Sayan mountains on horseback, you can visit the Tsaatan tribe–traditional reindeer herders who live in teepees similar to those once used by Native Americans on the Great Plains.
The Center & East
Offering the country’s most diverse and accessible scenery, Central Mongolia includes portions of the Gobi Desert and the Hentii and Hangai mountain ranges. Eastern Mongolia is seldom visited, but provides vast expanses of rolling grass steppe, home to some of the largest herds of gazelle left on earth.
In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, traditional gers (felt tents) and Buddhist monasteries coexist with modern high-rises. Discover the many museums and cultural monuments within the city–from restored monasteries to superb collections of Buddhist art and sculpture, artifacts of traditional nomadic daily life, and fossils collected from the Gobi desert.
Within two hours driving time from the capital are several national parks. Hike among the foothills of the Hentii Mountains and the unusual geological formations found at Gorki-Terelj National Park. Discover the ruins of Mandshir Monastery in Bogdkhan Strictly Protected Area, proclaimed off limits to hunting and logging by Chingis Khan in the 13th century. At Hustain Nuruu National Reserve, visit the rare species of wild horse, Takhi – commonly known as Przewalski’s Horse. Reintroduced into the wild in 1994, the population is now thriving.
Travel further afield and find cultural highlights including Kharakhorum, the site of the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire. Only a few traces remain of this once great city, but neighboring Erdene Zuu, the country’s largest monastery, was reputedly built from the city’s ruins. Or, visit Arkhangai province, known as the “Switzerland of Mongolia.” The provincial capital, Tsetserleg, is home to the Buyandelgeruulekh Monastery which was founded in 1586 and housed almost 1,000 monks at its height of activity.
With its dramatic cliffs and valleys, rolling sand dunes, and “forests” of small but hardy saxual shrubs, the ancient Gobi is one of the world’s most unusual deserts. The vast expanses are infused with plantlife, which supports the herds of animals raised by the nomads in this region.
Travel by camel to the legendary “Flaming Cliffs,” site of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of this century. It was here, in 1923, that Roy Chapman Andrews and his expedition team from the American Museum of Natural History discovered the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen. Paleontologists from the world over continue to uncover fossils at this rich site.
Explore the towering sand dunes of Hongoryn Els, reaching upwards of 2,500 feet and extending parallel to the Gobi Altai Mountains for over 60 miles. Although the scenery is spectacular, the remote location ensures that there are few visitors.
Hike through the surprisingly green Yol Valley, carved by an ancient river whose remnant streams create ice formations that sometimes persist as late as July. Here in the foothills of the Gobi Altai Mountains, you will discover habitat for vulture-like lammergeiers, Argali mountain sheep, ibex, yaks and Altai snowcocks.
Amidst the snow-covered peaks of the Altai Mountains (topping 14,000 feet), you will find remote alpine lakes teeming with fish, ancient stone
monuments, swift rivers, larch forests, and valleys strewn with wildflowers. The backcountry of western Mongolia is still relatively unexplored and offers spectacular scenery and excellent opportunities for horse riding and trekking.
Arriving at Lake Uvs, Mongolia’s largest lake by surface area, you will feel you have come upon the edge of a great sea. Hundreds of waterbirds crowd the shores during the spring and fall and the surrounding area is home to an abundance of wildlife.
Journeying through this region, you will discover the unique culture of the Kazakhs, Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority. Though their pastoral nomadic lifestyle is similar to that of Khalka Mongolian’s, these Kazakh-speaking nomads are predominantly Moslem. Many Kazakhs still hunt with trained eagles in the winter months.