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On The Road Updates – Destination Bayan Ulgii

Our ‘On The Road Updates’ capture memories from some of our previous tour experiences. This one takes place on a research trip from Ulaanbaatar to Bayan Ulgii Aimag, Mongolia’s westernmost province. These trips allow us to explore and discover parts of Mongolia that we know and want to know better, with the possibility of incorporating this knowledge into our small group and tailor-made experiences. It’s also a chance for the local Mongolian people we work with to show us the hidden sides of their home. On this trip ,where we made time to visit one of Mongolia’s eagle festivals, we were joined by a couple of long-term friends of EL, including John, who wrote the following description:

“The Altai is the most northerly mountain range of Central Asia, forming a biogeographic divide between Siberia and the desert basins of Central Asia, and representing a center of biodiversity for many plants and animals. As we drove through the Altai on our way to Bayan Ulgii, we noticed subtle changes in our surroundings: shifting time zones, mud-brick flat-roofed dwellings, women wearing headscarves, variations in the shape and height of Kazakh gers compared to typical Mongolian gers, and even the faces of people adapting to their harsh environment.

Mongolian Altai Mountains

Bayan Ulgii is time for replenishing the larder – as we drive in search of supplies I immediately like the vibrancy and energy of this provincial wild west town as the sunsets over the dust-filled valley. And then the next morning  – the Eagle Festival. Although I think for the four of us it is the empty early morning streets with the two fur clad hunters side by side on horseback riding down the pavement that is our favourite moment of the day. Especially so as after the space and solitude of the vast and weathered landscapes we have been camping in I think we all find the crowds of the festival a little overwhelming.

There are the shashlik stalls with the option for horse meat, there’s a delicious all-pervading smell of khuurshuur, there are groups of eagle hunters discussing local politics whilst speaking on their mobiles and there’s the delightful business woman – determined that I was going to purchase one of her Kazakh wall hangings. (The wall hangings are traditionally handcrafted for a newly married couple – often with a date and name embroidered into this stunning work of lovingly made art.  The seller and I become firm friends over the two days. I didn’t buy a wall hanging but I thoroughly enjoyed my time watching her eyeing up her prey and striking the deal.)

Shashlik stand western Mongolia

Kazakh wall hanging

There are wayward eagles who aren’t focused on their prey of marmot meat but seem happy to dive-bomb the observers. There are crowds of travellers with cameras determined to get ‘that shot’. And then benches where side by side sit eagle hunters, a cross-section of the local community, a few camera touting westerners and (in pride of place) a golden eagle. That might have to be another highlight … sitting next to a 6-year old golden eagle both of us soaking up the atmosphere – her (the females are said to be more aggressive and better hunters) wearing her tomaga – the hood that blinds the eagle.

However, on the second day, we opted to leave early as we were finding the crowds a little overwhelming. So with a hot shower at the shower house, we head once more for the open road and we all seem to breathe a collective sigh of relief as we are once again surrounded by vast stunning landscapes.”

Mongolian Altai

And I, Jess, remember that night well. We camped at the foot of Tsambagarav Mountain—it was cold, but we warmed ourselves with a small fire, dinner, an urn of tea, and talk of the almas—the Mongolian yeti. Seeing Tsambagarav, I just knew it would become a destination for tour companies always competing to outdo each other with the experiences they offer. But at that moment, surrounded by the magnificent landscapes of the Altai, there was no need to worry about the future and what the competition might offer. Instead, we embraced the opportunity to simply be, under a star-studded Mongolian sky.

Traveling through Mongolia is about more than just reaching your destination; it’s about embracing the journey, the landscapes, the people who call them home, and the moments of reflection along the way. If you would like to journey with us, take a look at the range of experiences we offer.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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