The untamed beauty and stark remoteness of Mongolia has captured the imagination of adventurers for centuries. Humble monks and curious nomads occupy a landscape dotted with not much more than herds of yaks, camels and the occasional Ger. To be immersed in a culture and way of life completely different from most – simply head to the far-flung magic of Mongolia.
Meg Koffel from Intrepid Travel shares her tips for getting off the beaten path in Mongolia.
The remote Amarbayasgalant Monastery is Mongolia's second most important place of worship, after Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, and is located in the beautiful Iven Gol River valley, at the foot of Burengiin Mountain, in Selenge province. It was built under the orders of the Manchu emperor, Yongzheng, between 1726 and 1736 and dedicated to Undur Gegeen Zanabazar, the great Mongolian Buddhist and sculptor. This Monastery is simply breathtaking and worth the travel to get there!
Tsetserleg, is a lovely provincial town with a local market and a unique little museum housed in a former temple which we visit with a local guide. The town is located in the beautiful forested valley in the Khangay Mountains and is considered one of the most pleasant provincial capitals in Mongolia. There's a chance to wander around the town to have a glimpse at what provincial Mongolian life is like and stock up on some snacks and drinks for the travels ahead. Make sure you visit the Tsenker Hot Springs nearby, 30km away, in the valley of the Delger River. Tsenkher's hot springs are the real deal. Natural, non-commercial and remote, the open-air springs offer hot and steamy rejuvenation amid unspoilt rugged mountain scenery.
Visit the ancient capital of Karakorum, built by the legendary Genghis Khan in the 13th century, and see the first Buddhist centre of Mongolia, the impressive Erdene Zuu Monastery. This is an immense walled compound which retains much of its former glory, and within it, inspect the three temples dedicated to the three stages of a Buddha's life: as a child, an adolescent and an adult. Nearby Karakorum, the landscape suddenly chances to an endless view of sand dunes. Intrepid Travel recommends that you take a short guided camel trek along the dunes and fulfil every nomadic dream!
Considered to be Mongolia's most beautiful destination, Lake Khovsgol is a pristine wilderness area home to many ethnic minorities. It boasts spectacular scenery with stunning fir forest, lush green grasslands and meadows peppered with wildflowers. This is a popular destination for local Mongolian holiday makers during the months of June and July. There are many activities at this stunning lake such as doing a horse treks along the shore, hiking to the nearby peaks, or simply take a boat trip out onto the lake.
A visit to Mongolia simply isn't complete without the true experience of nomadic life at a ger camp. Intrepid Travel's traditional Ger Homestay is located in mountainous outskirts of Ikh Uul in the Selenge River region. This powerful river in Northern Mongolia is surrounded by lush landscapes and agriculture. Home to a wide variety of wildlife and birds, this fertile area shows Mongolia in all its natural glory.
When you arrive at the ger camp you will be introduced to your hosts with a bowl of salty milk tea which will be passed around for everyone to take a sip. You'll also have a chance to help and prepare dinner and learn how to make a traditional Mongolian dish, such as buuz (steamed dumplings). The landscape at this ger camp is incredible and if you are lucky, your hosts might teach you some Mongolian games, maybe even how to shoot arrows from a local style bow. Although the conditions may be eye opening and a cultural shock for some, your hosts will be welcoming and the experience is without a doubt one of the highlights for our travellers travelling with us in Mongolia.
Mariana from MIR Corp tells us the things she wishes she'd known before traveling to the Mongolian hinterland.
The Mongolian people take pride in their customs and habits, so showing respect will go a long way. Here's what you need to know about the social etiquette of Mongolia.