Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park – In The Land Of The Gods

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Altai Tavan Bogd NP Mongolia

Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park – In The Land Of The Gods

Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park forms part of the Mongolian Altai Mountains which constitute a major and central part of the Altai mountain range located at the junction of Central Asia and Siberia. The Mongolian Altai Mountains have many summits around or exceeding 4000 meters above sea level and stretch from the north-western part of Mongolia to the south, through the far-western provinces of Bayan-Ulgii and Khovd. They stand guard against Mongolia’s western frontiers and the borders with China and Russia. Towards the southeast, the Mongolian Altai Mountains get smaller and transition into the Gobi-Altai mountain range.

The Altai represent different altitudinal vegetation zones including high glaciated snow-capped mountains, alpine and subalpine forests, ice crystal rivers and streams, mountain valleys and lakes and, high altitude steppe. The area is inhabited by Kazakh and Tuvan (also known as Uriankhai) herders with monuments, archaeological and cultural sites left by people going back to the Palaeolithic period through the Bronze Age and by successive nomads and their empires, including the Hunnu, Turkic and Uighur people, and Mongols.

 

Within Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is one of Mongolia’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai include three rock art sites: Tsagaan Salaa-Baga Oigor (Ulaankhus soum), and Upper Tsagaan Gol (Shiveet Khairkhan) and Aral Tolgoi (both in Tsengel soum). These three areas have a large concentrations of petroglyphs and funerary and ritual monuments reflecting the development of human culture over a period of 12,000 years. Read more here.

 

Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is vast and includes the Tavan Bogd Mountains – Mongolia’s highest mountains – in the northwest and the lakes in the southeast.

 

Deer stones

Mongolia’s Deer Stones

The Tavan Bogd Mountains 

The heart of the Tavan Bogd Mountains are five sister peaks and these permanently snow-capped mountains form a bowl around Mongolia’s longest glacier – the Pontanii Glacier. (The five peaks are named Khuiten Uul, ‘Cold Peak’ – Mongolia’s highest mountain at 4374m. The other peaks are Nairamdal (‘Friendship’, 4180m), Malchin (‘herder, 4050m), Bürged (‘Eagle’, 4068m), and Olgii (‘Cradle’, 4050m).)

Mongolia's Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

One of the most popular options for visiting the area remains an extended trek, whether by foot, by horse or by mountain bike (sometimes combined with pack rafting). The trekking route (to the base camp of Khuiten Uul and then on to the lakes or vice versa) can take 5-10 days depending on the final route and whether by foot, bike or horse.

Most trekkers base themselves close to the area known as Base Camp which is at about 3100m and has views of all five peaks. To access the Base Camp area you trek 10-15km from the ranger station (length depends on what ranger station you start from). Most groups will use camels to carry supplies and tents to here. Base Camp is close to the Pontanii glacier (the biggest of the glaciers in the Mongolian Altai.  It tumbles out of the range from the eastern face of Khuiten and is in the shadow of the ‘Five Holy’ peaks). It is a stunning setting from which to explore. For me, within this incredible region of cold permanently glaciated peaks, alpine lakes and hidden valleys, you feel as if time is standing still – these vast and timeless landscapes will make you think and reconsider your priorities.

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park Mongolia

Altai Tavan Bogd Mongolia

Climbing Malchin Peak – 4050m

Malchin Peak, Mongolia's Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Malchin Peak is considered a non-technical climb. That means there’s no special equipment required – just a prayer to the weather gods and a lot of puff and determination. It is commonly hiked by trekking groups, and there is a used trail most of the way to the summit. It’s around a 7 to 10-hour return trip from the base camp depending on your speed. The classic quote that tells you “not to look at the whole mountain take it one piece at a time” is something you will come to understand. Ruth Wiggins joined us in Mongolia. You can read about her experience (including Malchin Peak) here.

 

The Lakes

Khoton & Khurgan Nuur Mongolia's Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Khoton, Khurgan, and Dayan Nuur are a series of freshwater lakes of glacial origin located in Tsengel soum (district) and fed by glacial melt and annual snowfall and form the headwaters of the Khovd River. (Khoton Nuur and Khurgan Nuur are connected by the 3 km-long Sargaal Channel.)

All three lakes form part of two of Mongolia’s seventy Important Bird Areas (as designated by BirdLife International). As well as supporting bird communities characteristic of the Eurasian steppe and desert and Eurasian high montane biomes, the areas regularly support at least 1% of the flyway populations of Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Lapwing, and Bar-headed Goose in the autumn months. At Dayan Nuur three globally threatened species occur in significant numbers: Saker Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, and the White-throated Bushchat.

Climbing Khuiten Peak – 4374m

Climbing Khuiten Uul, Mongolia's Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Khuiten is a beautiful and wild mountain to climb because of its remoteness and location – providing views out over the Chinese-Mongolian-Russian tri-point. Strong climbers can ascend Khuiten from Base Camp (mentioned above). However, most local guides prefer to make an advanced higher camp on the glacier at around 3800 meters. Mid-June through to mid-August is best for climbing the mountain. The actual ascent is technically moderate but the main hazards are crevasses.  Climbing Khuiten requires ropes, crampons, ice axes, and full security equipment (including crevasse safety). Just be aware though that there are no registered mountain guides in Mongolia.

Eternal Landscapes trip assistant

As some of you know, we run a free training programme for Mongolian women that want the opportunity to work in tourism and then provide employment opportunities. We encourage them to follow their goals and their dreams and to challenge themselves and provide our support throughout their individual journeys. This is Pujee’s journey: Although now based in UB, our Pujee is from Khovd Province in western Mongolia where she grew up in the countryside with her grandmother until she was 12. Although she is young, she is a qualified teacher and lawyer with a wonderful spirit of adventure. Pujee joined our team when she became a member of our low season training programme. And now we’re celebrating her ascent of Khuiten Peak. Go Pujee! ‘Since working in tourism I have had a lot of chances, opportunities and life experiences. Through working in tourism I have found my inner person and interests. Working in tourism has helped me to find who I am and has created a new Puujee.’

 

However, at EL we explore Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd National Park a little differently. We focus on creating local community partnerships that offer long-term support to the people we work with countrywide and that also allow us to showcase the diversity of skills and knowledge of Mongols in the 21st Century. As an example, we have created our Altai Wilderness Trails trekking experience in partnership with Asker – a Mongol Kazakh eagle hunter we work with.  It is the local knowledge of Asker that makes this itinerary so special as you experience a different more hidden side of the Altai – a hidden alternative to the popular Tsagaan Gol trek. Alternatively, consider joining us on our Altai Migration Trails experience. Although this doesn’t take place in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, it does take place in the Altai Mountains and, because of the way we work, you’ll get an original insider experience and more local introduction to the Altai region.

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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