On the subject of Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital has a
thriving cultural scene with many museums, galleries, and cultural
shows making this somewhere to spend a few days at the beginning or
end of any trip.
Away from UB (as the capital is almost universally known), a
country this vast needs pretty careful planning because most
visitors don't have the several spare weeks required to do every
far flung region justice. More often than not it's a case of
choosing what, when and where as wisely as possible, and that's
where we'd like to think our expertise comes to the fore.
Top of the 'unmissable' list is the iconic Gobi Desert, which
covers swathes of Southern Mongolia. This beautiful region is home
to 600ft sand dunes; large numbers of dinosaur fossils and
fossilised eggs; the famous Flaming Cliffs (so called because of
the vivid orange colour they go at sunset); the Bronze Age rock art
of Havtsgait and the Gegeet Valley, where snow leopards roam.
Between the Gobi and the capital lie the seemingly endless
steppes of grassland that Mongolia's nomads call home, setting up
encampments of their distinctive ger tents and staying until their
livestock are ready to move on. Within easy (by Mongolian
standards) reach of Ulaanbaatar are two stunning National Parks;
Hustai (also known as Khustain), home to the world's only remaining
wild horse species - the takhi, and the alpine expanse of
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and its resident bears and elks. For an
injection of culture on your Mongolian holiday, to the west of
Hustai lie the hundred white stupas and Buddhist artworks of Erdene
Zuu Monastery and what little remains of Karakorum, the one-time
capital when the Mongol Empire stretched from Eastern Europe to
Korea in the 13th Century.
After the expansive steppes, Northern Mongolia represents a
different ecosystem entirely, with the landscape dominated by
mountains, lakes and thick forests that are the perfect habitat for
reindeer, bear, moose, elk and yak. The focal point of the region
is the vast Lake Khovsgol and the network of smaller lakes and
rivers to its west, a major lure for fishermen and women in search
of huge taiman fish, while non-anglers can enjoy riding safaris in
the beautiful surroundings.
Last but not least, Western Mongolia feels like a world apart in
an already other-worldly destination. Squeezed to a point between
the even larger land masses of Russia to the north and China to the
south, The Altai Tavan Bogd National Park (the Altai Mountains to
you and me) features Mongolia's highest peaks, many of which are
permanently snow-capped, alongside fascinating Turkic stone men
sculptures and ancient burial mounds. The Turkic influence is also
visible in the ethnically Kazakh people who inhabit the area, and
who maintain their tradition of hunting with hawks and eagles. In
fact one of the key times for a holiday to Mongolia is during the
Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan Ulgii aimag (region) of Western
Mongolia at the end of September or beginning of October.
While we're on the subject of dates for the diary, another
particularly fun time to be in Mongolia is over the great annual
festival of Naadam from 11th - 13th July, when Mongolians show off
their aptitude for archery, horse riding and wrestling; skills that
once saw them rule the largest contiguous land empire ever. Even if
you're not in Mongolia over either of these dates, there's always
trekking, riding, camel trekking, fishing, climbing and endless
photographic opportunities to keep you happy.