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 commemo-rate 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 – Middle Gobi
Today, start driving through grasslands of Hangai region to the south from Ulaanbaatar, stopping at Khairkhan Mountain at Bayan Onjuul. Locals believe this mountain is one of the most powerful and auspicious mountains in whole country. Picnic lunch. By the evening reach into Middle Gobi ger camp for dinner and overnight.
While in the countryside, you will overnight in gers, the traditional felt tents of nomadic herders. Made of a latticed wood structure covered with layers of felt and canvas, each ger is heated by a wood stove and furnished with beautifully painted wood-framed beds. The camp restaurant and western-style toilet and shower facilities are located in a central building found a few hundred feet from the gers. Based on double occupancy, gers provide an authentic and memorable taste of Mongolian culture and allow you to visit areas which oth-erwise lack traveler accommodations. Most visitors find their stays at ger camps to be among their most enjoyable experiences in Mongolia.
Day 4 – Onggi River
After breakfast, continue your overland drive 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. Meet a representative of the local Ongi River movement, visit sites along the river, including visits to families growing seabuckthorn trees.
The Onggi river, one of the few Gobi rivers, was the only tributary to a 20 mile diameter Ulaan lake. As a result of human activities, including cutting reeds along the shoreline, mining practices along the tributary, the lake has vanished and has dried up. A small group of activists from a village of Saikhan Ovoo have come together to bring back the river and the lake and have been fighting to bring back the lake last 10 years. As a result of their movement at one point 36 out of 37 mines situated along the Ongi river were closed down. The struggle is still active and we will learn about challenges this small NGO is facing. Overnight in gers.
Day 5 – Drive to the South Gobi
Three Camel Lodge
Today we drive through the different terrains of the Gobi desert to the Three Camel Lodge of South Gobi province. Built in the magical Gobi according to environmentally and culturally sustainable development guidelines, the camp offers an extraordinary combination of adventure and sophistication, intertwining traditional style and superb service.
Day 6 – Yol Valley / Gobi Gurvan Saikhan Park
Three Camel Lodge
After early breakfast drive to Yol Valley National Park (1.5 hours), cradled between the foot-hills 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 7 – Gegeet Valley/ Hongoryn Els
Anticipating another day of exploring the spectacular panoramas of the world’s northernmost desert, drive overland (2 hours) to Gegeet Valley, habitat of the elusive snow leopard. After a picnic lunch, continue driving (2 hours) to the towering sand dunes of Hongoryn Els, which run 60 miles alongside the Gobi Altai Mountain range.
These dunes, reaching upwards of 2,500 feet, are the Gobi’s most magnificent sand dunes and due to their isolation, the secret of this area’s beauty has been kept safe for thousands of years. Overnight in gers.
Day 8 – Hongoryn Els
Three Camel Lodge
After breakfast, explore the dunes, called the “Singing Sands” for the remarkable, low-pitched groan that is emitted when its surface is disturbed. For those interested, you will have the opportunity to visit a camel herding family and explore the area on the back of a Bactrian camel. After lunch, drive back to the Three Camel Lodge. Overnight in gers.
Day 9 – Yol Valley / Gobi Gurvan Saikhan Park
Three Camel Lodge
Today we visit kids of neighboring Khanhongor sum’s school. These children are well known in the country as well as internationally for their musical talents. The local musical school thanks to the hard work and efforts of its teachers is able to give kids good musical education offering these children an opportunity to pursue a career of professional musicians upon graduation. After lunch, drive back to the Three Camel Lodge. Overnight in gers.
Day 10 – Bulgan & Havtsgait petroglyphs
Three Camel Lodge
Today we visit small farms in the area of Bulgan village and meet children of the local environmental group called “Altai snowcocks”. In the afternoon drive to Khavtsgait for a visit to the rock carvings dating back to 3-5 century BC. Dinner and overnight at the lodge.
Day 11 – Trees of the Gobi
Three Camel Lodge
Today we will visit Mr. Baraduuz and his neighbors, including Mr. Valya who dedicated their lives to growing trees in the Gobi. With a help of 5 of his neighbors, Mr. Baraduuz was able to buy simply rubber pipes used for watering and installed a temporary pipeline between a water spring in the mountains and a small plantation in the valley. Dinner and overnight at the lodge.
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 Jabzan 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. Enjoy a farewell dinner at a fine local restaurant. Overnight at your hotel.
Day 13 – Departure
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for departure.