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Northern Mongolia

Hovsgol Nuur National Park

Nicknamed as the “Blue Pearl”, the Lake Hovsgol is the second largest lake in Mongolia as well as the deepest. Located in the northernmost province at an altitude of 1645 m above sea level, this lake is 136 km long, 36 km wide, 262 meters deep and is the world’s fourteenth-largest source of fresh water – containing 2% of the world’s reserves. Amazing 90 rivers and streams flow into the lake, but only a single river flows out - the Egiin Gol, which ultimately reaches the Lake Baikal in Siberia.
The lake is full of fish, such as Siberian grayling, lenok and sturgeon, and the area is home to brown bear, musk deer, ibex, argali – mountain sheep, marten, beavers, elk, lynx and wolves, as well as over 200 species of birds including Baikal teal, black stork, bar-headed goose and Altai snowcock, thus facilitating marvelous opportunities for bird watching. High mountains, thick pine forests and lush meadows with grazing yaks and horses make the lake more gorgeous and attractive.
A ferryboat operates between Khatgal and Khanh, two towns on the southern and northern shores of the lake that is within the boundaries of the Khovsgol National Park. The area hosts different ethnic groups like Khalh, Darkhad, Buryat and the reindeer breeding Tsaatans.
Plenty of interesting activities available in the Hovsgol Nuur National Park for your choice including hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing, swimming, bird watching, visiting reindeer breeders, discovering the surrounding forest, boating, etc.

Deer Stones

     Across the windswept steppes of northern Mongolia, stone monuments stand in silent tribute to a mysterious past. The ornately embellished monuments, erected by unknown peoples, lie scattered across northern Mongolia. At Ushghiin Uver, an archaeological site in a broad, short-grass valley rimmed by the mountains of north-central Mongolia, squared-off gray granite pillars rise about 3 meters out of the sandy soil of the steppe. These stones are believed to date from the Bronze Era of Mongolia (2,500-3,000 years ago) and derive their name from the etched ancient images of deer-like creatures which were etched on them.
The pillars known as deer stones, can be divided into three sections representing the three worlds of ancient Central Asian mythology: the sky, earth and the underworld. The top part of the stone shows the sun and the moon, representing the sky; the center shows a deer or other hoofed animal representing the world of the living whereas the bottom part shows bows and arrows, swords and sometimes deities representing the underworld. The deer, which is usually represented in silhouette with a long snout is an important symbol for Mongolians, and is believed to be able to carry the spirit of the dead to the next life.
The deer stones are the earliest examples of monumental sculpture known, not only in Mongolia, but in Central Asia in general. Considered by some to be the only genuine monument produced by nomadic art, deer stones are generally made from grey granite or marble and measure between two and five meters in height. Related to the religion of Shamanism, they are thought to mark the graves of important kings or warriors and are often located in groups of five or more. Altogether around 550 deer stones have been found in Mongolia and around 200 in the Eurasian countries surrounding it.

Amarbayasgalant Monastery

Located in the picturesque Iven River valley on the foot of Mt. Burenkhan in Baruunburen Soum of Selenge province, the Amarbayasgalant Monastery is one of the most beautiful and largest monasteries in Mongolia. It was originally built at the magnificently styled place in 1737 by the Manchurian King Kansu for Buddha teaching and practice in honor of the great Mongolian Buddhist and sculptor Under Geghen Zanabazar.
A fearsome communist purges against religion did not go around the Amarbayasgalant Monastery. Ten of the 37 temples and few statues were destroyed late 1930s like many other monasteries in Mongolia. All the highly trained knowledgeable monks were executed and a huge number of rare religious relics, books, sutras, tankas and Buddha statues collected for 200 years were destroyed completely. The holy temple of Amarbayasgalant became mere ruins and was abandoned for 50 shady years.
1990 was the time when the circumstances came for Amarbayasgalant to be restored. Communism had fallen apart and the Mongolians were eager to revive their religious tradition and the Amarbayasgalant Monastery was reestablished. Nowadays it stands strong on its remarkable construction, as on its 300 year history.
The beauty, decorations and construction of the monastery have made it one of the most magnificent architectural monuments not only in Mongolia, but in the whole Asia.

Central Mongolia

Karakorum

The site where Karakorum, Mongolia's ancient capital, once stood lies an eight hour drive southwest of Ulaanbaatar. The city was founded in 1220 in the Orkhon valley at a busy point on the route of the Silk Road, in the first large break in the chain of mountains stretching north out of the Gobi. Karakorum served as the political, cultural and economic capital of the Empire for only 40 years before Khubilai the founder of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China, moved it to Khanbalik, in what is now Beijing. The Mongol khans were famed for their religious tolerance and split their time equally between all the religions; hence twelve different religions co-existed within the city. At the time it was a busy, splendid, big city with high culture.
Karakorum was largely inhabited by foreigners including officers and secretaries of the court in the service of the empire, merchants, diplomats and artists who were brought from all over Asia and Europe to embellish Karakorum. So cosmopolitan was the city that both Mongol and foreign coins were legal tender. Turtles carved from the stone marked the boundaries of the complex.
After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, in 1360, Karakorum was razed to the ground and burnt by the vengeful Ming armies. Attempts were made to revive it but it never regained its former glory. Whatever was left of Karakorum was used to help build the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia - Erdene Zuu Monastery - in 16th century without using a single nail. The Erdene Zuu Monastery was a big complex of ornate gardens and over 60 temples at its peak in the late 18th century serving home to about 1,000 lamas.
The complex was first destroyed by the invading Manchus and it was partially reconstructed by the famous architect Manzshir in the early 19th century. Only a few remain standing today, but this is more due to Communist purges of the 1930s than poor workmanship. The 1,600-meter long magnificent walls, studded with 108 stupas, are a poignant reminder of the former wealth and importance of the area.
Many artifacts and religious objects survived in secret stashes. A handful of carved stones, one inscribed in Arabic, stand inside the wall surrounding the monastery complex. Today, Erdene Zuu is an active monastery once more and justifiably attracts visitors still retaining much of its former glory. Quite a surprise for the scientists was the discovery of a burial of a Mongolian woman which dates to approximately the 14th century where also two Egyptian masks, a wooden comb and a bronze mirror in a silk case were found.

Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park

A magnificent region of extinct volcanoes in Arkhangai aimag features the craterous volcano Khorgo (2965m) and an about 20 km-long fresh-water lake Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Great White Lake) formed when volcanic lava dammed the Suman River, cutting a large gorge through the basalt from a volcanic eruption many millennia ago. A splendid panorama over the whole region and the lake can be seen from the summit of the volcano.
This beautiful lake is excellent for bird-watching and swimming in the summer afternoon. Colonies of wild gees, ducks and swans live here and along Suman River. The river is full of fish including Siberian salmon, pike, perch and gudgeon.
Choidogiin Borgio is another very pleasant spot for walking and fishing, located east of Khorgo, where the Suman River and Chuluut Rivers meet. There are many rock engravings , most of which date from the Bronze Age.

Hustai National Park

About 100 km southwest of Ulaanbaatar, just off the black top road, there is a small island of sand dunes in the middle of a steppe. The dunes themselves are remarkable only for their unexpected existence but behind them, concealed from the road, is a park that contains an animal whose existence is even more remarkable.
Established in 1993, Hustai National Park covers an area of around 50,000 hectares and is one of the two refuges in Mongolia for the once widespread wild horse, or takhi also known as Przewalski horses after the Russian explorer who first penned about the horse. Following years of habitat loss and hunting, wild horses were extinct Mongolia and the last one was spotted in the western Gobi in 1969. However small populations of the takhi were sustained in zoos and wildlife parks around the world.
Over a decade ago, with the support of the Dutch Government and experts, the Mongolian Association for the Conservation of Nature and the Environment brought a small group of horses back to Mongolia. Under the special breeding program more takhis were brought from Australia, Germany and Switzerland. From that modest groups there are now over 150 horses in the park, split into small groups or "harems" each dominated by a single stallion.
The takhis are beautiful and at ease in their natural habitat. They have red brown bodies and white bellies and muzzles, longer heads than other horses and a stocky build. The DNA of the takhi is uniquely different from that of other horses.
Hiking through the hills and mountains of the park is exciting, you will see its inhabitants including takhis, deers, marmots and even wolves. From the top of the hills, the view is superb. For miles and miles in every direction, the blue mountains decorate the horizon in a splendid, unbroken chain.

Terelj

Situated 80 km away from Ulaanbaatar, Terelj is a part of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and a favorite weekend-getaway place for the UB-residents and travelers. At the elevation of 1600 meters, the alpine scenery is magnificent comparable with a museum of natural wealth. The mountain mass Gorkhi with high steeple-like peaks is covered with forest on the northern slopes. This area is rich in the terms of wild life. Visitors can take leisurely strolls on green meadows carpeted with edelweiss and a dazzling variety of other wild flowers, view fascinating rock formations against a backdrop of pine covered mountains and wander along the wooded banks of a mountain stream. Also nearby is Tortoise Rock, a reptile-shaped rock formation created by an ancient glacier - you can climb right inside. There are great opportunities for horse riding, swimming and rafting.

Ulaanbaatar

Formerly known as Urgo, Ulaanbaatar is the capital and the largest city of Mongolia. Surrounded by four mountains, the city stands on a windswept plateau and covers an area of 2,000 sq. km (770 sq. mi). Situated in the north-central part of the country, it is located on the northern bank of a shallow and swift-flowing river, the Tuul Gol, at an altitude of 1,350 meters (4,430 ft). One third of Mongolians make Ulaanbaatar their permanent home.

The city was founded in 1639 as a monastery center and eventually became the seat of the Living Buddha. In the mid-19th century it developed as an important commercial center on the trade route between Russia and China. The city became capital of newly independent Mongolia in 1911, and in 1921 it was taken by a Mongolian revolutionary group aided by Soviet forces. When in 1924 the communist Mongolian People’s Republic was established, the city was renamed Ulaanbaatar ("Red Hero").

It is the political, cultural, industrial, and transportation center of the country, connected by highway to all the major towns in Mongolia and by rail to the Trans-Siberian and Chinese railroad systems. Ulaanbaatar is the hub of international and domestic flights.
After World War II the city expanded greatly, largely with the aid of Soviet planning. Broad tree-planted boulevards and squares are lined with ponderous neoclassical buildings.

As the cultural and academic center of the nation, Ulaanbaatar is the seat of major art and culture establishments, museums, art galleries, and educational institutions. The largest museum is the Museum of Natural History that has a magnificent displays of the skeletons of giant dinosaurs. Others include the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts with a rich collection of world-class art works, the National Museum of Mongolian History, the Military Museum and the International Intellectual Museum with amazing puzzles and unique displays. There are also several fascinating Buddhist temple museums and functioning monasteries worth to visit. Ulaanbaatar also has several theaters and theater groups, such as the State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, the State Drama Academic Theater and the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble. The Ulaanbaatar State Public Library has a unique collection of 11th-century Sanskrit manuscripts.
Ulaanbaatar is full of surprises and offers excellent places to stay and eat, up-to-date amenities like internet cafés, western style supermarkets, discos, bars and nightclubs.

Local currency is used in all shops although some private shops may accept US dollars and Euros. Major credit cards are also accepted in some stores. The best buys include pictures, cashmere garments, camel-wool blankets, national costumes, boots, jewelry, carpets, books and handicrafts. Shopping hours: Daily 1000-1800 as a general guide although times and days may vary.

The Gobi Desert

The Gobi stretches across vast areas of Mongolia representing a third of the total surface area of the country. Contrary to that is generally thought, the Gobi is not a desert in the usual sense, that is, a sandy area completely devoid of vegetation. Most of the Gobi consists of stony and scrubby wasteland. However, the Gobi is differentiated between 33 types according to soil composition and color, the sandy dunes account for only 3% of the entire Gobi Desert.

The Gobi is a land of extremes: winter is cold and severe, with temperatures below -40°C (-40°F) while it can be well over 40°C (105°F) in summer, spring is dry and cold, with terrible dust and sand storms. Total annual precipitation varies from 7 cm (2.8") in the west to more than 20 cm (8") in the northeast. The greatest amounts of rainfall occur in the summer.

The region is very sparsely populated supporting fewer than one person per sq. km, but the desolate landscape is home to gazelles, antelopes, two humped Bactrian camels, wild horses, khulan - wild asses and the rare Gobi bear - mazaalai. Once the site of an ancient inland sea, the area has dried up and then eroded over the eons, providing paleontologists with magnificent specimens of dinosaur fossils.
The many epidemic plants of the Gobi adapted to conditions of extreme heat are characterized by what is called "high biological activity". Saxaul trees, false acacia and camel grass are very common in the Gobi.

Bayan Zag (Flaming Cliffs), South Gobi

The huge dinosaur skeletons on display in the Museum of National History in Ulaanbaatar were found in this Neolithic site, better known in the West as the "Flaming Cliffs", so penned by t he American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews.
After an unsuccessful expedition to find the missing link between apes and man to the Mongolian Gobi, Andrews and his team accidentally discovered this location of vast bright red cliffs full of dinosaur bones and eggs in 1922, while seeking the lost old caravan road to Beijing. They found fossils immediately, and later Andrews came back to place and found more dinosaur bones and eggs, discovered petrified forests, remains of mammals, and in particular the skeleton of a hornless rhinoceros, the largest known mammal in the world. Since then this locality became popularly known as the Flaming Cliffs.
Even if you aren't crazy about dinosaurs, the eerie beauty of the surrounding landscape is a good reason to visit this place. It's a classic desert of rock, red sands, scrub, sun and awesome emptiness. As its name suggests, it's strewn with saxaul shrubs. Huge forests once covered this region but only zag, the saxaul, is left today.

Yol Valley, South Gobi

The strictly protected zone of Yolyn Am is located in the Zuun Saikhan Mountain range, 46 km west of Dalanzadgad. It is a part of the Gurvan Saikhan Mountain National Park that stretches from the border with Bayankhongor province almost to Dalanzadgad - the province center of South Gobi and covers 2.7 million hectares.

Famous for its dramatic and very unusual scenery, Yolyn Am (Ossifrage Valley or Lammergeyer Valley or Eagle Valley are all the same) is a valley in the middle of the Gobi Desert with thick ice that remains for almost year-round. In winter, the ice gets up to 10 meters high, and continues down the gorge for another 10 km. In earlier times, the blocks of ice rarely melted, being protected from the vicious sunlight by the canyon walls. One can still see the ice here in July but it is completely melted by August.
The surrounding mountains are home to ibex, argali sheep, and many birds of prey including the ossifrage (bearded vulture) after which the valley is named, as well as to numerous rodents particular to the Gobi. It is very pleasant to walk thru the cool canyon after being under the burning sun of the Gobi desert.

Khongor Sand Dunes, South Gobi

The 180 km-long Kongoryn Els sand dunes are some of the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mognolia. The contours of the dunes give the impression of a beautiful silk scarf dropped in the middle of nowhere. Zoelon and Sevrei mountains lie to the south of the dunes and the Khongoriin Gol (River) runs along the northern edges enabling lush green grass to grow, contrasting beautifully with the yellows of the dunes. In some parts the dunes reaches about 800 meters in height. You can climb to the top of the dunes to have wonderful views of the desert and then slide back down if you have plastic bags handy. The sound produced by the masses of moving sand can be heard from far as a sound of an airplane. Hence the sand is called Duut Mankhan or the Singing Dunes.

The color of the sand dunes changes with each hour of the day, from yellow to silver to rose-colored at dawn. It's the best place for camel trekking.

Baga gazryn Chuluu, Middle Gobi

     This intriguing granite rock formation in the middle of the dusty plain is a good place for stopover on the way to the South Gobi. The view from the top of the Baga Gazryn Uul (1768 m), the highest peak in the area offers a magnificent view of horizon that stretches as far as the eye could see. The mountain also contains a cave with an underground lake. The mineral water springs and trees in the region make it a great spot to camp, and there are plenty of rocky hills, topped by ovoo (sacred pyramid-shaped collections of stone and wood), to explore. Argali - wild mountain sheep can be spot, especially in the down and the dusk. There is a legend that Chinggis Khaan stayed at the rocks.

 

Ikh Gazryn Chuluu, Middle Gobi

This area of unusual rocky mountains is one of the many protected areas in the country, elevated 1565 - 1709 meters above sea level, stretched 30 km long and 15 km wide. Besides the magnificent pinnacles there are many places in the mountains that are admired by their extraordinary formations and beauties. The mountains contain over 40 caves of various sizes and the biggest one is the Tagtaatyn Agui or the Pigeon Cave that is 30 meter long, 3.5 meter wide and 10 m high. Lush green meadows carpet the area and about 30 medical herbs grow there. The area has an abundance of wildlife and is home to the protected species like argali or wild sheep, ibex and lynx, as well as fox, steppe fox, badger, wild cat, black-tailed antelope, marmot and many more. The groups of pinnacles in the mirage of Gobi steppe give a stupendous vista of majestic fairy-tale city.

Valley of Inscriptions, Bayankhongor

A rocky canyon of Bichigtiin Am or the Valley of Inscriptions in the Mount Ikh Bogd 70 km south of Bayangobi in the Bayankhongor Province offers an open-air gallery of ancient humans. This is a series of well-preserved rock engravings and petroglyphs dating to Paleolithic. This historical site is famous not only in Mongolia but is also a valuable cultural heritage of an ancient civilization of the world. The engravings are on the rocky slope of the mountain and stretch for a few hundred meters and remain in good condition. The vibrant lifestyle of prehistoric humans is reflected in the gallery of the ancient stone paintings. One of these represents a couple making love, and is a prove that the erotic art dates to the Iron Age.

Tsagaan Agui (White Cave), Bayankhongor

Situated in a narrow gorge, the cave once housed Stone Age human beings some 700,000 years ago. The dolomitic limestone solution cavity called Tsagaan Agui (White Cave) consists of a narrow, inclining entryway, a rotunda-like main chamber, and at least two smaller chambers behind the main rotunda. More than 800 stone artifacts were recovered in the Tsagaan Agui excavations in 1995, yielding evidence of human occupation at least as early as the Mid Palaeolithic.