Photo Essay: Mongolia’s National Parks and Nature Reserves

The Annual EL Mongolian National Park Clean Up
October 10, 2017
Alternatives to Black Friday – Mongolia
November 24, 2017

Roughly 17% of Mongolia’s landmass has some form of national environmental protection. A further 10% has  local protected area status. Every September I offer our National Park and Nature Reserves Mongolia small group tour experience – designed to bring bring our guests into contact with some of the less visited national parks and nature reserves in the country. The following images were taken by our guest Séverine Baptiste-Blanchard who joined us in September 2017.

The vast landscapes of Mongolia’s middle Gobi and the mountain forest steppe of Khentii provide  the backdrop. By visiting two contrasting regions – the Gobi and Khentii  – it provides  a better understanding of the diversity of the people and their way of life and the landscapes in Mongolia.

Ikh Nart Nature Reserve – Dorngobi Aimag

We start with a journey on the local Trans Mongolian train – travelling through steppe to desert terrain and starting to get an understanding of the diversity of Mongolia’s natural habitats as the immense landscapes start to unfold before you.

As you leave Ulaanbaatar behind, first you have the green rolling steppe before it gives way to the vast gravel plains of the Gobi Desert. The local trains in Mongolia may not be express ... but the views are worth the effort.


The final destination is Ikh Nart Nature Reserve – a wildlife region of rocky terrain and canyons. Ikh Nart represents one of the last strong-holds for the globally threatened Argali Sheep – the largest mountain sheep in the world (Ovis Ammon). It is also a breeding site for one of the world’s largest vultures, the Cinereous Vulture – also known as the European Black Vulture. Here we work with the protected area ranger Batbold and we always arrange an afternoon safari with him as long as his schedule permits. 

 
Batbold - protected area ranger of the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve. His local knowledge is as vast as the area he protects.


Ikh Gazriin Chuluu – Dundgobi Aimag 

Ikh Gazriin Chuluu is characterised by extensive granite rock formations and surrounded by steppe and semi-desert habitat. 

Ikh Gazriin Chuluu means 'Big Land Rock.' Can you see how it got its name? These remarkable granite formations rise straight out of the middle Gobi steppe.

 It also has local level protection within Mongolia. The site is one of Mongolia’s 70 Important Bird Area’s – providing a good stopover habitat for many nesting and migrating raptors including the Saker Falcon and the Lesser Kestrel. 

Erdenedalai – Dundgobi Aimag

Erdenedalai is Mongolian for ‘Jewel Ocean’ and although far from the ocean this small town located in the middle of the Gobi steppe provides a genuine insight into everyday life in Mongolia. It is also the hometown of a majority of the EL team and a very tight knit and traditional community.

Even though annual precipitation in this area is low, with no permanent lakes and very few springs, roughly 5880 herder households make their home in this transition zone between steppe and desert. 

It is a beautiful region little visited by other international visitors as it’s not considered a highlight by guidebook writers or tour companies. And that’s exactly why we make it one of our bases. It’s great for slow travel experiences of a more immersive kind.

Branding of horses is always an autumn task. It is very much a community event - when herders come together to help each other. And it always takes place on an auspicious date in the lunar calendar.

 

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park – Tuv Aimag

 Yes, Gorkhi-Terelj is the closest national park to Ulaanbaatar and is very developed (some would say over developed) for the tourist industry (the main valley was first developed for tourism in 1964) but it shares a common border with Khan Khentii and the two reserves  are similar. Between the two sites, altitudinal variation is significant, leading to the development of different habitats but both support large areas of forest steppe and mountain steppe, with alpine habitats on higher peaks.

 The area is rich in rivers and streams, including the Terelj and Tuul and these water sources together with the  rainfall in this mountainous region brings life to the pastureland – providing grazing for the livestock of the herding families who make this area their home. These herders include Naraa, Bujee (his wife) and their two children Tsindee and Bayasa – the family we work with in the region. 

 Naraa and Bujee are herders that move twice a year. They live close to the Terelj River - approximately 10km from the main developed area across the Tuul River in an area of gentle beauty. Staying at their accommodation provides a great insight into how herders are adapting - setting up micro businesses as a way of substituting their income.


No words needed.  

Khentii Aimag 

 Named for the Khentii Mountains that dominate the north west of this province. 

The region also hosts a number of cultural heritage sites demonstrating an evolving sacred cultural landscape. This includes Baldan Bereeven Khiid Monastery which 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 life-style. The monastery is surrounded by four mountains each said to resemble an animal: a lion on the east; a dragon on the south; a tiger on the west; and a Garuda on the north – each cardinal point is also guarded by a Protector Deity.

 
The remote Baldan Bereeven Khiid Monastery. It is a tough drive to get here so don't just come for an hour. Stay a day and make the most of the tranquillity.

Regions of Khentii are also home to the Buriat ethnic minority. They traditionally live more in log houses and move around in the summers with a ger. They also harvest hay in preparation for winter and lead a more settled lifestyle than other Mongols. The communities at Batshireet, Binder, Dadal Bayan Uul, and Dashbalbar are mainly Buriat.

In Khentii Aimag you will also find the stunning Onon Balj National Park – the biodiversity of the national park is unique and rich due to its location situated at the juncture of two big ecosystems of central Asia, the Siberian taiga and Daurian/Manchurian dry steppe.

 
The Onon-Balj National Park. Ditch your watch and head out to pastures new on a horse trek. The only way to explore this remarkable area with its wild wilderness spaces.

 

You also cross the mighty Onon River using the birvaz.  The what? The birvaz is one of my favourite inventions – a floating platform on a pulley system that crosses the river – used by locals with their motorbikes or in this case, by EL with our Furgon van. Tserendorj is the operator and crossing the river this way gives you time to discuss the weather, the state of the Mongolian economy and to count fish. 

 

Meet Tserendorj.
And then there’s the delight of the community of Dadal considered by many as the birthplace of Genghis Khan. Dadal is an attractive small community on the border of the Onon-Balj National Park. Genghis Khan’s birthplace is believed to lie at confluence of the Onon and Balj rivers at Delüün Boldog – 3km north of Bayan-Ovoo (the centre of Dadal district) in the Delüün Boldog hills. It’s just a lovely local community to spend a little time in with no set-plans.

And so that’s our National Parks and Nature Reserves experience through the eyes of our guest Séverine Baptiste-Blanchard.  

If you’re interested in getting a more local insight into Mongolia, then have a look at our Mongolia small group tours page for a more real introduction to the way of life in contemporary Mongolia. 

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

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