From the earliest times, Mongolians have been nomads. This tradition has nurtured a simple lifestyle but rich culture that persist today.
On this trip, we will experience first-hand the nomadic life of Mongolia. We’ll learn how herders making cheese, yogurt, and even vodka from mare's milk. We’ll spend nights in comfortable felt yurts called gers that mimic the host families’.
A highlight of the trip is our attendance at the Golden Eagle Festival where Kazakh horsemen show their riding and eagle hunting skills. An added treat is a visit to Khustai National Park where the takhi (Przewalski horse) -- once extinct except in zoos – has been reintroduced.
We will also visit important historical sites such as Kharakhorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia where Chinggis Khaan ruled, and Mongolia’s oldest and most important Buddhist monastery, Erdenezuu Monastery.
This is active cultural adventure travel: we’ll take several day hikes on well-trodden trails and drive on dirt tracks most of the time. Horse and camel riding is optional. One of the unique and unforgettable aspects of the trip -- in the words of a previous traveler -- is "the opportunity to spend time with the local people around their hearths of their gers." We’ll come away with a feeling of respect and endearment for people to whom hospitality is paramount.
Day 1: Arrive in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia: Overnight in a hotel. Meet your host/Trip Leader and rest. No activities planned.
Day 2: Get to know "UB:" UB, as Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar is known, is a city of contrasts: high-rises mix with pastel-colored Russian colonial style buildings. Today we’ll visit Gandan Monastery, Mongolia's most active monastery and representative in style of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries that are prevalent across Mongolia. We'll learn of Mongolia's dramastic history at the national history museum, and later enjoy a cultural performance and Welcome Dinner.
Days 3 & 4: Travel to Gurvanbulag Community: We’ll pack up and drive west to Gurvanbulag Community Based Ger, where we'll stay for two nights: our first taste of ger life that you will surely come to adore. We’ll visit nomads' gers and sample Mongolian salty milk tea called suutei tsai, as well as various dried cheeses and yogurts -- the stable of the steppe. We'll taste fermented mares' milk and homemade vodka distilled from it. Galloping across the grasslands on horseback is a thrill not to be missed. For dinner we will enjoy khorkhog, a traditional Mongolian barbeque grilled over hot stones.
Days 5 & 7: Exploring Orkhon Valley, Cradle of Mongolia, and Kharakhorum, Chinggis Khan's First Capital: Traveling on dirt roads in our sturdy vehicles, we may cross rivers with no bridges and seemingly drive without direction across the plains, unpopulated save for an occasional ger and herds of horses, sheep, and a few yaks. We'll hike to tiny Tuvkhun Monestery where lamas meditate in caves on retreat. We'll continue on to Kharakhorum, the 13th century capital of Mongolia, where we'll halt for two nights to soak in the history of this special place. Overnights in comfortable gers.
Days 8, 9 & 10: Camel Riding, Spotting Takhi: and Return to UB for a night We'll travel on to Khogno Khaan Nature Reserve, stopping en route to visit Erdenekhamba, a hidden monastery that once sheltered monks from Communist forces. We'll visit a camel herding family and mount a Bactrian camel for a jaunt across the plains toward rising sand dunes. Turning eastward, we'll continue on to Khustai National Park home to the takhi (Przewalski Horse), at one time surviving only in zoos. We'll go out in the evening to look for the horses, along with gazelle, red deer and fox. We'll return to UB for a night.
Days 11 & 12: Travel Westward to Ulgii We'll take the long flight (1,200 miles, approx 3 hrs) to Ulgii town in Western Mongolia, where the Kazakh ethnic peoples live. After a night in Ulgii, we'll move to the grasslands and stay close to a nomadic family in gers. Being Muslims, their family structure and traditions are quite different than what we’ve experienced in central Mongolia. Some of our hosts may be participating in the Golden Eagle Festival, and will proudly show us their birds and gear.
Days 13 & 14: May the Games Begin! Today is Day One of the Golden Eagle Festival. After an opening ceremony where festival participants parade on horse-back with their eagles, each Kazakh hunter displays his or her – yes, there may be a couple of female participants – ability to entice their eagle to them from afar, baited by fox or rabbit skins. The two-day event is full of activities, with horsemen playing a tug-of-war game where they struggle for possession of a goat skin. In the evening we’ll watch a Kazakh concert of traditional song and dance.
Days 15 & 16: Back to UB and Home: The festival over, we'll fly to UB and spend our last afternoon shopping -- the "State Store" has everything from cashmere sweaters to leather goods and Mongolian CDs under one roof -- and a Farewell Dinner. Depart the next day.
Trip Cost: From $4,550/person
Single supplement: $650