Day 1: Arrival
The contrast between ancient traditions and the dawning of a 20th century democracy is most visible in Ulaanbaatar, where traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries coexist with modern high-rises. Upon arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by your guide and transferred to a comfortable, centrally located hotel within walking distance of various museums and shops.
Day 2 : Ulaanbaatar
Begin the day with a visit to Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Woven through Mongolia’s nomadic culture is a rich Tibetan-Buddhist tradition with ancient Sha-manist practices still evident. Although Buddhist monasteries were either destroyed or con-verted into museums during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Gandan Monastery continued to operate as a “showpiece” for government officials. However, in spite of the government’s efforts to suppress Buddhism and other religious beliefs, Mongolia’s spirituality persisted and a significant resurgence of Buddhism began in 1990 when Mongolia became a democracy. Monasteries across the country are again opening their doors to worshippers and the few la-mas who survived the purges are training a new generation. The monastery has been mas-sively reconstructed and renovated.
Experience these exciting developments first-hand at Gandan Monastery. Strolling through the monastery grounds, you will hear the low tones of the horns used to call the lamas to the temple and can observe their daily rituals, including the reading of sutras (teachings of the Buddha). Visit the recently renovated Chenrezig and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Megjid Janraisig (“the lord who looks in every direction”). This 82-foot high statue, gilded in pure gold and clothed with silk and precious stones, completely fills one of Gandan’s temples.
Next, visit the National History Museum for an excellent overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. The newly remodeled museum displays traditional implements of daily nomadic life including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, historical costumes of Mongolia’s minority tribes, sacred religious relics, and agricultural, fishing and hunting equipment.
In the afternoon, drive to Zaisan Memorial, built by the former Soviet Union to commemorate fallen soldiers of World War II. Those who climb the 300 steps will be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the capital city, the Tuul River and the surrounding country-side. In the evening, enjoy a welcome dinner in a large traditional ger, very similar to the ones once owned by Chinggis Khan and his descendants. Overnight at your hotel.
Day 3: Hustai Nuruu National Park
After breakfast, drive to the Hustain Nuruu National Reserve (2 hours), home to the last remaining species of wild horse, the Takhi-commonly known as Przewalski’s Horse. In 1994, twenty-five years after they became extinct in the wild, the Takhi was reintroduced into the wild from zoo populations by the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski’s Horse, a Dutch organization, which flew 16 horses from the Netherlands to Mongolia. Since then, well over one hundred healthy foals have been born in Mongolia. Learn about current conservation efforts and the status of the herds found within the reserve at the visitor’s center before trying to spot these beautiful horses in their natural habitat.
Day 4: Hustai Nuruu National Park
Today, we will visit some of the community based projects ran by the administration together with local herders. Overnight in gers.
Day 5: Kharakhorum
After breakfast, drive to Kharakhorum, site of the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire (approx. 4-5 hours). The empire created by Chinggis Khan and his descendants was the largest contiguous land empire in recorded history, and its scope has never been matched. Chinggis Khan’s son, Ogedei, created the beautiful and legendary Kharakhorum to serve as the heart of this monolithic empire. This bustling, momentous capital was abandoned by Khu-bilai Khan for his new city in Beijing and later fell into ruin. There are only a few traces left, but Mongolia’s largest monastery, neighboring Erdene Zuu, was reputedly constructed from the ruins of Kharakhorum in the 16th century. Reach Kharakhorum in time for lunch.
In the afternoon explore Erdene Zuu monastery grounds and visit local social projects supported by a local NGO. Surrounded by 108 stupas, Erdene Zuu has been a place of Bud-dhist activity for more than 1,000 years. Take a stroll around the surrounding environs in-cluding the former sight of Kharakhorum city. Explore the monastery grounds and observe the monks as they perform their prayers and rituals. There’s an optional opportunity to visit a nomadic family. Dinner and overnight at the ger camp.
Days 6-7: Kharakhorum
Today we visit local projects, including expansion of dormitory for Erdene Zuu lamasery, re-forestration project outskirts of the city and other projects. We can select certain projects de-pending on the group’s interests. These two days participants can volunteer and help any of the local projects that Erdene Zuu Monastery oversees. Overnight in gers.
Day 8: Ongiyn Hiid
After breakfast, start driving to Ongiyn Hiid. Upon arrival, explore the ruins of this ancient temple. Built in the 17th century, Ongiyn Hiid was one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia and is still known as the “Pearl of the Great Desert.” Destroyed during the Communist Purges in 1939, the ruins of this monastery are situated in a beautiful mountainous region. Overnight in gers.
Day 9: Gobi
Three Camel Lodge
In the morning, start driving to the Gobi, Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Of all the world’s arid lands, the Gobi (which means simply “desert”) has about it the greatest air of mystery, perhaps because it lies at the heart of Asia’s remotest hinterland between the Siberian wilderness to the north and the Tibetan Plateau to the south. Contrary to the sterile sameness that the word “desert” suggests, the Gobi holds many fascinations in-cluding sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of this century.
For the next three days, explore the stunning landscape of the Gobi, habitat for Bactrian camels, Argali mountain sheep, goitered gazelle, golden eagles, saker falcons, jerboas – similar to kangaroo rats – and many endemic reptiles. The Gobi is also home to some of the northern hemisphere’s rarest and most elusive mammals such as the dhole, snow leopard, wild Bactrian camel, and Gobi Bear. Spend the rest of the day resting and exploring on foot the area nearby the Three Camel Lodge.
Day 10: Yol Valley / Gobi Gurvan Saikhan Park
Three Camel Lodge
After early breakfast drive to Yol Valley National Park (1.5 hours), cradled between the foothills of the Altai Mountains. An ancient river carved this surprisingly green valley. Now, its remnant streams create ice formations at the base of the valley that sometimes persist as late as July. A hike through the valley allows you to discover habitat for indigenous vulture-like lammergeiers, Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks and Argali mountain sheep. Explore this beautiful valley on foot. Opportunity to meet park officials and get to know about their day to day practices, as well as challenges. Return to the ger camp for dinner and overnight.
Day 11: Flaming Cliffs / Moltsog Els
Thee Camel Lodge
After breakfast, drive to the legendary “Flaming Cliffs,” named for its glowing orange rock. It was here, in 1922, that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his exploration team from the American Museum of Natural History found the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen. Although not obvious to the untrained eye, the red sandstone cliffs of the Flaming Cliffs are rich with dinosaur fossils and paleontological expeditions continue to make significant discoveries at this site.
Next, drive to a nearby camel breeder family and sample camel riding. Next, drive to Moltsog Els, one of the few regions of the Gobi covered by sand dunes and explore the area. In the evening, arrive at the Three Camel Lodge in time for dinner and overnight.
Day 12: Ulaanbaatar
In the morning, transfer to the local airport for your return flight to Ulaanbaatar. After lunch, visit Bogd Khan Winter Palace museum, home of Mongolia’s last theocrat, Bogd Jab-zan Damba Hutagt VIII (Mongolia’s 8th Living Buddha). The museum displays elaborate ceremonial robes and other personal effects of the leader. In the evening enjoy a performance featuring traditional Mongolian dancers and hoomi (throat) singers followed by a farewell dinner. Overnight at your hotel. (Hotel: B, L, D)
Day 13 : Departure
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for departure.