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Mongolia's Middle Gobi

Discover Mongolia’s Middle Gobi

Referred to informally, the Middle Gobi encompasses the area surrounding Dundgobi Aimag, one of Mongolia’s 21 provinces and a pivotal segment of the vast Gobi Desert, comprising five aimags in total. Spanning an area of 1.3 million square kilometers, the Gobi extends across much of southern Mongolia and northeastern China, ranking as the fifth-largest desert globally.

While guidebooks and tour operators typically highlight only one or two sites within Mongolia’s Middle Gobi, we find every corner of this region captivating. Despite the diversity of the region’s landscapes, it remains largely undiscovered by the majority of international visitors, who often gravitate towards the more renowned attractions of the southern Gobi. Yet, those who venture here are greeted with a rejuvenating dose of silence, providing a sanctuary from the clamour of urban life and ample opportunity for clear contemplation.

Here are a few compelling reasons why we love this region:

Middle Gobi Mongolia – Cinematic FPV from Coziestone on Vimeo.

 

Unlike most companies, we only offer a selected number of departures throughout the year to a specific destination as this keeps our experiences fresh and original. It also means that we don’t create a ‘tourist circuit,’ spoiling a region. We also don’t just focus on a more ‘profitable’ region. We work countrywide – such as in Mongolia’s Middle Gobi – as it helps to extend our support to regions that are often overlooked in tourism. Zorgol Khairkhan is a mountain that rises almost vertically out of the steppe in the Bayan-Unjul district of Tüv Aimag. The massif, including its 1668m peak, is venerated and revered by the local people. It forms part of the Mongolian granite belt and its small natural springs are vital for the herders and the wildlife in this region.

 

A Mongolian ger in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

A Mongolian ger surrounded by the immensity of Mongolia’s middle Gobi landscapes

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Zorgol Khairkhan

Zorgol Khairkhan mountain in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

The sacred granite mountain of Zorgol Khairkhan provides the backdrop here.

Zorgol Khairkhan is a mountain that rises almost vertically out of the steppe in the Bayan-Unjul district of Tüv Aimag. The massif, including its 1668m peak, is venerated and revered by the local people. As part of the Mongolian granite belt, Zorgol Khairkhan shelters crucial natural springs that sustain both the livelihoods of herders and the diverse wildlife inhabiting this region.

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Baga Gazriin Chuluu

 

 Baga Gazriin Chuluu in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

The remarkable granite rock formations of Baga Gazriin Chuluu. Image: EL guest Egon Filter.

Baga Gazriin Chuluu, translating to ‘small land rock,’ is renowned for its extensive granite rock formations, nestled amidst the expansive steppe and semi-desert landscape under local-level protection.

At the heart of this site lies the Chuluun Sum, affectionately known as the Rock Temple, believed to have been a part of the larger Tsorjiin Khuree Monastery, which fell victim to the political purges of the 1930s. During the Communist era, a Soviet brigade occupied the grounds where Tsorjiin Khuree once stood, leaving behind traces of history. Both are quiet and peaceful places to visit.

Enjoying protected status within the community, Baga Gazrin Chuluu is overseen by the dedicated local ranger, Batsaikhan, who delights in guiding our guests through informal tours, revealing ancient petroglyphs and burial mounds, some dating back to the Hunnu era. Similar to Zorgol Khairkhan, this area holds sacred significance for the local inhabitants, who gather annually to celebrate the revered rocks with a modest Naadam festival, imbuing the landscape with cultural richness and spiritual reverence.

As mentioned, Baga Gazriin Chuluu is one of Mongolia’s Local Protected Areas. Whereas areas with national level protection are permanently safeguarded, local protected-area designations eventually expire, but they prevent mining leases on the land while valid. Today, many of these designations last for an average of 20 years (The Nature Conservancy).
Protected area ranger Mongolia

This is Batsaikhan – local protected area ranger of Baga Gazriin Chuluu in Mongolia’s middle Gobi. Image: EL guest Nick Rains.

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Ikh Gazriin Chuluu 

Ikh Gazriin Chuluu Mongolia

Image: EL guest Julian Elliott

Adjacent to Baga Gazriin Chuluu lies its sister site, aptly named “Ikh Gazriin Chuluu,” translating to ‘big land rock.’ This area holds distinction as one of Mongolia’s 70 Important Bird Areas, designated by Birdlife International, offering crucial habitat for numerous nesting and migrating raptors, notably the Lesser Kestrel. Keep an eye out for artificial nests strategically placed by the Artificial Nest Project along your journey to protect the nesting grounds of the Saker Falcon, but do exercise caution and use binoculars rather than approaching the nests directly.

Amidst the striking rock formations, you’ll encounter an open-air theater, established in 2006 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Mongolian Statehood. Additionally, a monument pays homage to the esteemed Mongolian state-honored long song singer Norovbanzad.N, who hails from this region. From the monument’s vantage point, you’ll be treated to sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, offering a glimpse into the vastness and grandeur of the Mongolian wilderness.

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Delgeriin Choirin Khiid

Delgeriin Choiriin Khiid Monastery in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

Image: EL guest Tristan Clements

Delgeriin Choiriin Khiid, formerly one of Mongolia’s most important religious centres, once stood as a testament to spiritual devotion. Tragically, during the religious and political purges of the 1930s, it fell victim to destruction. However, in recent years, concerted efforts have been underway to revive its legacy through meticulous reconstruction, employing traditional architectural methods and locally-sourced materials.

Though scars of its tumultuous past linger, remnants of the monastery’s former glory persist, notably in the form of the monks’ residential quarters – modest structures crafted from brick and mud. Originally, the monastery boasted a grand assembly hall alongside specialised schools devoted to tantric practices, astrology, medicine, and philosophy, each contributing to its rich tapestry of religious and intellectual pursuits.

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Sangiin Dalai Nuur

For bird enthusiasts, a visit to Sangiin Dalai Nuur is a must. Nestled amidst the middle Gobi steppe, this area encompasses marshland and a shallow freshwater pool, creating an ideal habitat for a diverse array of avian species. Here, keen observers can spot a variety of waders, including Snipe, Stints, Sandpipers, as well as aerial displays by large flocks of Pacific Golden Plover and Northern Lapwings.

Venturing onto a small island within Sangiin Dalai Nuur unveils more than just natural beauty; it reveals a treasure trove of historical relics. Among the ruins lies the ancient Süm Khökh Burd Temple, dating back to the 10th century, followed by a 300-year-old palace. Despite their storied past, both structures succumbed to time and were eventually replaced by a stage, a testament to the enduring legacy of Danzan Ravjaa, a revered figure in Mongolian history, albeit lesser-known in the Western world. This stage served as a venue for performances of plays written by Danzan Ravjaa, adding yet another layer of cultural significance to this landscape.

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Tsagaan Suvraga

Tsagaan Suvraga in Mongolia's Middle Gobi

Image: EL guest Egon Filter

Translated as ‘White Stupa,’ this site holds Buddhist connections. It’s a vast expanse characterised by sun-baked rocks, scrub vegetation, towering limestone formations reaching up to 30 meters, and an overwhelming sense of emptiness. Despite its arid appearance, the landscape is rich in marine fossils, a testament to its ancient history.

Groups of visitors often pass through hastily, eager to capture selfies and exclaim in the vastness of space. However, once they depart, a stillness descends, allowing one to truly immerse oneself in the tranquility of the surroundings. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the calls of Sand Martins gracefully circling on the currents, adding to the atmosphere.

For an even more profound experience, consider visiting during the winter months. During this time, you’ll likely have the landscape entirely to yourself, enhancing the sense of solitude and allowing for a deeper connection with the awe-inspiring immensity of this remarkable terrain.

Mongolia’s Middle Gobi: Erdenedalai

Mongolia's Middle Gobi

Image: EL guest Tristan Clements

Erdenedalai, meaning ‘Jewel Ocean’ in Mongolian, may seem paradoxical given its remote location amidst the expansive desert-steppe, far from any literal ocean, but, despite its remoteness, staying in Erdenedalai offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the heart of a close-knit and traditional community. Here, amidst the rolling desert-steppe and panoramic vistas, visitors gain a genuine insight into the rhythms of everyday life in Mongolia. Interacting with locals, sharing meals, and participating in cultural activities provide an authentic experience that fosters a deeper appreciation for the rich heritage and enduring spirit of Mongolia.

Erdenedalai is also notable for being home to Dambadarjaalin Khiid, also known as Gimpil Darjaalan Khiid. This functioning temple, constructed in 1810, holds historical significance as one of the few monasteries and temples across the country that survived the destructive purges during Choibalsan’s rule in the 1930s.

The main assembly hall of this venerable complex stands as a testament to resilience, having weathered the storm of political upheaval. Its survival serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring strength of Mongolia’s cultural and religious heritage, offering visitors a rare glimpse into a bygone era amidst the vastness of the desert-steppe landscape.

Gimpil Darjaalan Khiid, Erdenedalai, Dundgobi Aimag Mongolia

Image: EL guest Nick Rains

Despite the low annual precipitation, absence of permanent lakes, and scarcity of springs, approximately 5,800 herder households call the transition zone between the steppe and desert home, including Nergui, our main host at Erdenedalai. This beautiful region, often overlooked by international visitors due to its omission from guidebooks and tour itineraries, holds untapped potential for immersive travel experiences.

Nergui and his wife Tsegmid embody the nomadic lifestyle, moving their livestock 2-4 times a year or more depending on local rainfall patterns. Erdenedalai holds significance as the hometown of a portion of our team, prompting us to forge long-term partnerships in this lesser-visited area. By prioritising support in such communities, we aim to maximise our positive impact while offering our guests a more intimate and authentic experience.

Choosing Erdenedalai as one of our bases allows travelers to delve deeper into the heart of Mongolia, fostering connections with local communities and gaining insights into traditional herding practices that have sustained life in this harsh yet breathtaking landscape for generations.

Solo Travel Mongolia

The Nergui family. Image: EL guest Joyanne Horscroft

These are just a few reasons why we’re passionate about Mongolia’s Middle Gobi. If you’re eager to explore this captivating region with us, take a moment to browse through our Mongolia experiences to discover how you can immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring landscapes and rich cultural heritage of the Middle Gobi.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

 

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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