Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj - Mongolian Poet
Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj
May 17, 2020
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Mongolia Introduced – A Virtual Tour
June 10, 2020

Our Virtual Tour Of Eastern Mongolia

If you were to describe eastern Mongolia in one word, the word that would spring to mind is ‘vast’, vast landscapes, vast skies, and vast horizons. Nowhere is more vast than the landscapes that form eastern landscapes. Eastern Mongolia is dominated culturally by the history of Chinggis Khan, the Khan Khentii Mountains (stretching 200km across Khentii Province to the northern border with Siberia) and extensive stretching grassland (steppes).

Three of Mongolia’s provinces cover eastern Mongolia – Khentii, Dornod and Sukhbaatar.

 

A map of eastern Mongolia

Mongolia has 21 provinces and one provincial municipality (the capital city – Ulaanbaatar). Each aimag is subdivided into several districts called soums. The modern provinces have been established since 1921.

The landscapes within this region very much mirror the description by travel writer Stanley Stewart in his book In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey Among Nomads:

‘From the air Mongolia looks like God’s preliminary sketch for earth, not so much a country as the ingredients out of which countries are made: grass, rock, water and wind.’

 

An Introduction to Eastern Mongolia

 

Where To Visit In Eastern Mongolia?

The interactive map below is not the ultimate list but it shows some ideas based on 15 years of living and working in Mongolia and from our ongoing research. Traditionally, all journeys go in a clockwise direction in Mongolia, so this one does as well.

Why Visit Eastern Mongolia?

For Mongolian Pride

It’s not every country that boasts a 131 ft high stainless steel statue of Chinggis Khan.

The Chinggis Khan Equestrian Statue in Mongolia. It is 131ft high!

Proudly designed by Mongolian sculptor D. Erdenebileg and Mongolian architect J. Enkhjargal it was the brainchild of the  Mongolian Genco company. The statue is said to represent the power and courage of Chinggis Khan and is also said to be located at the site where he found the golden whip that inspired his future conquests. One legend states that he found the golden whip when he was travelling to the Khereid tribe to ask for help. Chinggis felt that finding the whip was a message from Tenger (the god of the Eternal Blue Sky) and it motivated him to achieve his wish of becoming ruler of the Mongol tribes. Learn more here – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/visit-chinggis-khan-statue-mongolia/

For Wildlife

The steppe region in eastern Mongolia remains one of the most intact examples of Eurasian steppe and grasslands in the world including feather grasses and caragana. It really is a sea of grass stretching over hundreds of kilometres and one of the last regions that can support stable herds of larger vertebrates including gazelle.

A marmot keeping an eye out for predators amongst the Mongolian steppe in eastern Mongolia

A marmot keeping an eye out for predators amongst the Mongolian steppe

Image of a long-legged buzzard taking off in flight

Mongolia is located at the crossroads of the Central Asian steppes, the Siberian taiga (forest region), and the Gobi Desert. It hosts a range of globally significant biodiversity within its boundaries. According to the Ministry of Nature and Green Development, 17.4 % of the country is under special protection, with a targeted increase to 30%. Mongolia’s seventy six protected areas are split into Strictly Protected Areas, National Parks, Nature Reserves and National Monuments. The global importance of Mongolia’s ecosystems is also recognised through its four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, two World Wildlife Fund Global 200 Ecoregions, eleven Ramsar Sites (Wetlands of International Importance), and seventy Important Bird Areas (IBAs – designated by Birdlife International).

For History

Mongolian deer stone in eastern Mongolia

Deer stones are carvings of beautiful stylised images of deer, the sun and moon and various ancient weapons. It seems they are not burial mounds although archaeologists remain unsure why they were created or what role they played. However, they appear to have had ritual significance and may have been based on beliefs that survive to this day including the concept of a sacred and spirit-filled landscape.

The Secret History of the Mongols is the first Mongol account of their world and is said to be a mixture of myth, legend and reality. The Secret History states that Chinggis Khan was born in Khentii Province in the twelfth century at the headwaters of the Onon and Kherlen rivers, near the border of modern Mongolia and Siberia. In the twelfth century, dozens of tribes and clans lived on the steppe in shifting combinations. The Mongols were divided into many small bands headed by a chief or khan loosely based on kinship ties. The economic base of these nomadic tribes was herding, hunting and trading. Raids and kidnapping were common.

The homeland of the Mongol tribe was based around the holy mountain of Burkhan Khaldun – God Mountain. Burkhan Khaldun was considered the khan (king) of the area, the earthly place closest to the Eternal Blue Sky and the sacred heart of the Mongol heartland. Chinggis Khan had a long and intimate spiritual relationship with the mountain and the protection he believed it provided – he considered it the source of his strength.

For Buddhist Culture

Historically, the Mongols practised ancestral shamanism. They worshipped the Eternal Blue Sky (Tenger) and the spiritual forces of nature. Chinggis Khan believed that he conquered with the rule of Tenger – the supreme god of the Eternal Blue Sky.
Mongolia is known as the ‘Land of the Eternal Blue Sky,’ and elements of shamanism remain a comfortable and unselfconscious part of Mongolian life. However, Buddhism is the predominant religion and Buddhism in the Mongolian context means Tibetan Buddhism in its Mongolian form. Tibetan Buddhism found a foothold in Mongolia from the late 16th century onwards – undergoing distinctive changes and adaptations in the Mongolian cultural setting.

Before the arrival of communism in the 1920s, the only major permanent settlements in Mongolia were the monasteries – often sited at the junction of trade or migration routes or even summer pastures. As well as being a place of worship and pilgrimage they were also at the centre of an estate of livestock, pasture, and people. There were up to six hundred monasteries and temples spread over the country, with up to one-third of the male population leading a monastic life. Although partly destroyed in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Baldan Bereeven Monastery was once one of Mongolia’s most influential.

Baldan Bereeven Khiid Monastery in eastern Mongolia.

Baldan Bereeven Khiid 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.

For Surprises

The Dariganga region is located in the wind-scoured lowlands of south-eastern Sukhbaatar Aimag where the grasslands of the northern steppe and the expanse of the Gobi converge. It is a unique landscape consisting of over 200 extinct volcanic lava and cinder cones, typically ranging in height from 25m to 300m and varying from partially eroded to wholly preserved.

 

Shiliin Bogd Uul and Altan Ovoo are two of these extinct volcanic cones and both dominate the skyline. Shiliin Bogd Uul is one of Mongolia’s sacred mountains and the highest mountain in Sukhbaatar Aimag at 1778m.

 

A Mongolian ovoo at Shiliin Bogd in Sukhbaatar Aimag in Eastern Mongolia. Travel across the landscapes of Mongolia and you will frequently come across small mounds made up of rocks and stones. In the forest-steppe regions, these often consist of branches of trees. Look closely, and you will see steering wheel covers, plaster casts, crutches, empty bottles of vodka, sweets, small pieces of dairy products such as cheese and blue scarves. These are sacred shamanist shrines known as ovoos – erected by local families, communities, and travellers to show gratitude and respect, and to honour the spirits of the surrounding land.

 

Shiliin Bogd Uul and Altan Ovoo are two of the extinct volcanic cones that dominate the skyline in Sukhbaatar Aimag. You will often find groups of Mongolians walking to the top of Shiliin Bogd for sunrise, with offerings of rice, milk and vodka. Men and women both climb the volcano although tradition states that it is the soul of men who climb Shiliin Bogd that will be renewed and filled with strength for the future. You’ll notice that Mongolian men typically remove their hats to honour the sun as it rises over the horizon, an ancient tradition.

For Mongolian Legends

 

This is the statue of Toroi Bandi, a historical figure from the 19th century who operated in Sukhbataar Aimag. At this time, Mongolia was governed by the Chinese Qing Dynasty (Manchu Dynasty). Toroi Bandi was a bandit infamous for redistributing wealth by stealing horses and livestock from wealthier Manchurian sources and giving them to those who had less. Consider him a Mongolian Robin Hood. Excerpt From: “MONGOLIA.” iBooks.

For Unique Transport Options

To cross the Onon Gol in Khentii Aimag, you have to cross the Onon Gol and to do this we always use 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. If on your arrival you can’t find Tserendorj then first check the river as he is prone to having a quick (icy) dip between ferry crossings. Learn more – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/how-to-cross-a-mongolian-river-2/

A birvaz ferry. One way to cross a Mongolian river

 

If you’re interested in experiencing eastern Mongolia with us once Mongolia is open to travel again after the coronavirus pandemic, look at our range of Mongolia tours and experiences for further inspiration.

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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