Mount Otgontenger is the highest peak of the Khangai Range. It’s located in the province of Zavkhan, East Uliastai. In 1992, the Mongolian government delimited a strictly-protected area around the peak. This area covers an area of 1055 square kilometres (407 square miles). Specialists are not in agreement about its altitude. Until today, you could see on most of the maps, that the mount was 4021 metres (2,5 miles) above the sea level. Today the surveyors agree that the height is 4008 metres (2,49 miles). Mount Otgontenger is the only peak of the Khangai Range that is covered with a permanent glacier. The Southern face of the mount is composed of the largest granite wall of all the country. At the foot of the mountain, we find Lake Badarkhundaga.Otgontenger is part of the three most sacred summits of the country, and it’s strictly forbidden for women to climb it. According to the Mongolian traditional beliefs, angry gods live in the sacred mountains of Mongolia. God Ochirvaani is reported as living in Mount Otgontenger. In August 2002, a decree from the Ministry of Nature and Environment forbad to climb the mount, because of the growing decreasing of the perpetual snow.
HORGO VOLCANO MOUNTAIN
In the Khorgo – Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur Natural Park, we can also see and make the ascent of Khorgo Volcano that is an extinct volcano reaching its highest point at 2240 metres (1,39 mile), located East from Terkhiin Tsagaan. This easy 16-kilometres (9,94 miles) hike will lead you to the summit of this extinct volcano covered with basalt that was active 8000 years ago. Its crater measures 200 metres (656,17 feet) in diameterand 70 to 80 metres (229,66 – 262,47 feet) in depth, and it is surrounded with small copses of trees. It has been protected since 1965. Around Khorgo Volcano, there is a remarkable area, made of solidified lava bubbles; the locals name this place”the basalt yurts”.
HUSTAI NATIONAL PARK
Khustain Nuruu National Park, whose name means ”the range of silver birches”, is located 90 kilometres (56 miles) Southwest from the capital, 1843 metres (1,1 mile) above the sea level in the sum of Altanbulag. It’s lined by Avdar Mountain in its Western part. When this natural reserve was created in 1992, it covered an area of 506 square kilometres (195 square miles). Then, in 1998, it became a national park covering an area of 500 square kilometres (193 square miles), with the aim to reinsert the Przewalski’s horse, ”takhi” and to protect the ecosystem of the forest steppe, extremely threatened by the overexploitation of the land. It houses 459 species of plants, 85 species of lichens, 90 species of mosses, 33 species of mushrooms, and 44 species of mammalslive in this area, such as the red deer, Mongolian gazelle, roe deer, gray wolf, lynx, red fox. We can also see in the park 217 species of birds, such as the golden eagle, bearded vulture, great bustard, whooper swan, black stork and partridge. The reserve is composed at the same time of desert zones and of mountainous zones.
TERELJ NATIONAL PARK
Gorkhi – Terelj National Park, meaning “stream – rhododendron”, is located 55 kilometres (34,18 miles) East Ulaanbaatar, 1600 metres (0,99 mile) above the sea level, in the strictly protected area of Khentii. A tarred road connects the national park to the capital ; you need to allow 1.30 to 2.00 hours to go there. The government placed this 2932 hectares territory under its protection in 1995. it’s a mountainous area composed of wooded steppes. We find many species of birds (250), elks and bears. Many rocky formations sculpted by erosion will delight rock-climbing fans. In plains, we can see wild flowers and edelweisses. Many rivers flow through the park, notably the Tuul, the Terelj and the Baruunbayan Rivers. While the first 20 kilometres (12,43 miles) of the park have been developed for tourism (we find there many yurts camps, and some of them have very high quality equipment), the rest of the park offers a very wild land on 2864 square kilometres (1105,80 square miles), and most of the park is not accessible to vehicles. Near the entrance of the park, we can see many rocky formations, notably the turtle rock, “melkhi khad”, a surprising 24 metres (78,74 feet) high rocky formation reminding a turtle, or the rock of the old man reading.
YOLIIN AM CANYON
In 1965, before the creation of Gurvan Saikhan National Park, a small 69 square kilometers (26,64 square miles) area around Yoliin Am Canyon was already a protected area. Yoliin Am is located about 60 kilometres (37 miles) Southwest Dalanzadgad, in the mountains of Züün Saikhan. The bearded vulture, Yol in Mongolian, gave its name to the Yoliin Am Valley, the Gorge of Bearded Vultures. Located at a height of 2500 metres (8202,10 feet), Yol Canyon forms a gorge that is so deep and so narrow, that only two persons can pass in some places. The water forms four small waterfalls. Although the sun shines a lot in this region, the canyon remains dark, so that in the bottom, a part of the river remains nearly all year long covered by a thick layer of ice. Here, travellers can discover permanent glaciers, endemic plants, and rare animals such as Siberian ibex, argalis, or bearded vultures. Snow leopards and other predators also live in the Yol Valley area. North of the massif, dinosaurs’ skeletons dating back from more than 70 millions of years, have been found.
ALTAI TAVAN BOGD NATIONAL PARK
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, “the five sacred mounts of Altai”, extends on 662 square kilometres at the extreme southwest of Mongolia, and has borders with China and Russia. Khuiten Mount is the highest peak of the range and also of Mongolia, with its altitude of 4374 metres (2,72 miles). It was climbed up for the first time by a Mongolian expedition in 1956. Altain Tavan Bogd is a high mountains area where we can find many glaciers. 96 % of the glacial rivers of Mongolia are located in the Altai Tavan Bogd. The most accessible glacier is Potanine, that we can climb up after a trek in the park. Climbing is not technical, but physical. The persons who are very keen on alpinism will also be very glad to climb up Malchin Mount, “breeder’s mount” (4037 metres, 2,51 miles), Nairamdal Mount, “friendship’s mount” (4082 metres, 2,54 miles), and Khuiten Mount, ”cold mount”(4374 metres, 2,72 miles). The two other summits that compose the Tavan Bogd are Burged (4068 metres, 2,53 miles) and Ölgii (4050 mètres, 2,51 miles). At the south of these high mountains, the park extends on a medium mountains area, located between 2000 and 3000 metres (1,24 – 1,86 miles) above sea level, where the hikers and trekkers who’re in good condition and who’re accustomed to walking in the mountains can go. We can find here some Siberian pines and larches forests and many lakes : Khoton, Khurgan, Dayan, Khovd, Khar Salaa, Tsagaan Salaa, Songinot, or Yolt. The national park provides a habitat for many species of animals, like argalis, Siberian ibex, red deers, beech martens, black grouses, or golden eagles. The Mongolian Altai’s petroglyphs are also located in the National Park. They’re inscribed on UNESCO world heritage list. There are three sites, composed of many thousands of rock paintings, included Tsagaan Salaa rock paintings, where we can see more than 10000 paintings in a valley that is 15 km (9,32 miles) long. From Ölgii, you must reckon on it taking about six hours riding on a hard track, to enter the National Park. For any hike or trek in the park, it’s necessary to be self-sufficient and autonomous because there are no refuges in the park. We organize self-sufficient treks lasting nine days, with caravans of camels following the hikers. The best period for hiking or trekking in the park is from the beginning of June to the end of August.
KHOGNO KHAN MOUNTAIN
Khögno Tarna National Park (better known as Khögno Khan) is located at 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Ulan Bator, on the road to Kharkhorin. Covering an area of 47000 hectares, this park contains many historical monuments, forests of silver birches and poplar trees, and sources. The ecosystem of this park is particularly interesting because the steppe and the taiga meet here. So, we can find a fauna and a flora that are characteristic of these two ecosystems, and also some wonderful landscapes, with the granite formations of Khögno Khan. Created in 1997 as a natural reserve, it became in 2003 a natural park, that is to say an area protected by the State for its educative, historical, cultural or environmental value. The sacred mountain of Khögno Khan is a venerated mountain located along the edge of the borders of Övörkhangai, Bulgan and Töv aimags.
BAYANZAG FLAMING CLIFFS
Bayanzag red sand cliffs, today better known as “flaming cliffs” due to their colours ochre and red, are located about 100 km (62,14 miles) at the northwest of Dalanzadgad. Bayanzag means “rich in saxaul”. This thorny shrub measuring approximately two meters high proliferates in the surroundings and is a good source of food for camels. This plain has many sedimentary sand cliffs where many dinosaurs’ fossils have been found. In 1922, the palaeontologist Roy Chapman Andrews was the first to discover dinosaurs’ bones and eggs. They belonged to a horned, herbivorous, two-meters long dinosaur that was not identified yet. After this discovery, this dinosaur was called protoceratops Andrews. The excavations lasted two years, during which many hundreds of bones were dug up. During this period, Andrews and his team discovered a dinosaur’s nest with an eggs’ clutch. This discovery drew the whole world’s attention.
TSAGAAN SUVARGA ROCKY FORMATION
The rocky formations of Tsagaan Suvarga, ”white stupa”, are located in the Southeast of the sum Ölziit, on the Southern border of the province of Dundgovi. These rocky formations eroded by the wind look like a ruined city if you observe them from a certain distance (85 kilometres, 52,82 miles). They are about 60 metres (196,85 feet) high and 400 metres (1312,34 feet) long. Southwest Tsagaan Suvarga, another rock called Ulaan Suvarga, the “red stupa”, has the same structure.
In the Gobi, natural miracles are countless and one of them is named Khermen Tsav, a wonderful canyon made of red mud rocks. The spectacular rocky formations of Khermen Tsav are located North the sum of Gurvantes, in the extreme Northwest of the province of Omnogovi, between Mount Sharig at North and Mount Altan at South. Khermen means “wall” and Tsav means “fissure”. Thousand of years of erosion formed this majestic canyon, in which rocks are balanced 30 metres (98,43 feet) above ground. The canyon stretches on 250 square kilometres (96,53 square miles), and is 200 metres (656,17 feet) deep, but between the lowest point and the highest one, there is a difference in height of 1000 metres (0,62 mile). The colours are a gradation of reds and will delight the photographers. The first dinosaur skeleton was found in that place. The scientists agree that 200 millions years ago, the place was covered with an inner sea. The American archaeologist Roy Chapman Andrews named this place “The end of the World”. Khermen Tsav is famous for its natural beauties, as well as for its bountiful underground fossils of dinosaurs. Besides it’s not unusual to find some in the place. At the foot of these sand cliffs, the ground is fully covered with saxauls. From Dalanzadgad, you’ll have to drive on 400 kilometres (248,55 miles) on one of the worst tracks of the Gobi. This very isolated area is located on none of the classical tourist tours, but the reward deserves the efforts: you’ll be alone in a scene worthy of the American great canyons.
BAGA GAZAR ROCKY FORMATION
The astonishing granitic formations of Baga Gazariin Chuluu, ”stone of the little place”, are located in the northwest of the province of Dundgovi,in the heart of the steppe, 250 km (155,34 miles) towards south of Ulaanbaatar, in the sum of Delgertsogt. At a height of 1751 metres (1,09 mile), they form a granite canyon erected in the heart of the steppe. The erosion polished the rock faces of the cliffs. Some of the lateral entries of the canyon are not very accessible, but most of them permit to enter and to make wonderful hikes in this rocky maze. You may manage to see on the rock the inscriptions written by two venerated monks who lived there in the 19th century. We can visit on the site the ruins of an old temple dating from the 17th century. We can see there a deep narrow hole. The stagnating rainwater could treat the ocular illnesses. A little ladle has been put on the rock for the people to wash their eyes with the sacred water.
At 1645 metres (1,02 mile) above the sea level, Lake Khövsgöl is a real small sea that extends on 136 kilometres (85 miles) long, 36 kilometres (22 miles) wide, and until 267 metres (876 feet) deep. It contains 2 % of the world’s freshwater reserves (480,7 km3). It is named “the blue pearl of Mongolia” because of its very clear water, so clear that we can drink it. It’s the second largest lake of Mongolia, after Lake Uvs that is located in the West of the country. Lake Khövsgöl and surroundings are a protected natural area. It’s the pressure of the same tectonic forces than the gigantic Lake Baikal, located 195 kilometres (121 miles) towards North, in Siberia, that formed Lake Khövsgöl. A rivers network binds the two lakes. That’s why we name Lake Khövsgöl “Baikal’s little brother”. The water will have to flow on more than 1000 kilometres (621 miles) after leaving Khövsgöl before flowing into Baikal. Almost one hundred rivers flow into Lake Khövsgöl. Lake Khövsgöl flows into the Eg River and the Eg River flows into Lake Baikal. The lake is surrounded by a dozen of peaks covered with pines forests and that reach more than 2000 metres (1242 miles) at their highest point. The lake is very full of fish. The omul of Baikal, the lenok, the grayling and the sturgeon of Siberia found there an excellent environment. It’s also the place where you can see many species of birds and mammals, such as sables, castors, Mongolian deer, Siberian roe deer, brown bears or lynxes. We also find in this area some endemic plants, such as marsh saxifrage and valerian. The lake freezes between January and April and we can ride a husky or a troika.
TERKHIIN TSAGAAN LAKE
Khorgo – Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur Natural Park includes two jewels of Mongolia: Lake Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur and the extinct volcano Khorgo. Lake Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, ”White Lake of the Terkh River”, is located 2060 metres (1,28 miles) above the sea level. It’s the jewel of Arkhangai and one of the most beautiful lakes of the country. The eruption of Khorgo Volcano explains the presence of the lake. Besides, it’s surrounded with other extinct volcanoes. It extends on 16 kilometres (9,94 miles) long and 4 to 10 kilometres (2,49 – 6,21 miles) wide. It covers an area of 61 square kilometres (23,55 square miles), its average depth is 20 metres (65,62 feet). We can find many pikes and many other species of fish. The lake remains frozen a big part of the year. This area is still wild, you may see chitals, marsh deer, wild boars, ducks or great cormorants.
KHUISIIN NAIMAN NUUR NATIONAL PARK
Naiman Nuur National Park is located in the province of Ovorkhangai, in the Khangai range, and it has the typical landscapes of the Mongolian high mountains with their large forests of larches. The area of Naiman Nuur, ”Eight lakes”, formed behind the volcanic eruptions that occurred all along the centuries. The park is 2400 metres (1,5 mile) above the sea level. An area of 11.500 hectares has been protected as a National Park since 1992. The lakes are located about 35 kilometres (22 miles) Southeast Orkhon waterfalls, but the track is impassable. This way is accessible only to hikers and horsemen/women who will enjoy an exceptional nature, whereas the jeeps will have to skirt round the mountains by Bat Ulzii (130 kilometres, 81 miles), or even by the track to Khujirt (260 kilometres, 162 miles) in case of heavy rain. The eight lakes in question are lakes Shireet, the largest and the most beautiful, Khaliut, Bugat, Khaya, Khuis, Onon, Doroo and Bayan Uul. Two of the smallest lakes are completely dry, and the second largest lake, Khuis Nuur, is 90% dry. The national park is located in a high mountains area comprising alpine meadows and forests of conifers (Siberian pines and Siberian larches). In the North of the protected area, we can see entire valleys strewn with volcanic stones. The peaks of the mountains are arid. The place is very cool and there can be snowstorms in June or August. In the heart of Summer, temperatures rarely go until 20°C during the day. 400 to 500 millimetres (16 – 32 inches) of rain fall each year. Inside the national park, we can see 50 species of birds, such as the black-throated loon, great cormorant, bar-headed goose, or whooper swan.
ULAAGCHNII KHAR LAKE
Ulaagchnii Lake Khar is located West from the Khangai range, 1980 metres (6496,06 metres) above sea level. It’s located 80 kilometres (49,71 miles) Northeast from the sum of Erdenekhairkhan, in the province of Zavkhan, and 110 kilometres (68,35 miles) from Uliastai. This turquoise-blue lake offers an astonishing spectacle. It’s surrounded by the sand dunes of Bor Khyar that litterally dive into its waters. The Tudevtei mountains at North, Burkhantolgoi and Burgast ones at East, Tovkhosh ones at Southwest, perfectly complete the landscape. Lake Khar is 48 metres (157,48 feet) deep, it stretches on 30 kilometres (18,64 miles) long and 5 to 10 kilometres (3,11 – 6,22 miles) wide. On the lake, you can see two islands: Ikh, “big”, and Baga, “small”, Avkhash. This fish-rich lake will delight the fishermen/women, while the bird’s lovers will watch thirteen endemic species.
KHAR ZURKHNII KHOKH LAKE
Khukh Nuur, the blue lake with the black heart is located nearby the Tsenkher River, 35 kilometres (21,75 miles) North from the main road, in the sum of Tsenkhermandal, province of Khentii.
Geography: This freshwater blue lake is supplied by two underground springs. It’s located at the foot of Mountain Kharzurkh, “black heart”, 1675 metres (1,04 mile) above the sea level. The lake is surrounded by a lovely area made of verdant forests, a varied flora and important fauna.
History: The lake is one of the most important places of Mongolian history : here, in 1189, Temuujin was crowned and became Genghis Khan, “the great king ocean” who unified the different nomads tribes in 1206. In the book “the Secret History of Mongols”, that concentrates many chronicles about the life of Genghis Khan, the names of the places “Khukh Nuur” and Mount “Kharzurkh” are actually mentioned. On the banks of the lake, you’ll see a monument dedicated to the birth of Genghis Khan (1162). Around this monument, on an arc of circle that has a diameter of 108 metres (354,33 feet), 36 wooden statues representing the different kings of the lineage of Genghis Khan have been erected. In the centre of this arc, you can admire the statues of his father Esukhei, of his mother Oulen, and the statue of Queen Borte. On the two sides of the door, you can also see nine statues of Genghis Khan’s generals. In total, it’s no less than 50 wooden statues that form the memorial. At the foot of each statue of king, some signs in Mongolian and in English will give you information about the history of the statue and the events in which it’s supposed to have taken part.
It is located in the district of Khyargas, province of Uvs, at an altitude of approximately 1025m above see level. From its size of 75km long by 31km large, it is considered the second main lake on the west part of Mongolia, being one of the 4 lakes in Mongolia that have a surface area of over 1000 km². The average depth is 50m. It is a salt lake, in contrast with the fresh water found in the Khusvgul Lake, the biggest of the country. One thing to note is this major salty lake is coming partly from another one small named Airag lake, which is a freshwater one. It is part of an ecosystem that has been preserved by the authorities, and considered as a National Natural Park. A preservation program was launched in 2000, covering an area of about 3,328 km². Classified as The Great Lakes Basin by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it has become a priority and unique terrestrial ecoregion. Besides its beauty, one other feature of this lake is providing a lot of activities around. You can for example do some fishing, where you will find some unique varieties of fish like the herrings of Altai and Nokhoi, or the pikes. Observation of birds is also possible around the lake, as lots of migratory and nomadic birds are gathering. Of course a true Mongolian experience implies visiting nomadic families, horse and camel riding, and play different games like the ankle bone.
Lake Ögii is located 1337 metres (0,83 mile) above the sea level, in the Eastern Arkhangai. It is 7,9 kilometres (4,91 miles) long, 5,3 kilometres (3,29 miles) wide, and covers an area of 25 square kilometres (9,65 square miles). Its maximal depth is 15,3 metres (50,20 feet), but more than half the lake is less than 3 metres (9,8 feet) deep. It’s a very fish-rich lake (pikes, perches, carps, burbots, stone loaches, etc.) and an important place where the migratory birds usually stop, notably those belonging to family Anatidae. The local inhabitants consider the lake as a place of worship. Many yurts camps are settled on its banks and it’s possible to rent canoes. Fishermen and fisherwomen will enjoy casting their fishing rod in the waters of the lake.
KHAGIIN KHAR LAKE
Khagiin Khar Lake, formed during the Quaternary glaciation, is located about 50 km northeast of Terelj-national-park. Belonging to the Khentii Mountain range, the lake lies at 1,800 meters above sea level between the mountains of Khiidiin Saridag, Khünkher, Asgat Saridag and Khölöriin Davaa. The lake is 2 Km², 2.5 km long, 1 km wide and 30m deep. The Khol river takes its source and flows through a canyon whose walls reach 20m high, before flowing into the Khongor River. The lake is located in a very remote and inaccessible area. Fishing there is ideal, and we can catch plenty of carps.
Orkhon Falls or ”Orkhonii Khürkhree”, white waves flowing on the black stone, transformed in rainbow by sunrays… These 16-metres (52,5 feet) high and 5-metres (16 feet) wide waterfalls are just magic ! Orkhon waterfalls formed 20.000 years ago after a unique combination of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In the heart of summer, their flow is very important, but they can dry up during spring. It’s the Ulaan Tsutgalaan River, ”Red Confluence”, which forms these falls by flowing into the Orkhon River. From the camp of the families living in the surroundings, they can be an ideal hike along the river, or a ride among the steppes.
Located in the Turgen Uul Mountain Range, the 36meter high Baga Turgenii Khurkhree waterfall is segmented in two-stage. The first part is 23meters and the second one is 13meters. The Turgen River originates from the glacial snowmelt.
KHONGOR SAND DUNES
Khongor dunes,”Khongoriin Els”, are the most important sand mass of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Its area is more than 900 square kilometres (347, 49 square miles). It’s one of the largest sandy areas of Mongolia. Suddenly standing out from the plains, they are undoubtedly among the most spectacular of the country. The wind continuously blows from North towards West and the dunes can reach breathtaking heights, between 100 and 300 metres (328,08 – 984,25 feet) at their highest points. Khongor dunes are more than 180 km long and can reach 27 kilometres (16,28 miles) wide. The inhabitants name their imposing dunes ”singing dunes” due to the noise made by the wind when it moves the sand. Beyond the dunes, the steppe extends as far as the eye can see. Khongor dunes have a particular appeal, because they have an impressing combination of colours (the dunes are pale yellow). At north, they are lined with a green and luxuriant vegetation band, delimited by a river: Khongoriin Gol. Supplied by subterranean sources, this little river flows along the dunes on a few kilometres, and forms an oasis in the middle of the dried landscape. This area is also very rich in dinosaurs’ fossils and in mineral deposits.
UUSHIGIIN OVOR DEER STONE
Uushigiin Övör’s deer stones are engraved with deer and stars, and they date back from Bronze Age. They’re located twenty kilometres west Mörön. It’s a funeral combinationcomposed of graves and fourteen granite steles, decorated with deer in their upper part. They are between 2 and 4 metres (6,5 – 13 feet) high and 0,5 metres (1,6 feet) wide. In symbiosis with the natural environment, these huge sculpted stones stand in the middle of the steppe like marvellous accounts of past and of the people who came in this area thousands of years ago. These steles delimit sacred spaces and represent living beings lying, particularly animals. They are still respected and feared. We also find other objects, such as belts, bows, quivers, knives or shields.
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