If you’re looking for solitude then Khentii Province in eastern Mongolia should come towards the top of your list. Due to the lack of a ‘touchable’ history is it easy to be persuaded that Mongolia is actually short on history. It is definitely not – Mongolia is an ancient land and has a rich and varied history. In a country that only offers a hint at the flow of peoples and the cultures that have preceded modern Mongolia, Khentii Province is the place to come to touch base with that history and here is our quick introduction through the photography of EL guest Séverine Baptiste-Blanchard.
Khentii – where Chinggis Khan was born, raised, crowned, and is believed to be buried – has been held in high esteem by Mongolians for centuries. If visiting the region, make sure to arm yourself with a copy of Mongolian Professor Urgunge Onon’s translation of the Secret History Of The Mongols – a chronicle of Chinggis Khan’s life and the most important literary and historical work of Mongols from ancient times – as you travel in the footsteps of Chinggis Khan.
Khar Zurkhnii Khokh Nuur (lake)
Hidden in the foothills of the Khentii Mountain Range, Khokh Nuur consists of two freshwater lakes, linked underground, located on south side of Mount Kharzurkh. It is here, in 1189, that Temuujin was enthroned as a king of the united tribes of Mongolia and titled ‘Chinggis Khan.’ In the Secret History of Mongols, place names such as Lake Khokh and Mount Kharzurkh were mentioned.
Öglögchiin Kherem (Almsgiver’s Wall)
The 3.2km Öglögchiin Kherem (Almsgiver’s Wall) is said to date from between the 8th to 10th centuries. The effort of the labour required to construct the wall suggests that it was an important site and excavations have unearthed around 60 graves thought to be a royal graveyard. There is a (so far unproven) theory that this may include the final resting place of Chinggis Khan although this remains hotly debated. Close by is Rashaan Khad – a rock with carvings of hundreds of tribal stamps and around twenty inscriptions in Khitanese, Arabic-Persian, Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian scripts. There is also a sacred water spring.
Khentii Province is also home to one of Mongolia’s ethnic groups – the Buriats. The districts of Binder, Batshireet and Dadal occupy the territories of the culturally rich and traditional Buriat communities (who also make their home in the areas to the east of Lake Baikal in Siberia). The Buriats typically live in log houses and this difference in architecture is what will strike you on entering the region. In all three communities you can purchase buriat bread and ‘khaliartai khuurshuur’ – both (delicious!) specialties of the Buriat community.
Baldan Bereeven Khiid
Baldan Bereeven Khiid was one of Mongolia’s most influential monasteries until destroyed in the Stalinist political purges of the 1930s. This would have been the centre of local life for a population whose faith and devotion more than made up for the simplicity and the challenging remote lifestyle. This remote little visited monastery has a ‘kora’ – a circumambulation around the site that the resident monks prior to the purges used to take. It’s a type of pilgrimage and meditative practice in Tibetan Buddhism and this one takes you through peaceful woodland and has the option to include some incredible viewpoints out over the surrounding countryside.
Khentii Province is named for the Khentii Mountains that dominate the northwest of this northeastern province. Any journey through Khentii naturally focuses on the history of Chinggis Khan as this is the region in which he was born and raised. Dadal is said to be the (debated) birthplace of Chinggis Khan at the confluence of the Onon and Balk rivers at Delüün Boldog 3km north of Bayan-Ovoo, the centre of Dadal. The Delüün Boldog monument (a sacred stone shrine known as an ovoo) was erected to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the writing of the Secret History of the Mongols.
Onon-Balj National Park
The Onon-Balj National Park is located at the southern edge of Siberian boreal coniferous forest and stretches into the Daurian steppe. It became a national park in 2000 to protect the biodiversity of the region. The fragile ecosystem is home to a number of rare and endangered species in Mongolia and globally including the white-naped crane. It is used locally by herders as grazing land for their livestock and also for autumn haymaking.
The Queen’s Complex – Bayan Adraga
You may not find Bayan Adraga mentioned in a guidebook but it is the birthplace of Mongolia’s last two queens. Traditionally among the Mongols, women managed the affairs at home, while men went off to herd, hunt or fight. As the war campaigns extended farther away and grew ever longer during the 13th century, women expanded their control and assumed public office as rulers. This is especially true for most of the years between the reign of Chinggis Khan, which ended in 1227, and that of his grandson Khubilai, which commenced in 1260. The Queens Complex at Bayan Adraga is a monument to the queens who have shaped Mongolian history.
Delgerkhaan | Avarga Toson | Khuduu Aral
This is a plain that stretches for 30 kms in length and 20 kms in width on the bank of the mighty Kherlen River. Delgerkhaan is stated in sources as being the first capital of the Mongol Empire and where the Palace of Chinggis Khan was located. (When you stand here remember that Chinggis governed on horseback. That’s why so little remains of what is said to be the first capital.)
Burkhan Khaldun is a mountain of great spiritual significance to Chinggis Khan and it ‘testifies to his efforts to establish mountain worship as an important part of the unification of the Mongol people.’ (UNESCO). It is believed to be where escaped death from the Merkit tribe and as a mark of reverence to the mountain, he returned to honour its strength. Such is its importance to Mongolians; it was decreed as one of Mongolia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2015. Burkhan Khaldun has a pilgrimage path that starts some 20km from the mountain. ‘Pilgrims ride on horseback from there to the large Beliin ovoo made of tree trunks and adorned with blue silk prayer scarves and thence to the main ovoo of heaven at the summit of the mountain. The sacredness of the mountain is strongly associated with its sense of isolation, and its perceived ‘pristine’ nature.’ (UNESCO)
Burkhan Khaldun is the most sacred mountain in Mongolia and is of great cultural importance to Mongolian people and considered a pilgrimage route. In fact, its summit is off-limits to anyone apart from local shamans. As part of our company ethics, we don’t include Burkhan Khaldun in our trip experiences as we don’t want to contribute to the degradation of important characteristics of the pilgrimage route.
Our small group trip to Khentii takes place from late August onwards as it has given the ground time to dry out from the wet summer months helping to reduce the physical impacts of four-wheel drive-related nature-based tourism such as bare ground exposure and erosion. It also means you also get to experience the spectacular autumn colours. For ideas on how you can travel to Khentii Province with us, why not look at our In The Footsteps Of Chinggis Khan experience or our epic Eastern Landscapes & Gobi ‘Wild Tracks’ road trip. For wider inspiration, take a look at our full range of Mongolia experiences.
Jess @Eternal Landscapes