Mongolia Hiking Experience – Northern Mountains And Sacred Lakes
Katherine Walker joined us in Mongolia on our Northern Mountains and Sacred Lakes Mongolia hiking experience which included a five-day trek in the Khoridol Saridag mountain range to the west of Khovsgol Nuur National Park followed by the Khatgal Naadam. These are her thoughts from her blog – The Travelling Dingleberries! The images are also by Katherine.
We put together this experience to showcase the mountain forest-steppe regions and river valleys of northern Mongolia’s Bulgan and Khovsgol Provinces. Not just the landscapes but the way of life of the people you’ll meet en-route as well. During the trip, you’ll experience the beauty of Amarbayasgalant Khiid Monastery, sunset over the mighty Delger Murun River, and extended time at Khovsgol Nuur National Park – known as Dalai Ej – Mother Sea – to Mongolians. With this itinerary, we try to blend into the environment, embrace closely the locals’ way of life and all within.
However, we don’t run it every year. Unlike most companies, we only offer a selected number of departures throughout the year as this keeps our experiences fresh and original. Even if a trip is popular and therefore profit-making, we won’t run 4 or 5 departures of the same trip as it would create a ‘tourist circuit.’ Also, rather than just focusing on one region, we work countrywide as by working in this way we extend our support to the Mongolia people, projects and families we work in long-term local community partnership with. These are also reasons why we don’t always run the same trips in consecutive years.
‘We were able to experience the many wonders of this beautiful country. It truly is something special. I honestly could not have hoped for a better experience. Our mode of transport was in the Furgon – a Russian van.’
Our driver was the legendary Sandag and our amazing guide was Selenge. Both Mongolian. Accompanying Marty and I were two Aussie blokes from Geelong in Victoria- We spent the first day exploring Ulaanbaatar (UB) and visiting Zaisan Hill and the Blue Sky Bar for excellent views of the city.
We were off the next day on our odyssey to Northern Mongolia. We piled into Furgon and spent the next few days cruising through the countryside. I’ve never seen such a landscape like it.
This is one of our favourite sunset viewing platforms in Mongolia. That’s the Selenge River you can see stretched out in front of you – the same one that flows into Lake Baikal. The Selenge River is Mongolia’s principal river. It forms at the confluence of the Ider and Delger Rivers in the north of the country. Tributaries include the Eg River that flows out of Khovsgol Nuur and the Orkhon River.
Most of the guests of Eternal Landscapes have heard our philosophy behind our ‘road trips’ – that flying from place to place gives you no context, no real experience of the country. Our road trips also give you the opportunity to experience our legendary picnic lunches.
We visited the Amarbayasgalant Monastery, stayed the night in a ger, slept in a Soviet-style hotel in Bulgan, and dined at a Korean Restaurant.
The complex of Amarbayasgalant Khiid was constructed between 1726 – 1736, when Mongolia was under heavy Manchu influence. Amarbayasgalant was built to honour the memory of Zanabazar – the first spiritual and political leader in Mongolia and considered one of the greatest Renaissance artists in Asia (he was revered as a sculptor, artist, politician and religious teacher). After he died his remains where brought to be buried in this monastery.
For those of you that are unaware, a ger is a traditional style home of a Mongolian family, specifically a nomad family. It is circular in shape and consists of one room only. It is insulated for the very cool -40 degree winter temps and is easy enough to erect and dismantle quickly, making it the ultimate nomad home! They are everywhere in Mongolia. We stopped in at many a ger, all with families that were so welcoming. In Mongolia, anyone is able to stop into a ger to say hello. The families welcome you with open arms and offer you anything from milk tea, to yogurt curds, to cream on bread, to airag (fermented mares milk), to mutton soup!
Stopping for airag (the infamous fermented mare’s milk) in Bulgan Aimag. The rainfall in this northern province guarantees rich pasture and the airag is considered some of the best in the country.
Khovsgol National Park was our next destination. It was bloody beautiful. The water is crazy clear and ridiculously freezing. We spent a few nights here, taking invigorating dips in the lake and enjoying the clever culinary creations of Selenge. It was absolutely no issue being a vegetarian on this tour. She looked after me so well!
A blanket of wild flowers at our campsite – with the Alpine Aster featuring prominently
Next was our 5-day hike through the mountains. We met Bambakh, Erbald and their 6 accompanying horses who would be so kind as to carry our luggage and food on the hike. This somehow made our job of walking a whole lot easier! Bambakh and Erbald were great company.
Each Mongolia hiking experience that we arrange is done so through the families we work in long-term local community partnership with – rural families who herd their livestock in the region and know their home area like the back of their hands. For our Khovsgol treks we work with Basaanchuluu -Bambakh for short.
Biologists use the word ecotone for places where different habitats meet – where a forest meets a meadow or a lake meets a shore. Khovsgol Nuur National Park combined with the Khoridol Saridag Strictly Protected Area is an ecotone on a very large scale. The result is a wide range of habitats – wet meadows, shallow ponds, coniferous forest, steppe woodland, open steppe, alpine meadow, high mountains and the lake and lakeshore. The trekking route of our Northern Mountains and Sacred Lakes Mongolia hiking experience allows you to experience a majority of these diverse habitats.
We were happy to see Bambakh’s family ger and were greeted with a steaming bowl of milk tea. We spent the evening milking some of the family’s yaks (so much harder than it looks) and enjoyed the company of Bambakh’s lovely family.
The end of trek celebratory khorkhog – Mongolian barbecue – always a winner!
The next two days were spent at the very interesting Nadaam Festival. Nadaam is a national celebration for the whole of Mongolia, celebrating their independence. We attended Nadaam in Hatgal and got to experience a rural Nadaam. Wrestling, horse racing and archery are the three ‘manly’ sports you will find at any Mongolian Nadaam. It was very interesting.
Naadam is a true Mongolian celebration of sportsmanship, ordinary people taking pride in their country and century’s old tradition melded together. It is also a time when Mongolians celebrate who they are, how proud they are to be Mongolian, their heritage and the qualities that produced the warrior nation of Genghis Khan. It also brings the community together.
Local Mongolian wrestlers queuing to pay their respects to the local Mongolian standard prior to starting their competition.
Mongolian Naadam horse races are a test of speed, stamina and strength. In Mongolia, it is the horse and not the jockey that wins the race. Child jockeys are chosen as they are lighter – their role is not to force the horse but only to guide it to the winning post.
A local Mongolian wrestler wearing his shuudag (the small, tight-fitting briefs made of red or blue coloured cotton cloth. These make the wrestler more mobile and prevent an opponent from taking advantage of long pants to get a better grip), zodog (the wrestler’s top), and gutal (the high leather boots, often in traditional style. The traditional style gutal are often reinforced around the sides with leather strings for the purpose of wrestling. In Buddhist terms, the wider bottom of the boot meant that pressure from the owner’s body weight would not leave deep marks on the soil.) The wreslter is posing with a zasuul – a wrestling helper or judge.
We include a rural Naadam on our Northern Mountains and Sacred Lakes Mongolia hiking experience as it allows our guests to experience not just the landscapes of northern Mongolia but also the diverstiy of the way of life as members of different communities come together to celebrate Naadam.
On the night of the first day of Naadam we went back into town for a party at a local hall, Marty and I dressed to the nines in a ‘del’. Bambakh’s sister and her husband insisted we wore their ‘dels’. A ‘del’ is a traditional Mongolian coat.
We both really didn’t want to leave Hatgal. Bambakh and his family has been so welcoming and the area that they spend their summer is just so picturesque. The end of the journey was coming near. We said our goodbyes and spent the next few days making our way back to UB. The trip was the best decision we could have made. Selenge was the most wonderful guide. Come to Mongolia. You won’t regret it. It’s bloody amazing.
If you’re interested in joining us in our Mongolia, then have a look at the range of experiences we offer or get in touch with Jess with any questions you have.