Where To Go In Mongolia? East or west…just where is best?

Landscapes of the East – Trip Review
March 29, 2013
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April 12, 2013

Outer Mongolia is the ‘Land of the Eternal Blue Sky’. Both are evocative names that entice and call out to you. You answer that call, purchase the ticket and book time off from work to visit this remarkable country but just where do you spend your time.

I’m in the process of arranging a trip to Morocco for my father’s 70th (bear with  me here). Up until now, all the family holidays we have taken have been in destinations where I have worked and lived. However, I have never been to Morocco and it’s proving tough to arrange. Why? Mainly because everywhere seems a highlight and yet time is limited. What do you do? Spend longer in fewer locations so you have more time to sit and drink mint tea in a local cafe and watch the world pass by? Or, do you opt for the ‘mix and match’ – a couple of highlights as well as trying to find somewhere just that little bit off the beaten trail.

Whatever the decision, the planning process for Morocco (unfortunately, a little bit last minute and flying by the ‘seat of our pants’) has got me thinking about Mongolia.

Travel under the sacred Eternal Blue Sky

The country is not just vast but remarkably diverse.  Located at the crossroads of the Central Asian steppe. the Siberian tundra and the Gobi Desert, Mongolia hosts a range of globally important biodiversity. Mongolian herders divide their country into three main landscapes -Gobi, Tal and Khangai (desert, steppe and mountain).

I’m often asked where is my favourite location in Mongolia. And that is a very tough question to answer.  All I can do is describe why these distinctive landscapes make my heart sing:

The Gobi

Along the southern tier of Mongolia lies the vast fossil-rich Gobi Desert. For me, what makes the Gobi so incredibly spectacular is the vastness of the landscapes – there is something raw and pure about them. Towns in the Gobi, although dusty and wind-blown have names such as Bayandalai (Rich in Ocean) and Erdenedalai (Jewel Ocean). Although far from the ocean, I think travelling through the epic distances of the Gobi gives you the same sense of power that the ocean gives (it’s just that the tide is out!).
At home in the Gobi

The Altai

Western Mongolia is dominated by the Mongol Altai Mountains. This major mountain chain – Mongolia’s highest – is a region of intensive mountain building and high seismic activity. Summits reach 4000, plus and are covered with permanent snow, ice and glaciers. 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.

The land where time stands still

The North

The northern region consists of dense coniferous forests of pine and larch – where the southern edge of the circumpolar boreal forest touches the grass plains of Central Asia. Northern Mongolia is dominated by Lake Khovsgol – known as Dalai Ej (Mother Sea) – it’s water is considered some of the purest on earth. Lake Khovsgol is a spiritual place for Mongolians and its diverse natural beauty makes it a stunning location for getting a little more off the beaten track. I especially love hiking north along the western shore to where the lake seems to meld together with the slopes of the magnificent Khoridol Saridag. Nothing beats this walk on a clear day when the lake reflects the sky in shifting shades of blue.

Sacred northern landscapes

The East

Eastern Mongolia is dominated by the history of Genghis Khan, the Khan Khentii Mountains and extensive stretching grassland steppes. This is one of the largest expanses of unspoilt, temperate grassland in the world. Mongolia has the lowest human population density of any country in the world, and the Eastern Steppe has one of the lowest densities in Mongolia – few human settlements or fences interrupt this breathtaking landscape. In this region, there is something about the limitlessness of the horizon and the sky that will restore your sense of the world’s immensity.

Eastern Eternal Landscapes

The Heartland

From my perspective, central Mongolia provides a rare slice of tangible Mongolian history – (historically names) Karakorun- the ancient capital of Ogodei Khan and Erdene Zuu Monastery (the oldest monastery in Mongolia and considered its sacred heart). This area is rich in history relating to the Huns, the Turks and the Mongol Empire as well as the founding of Buddhism in Mongolia. This region is dominated by the glorious Khangai Mountains which form a stunning wild backdrop.
Buddhist Heartland

Of course, wherever you choose to visit, remember one thing. You are walking in the invisible footsteps of people who have gone before and each footprint has added to each landscape – whether they be the footprints  (or in some instances, hoof-prints!) of Mongol kings, monks, traders, pilgrims, herders or modern-day travellers.

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