The majestic western Mongolia is definitely the most beautiful part of the country. The mountainous area climate is extreme with very little vegetation, giving the surrounding landscape a barren appearance. The stunning mountains of Altai are home to wild animals such as the globally endangered Snow Leopard, Argali and Ibex, as well as wolves and many bird species.
Ethnic groups: Altai area is a place where many ethnic groups inhabit. You will meet the Kazakh, Tuva, Torguud and many other small groups and enjoy their distinctive traditions and lives. The Kazakh is a small ethnic group of Turkic origin that was one of Genghis Khan's tribes. They are Muslims and now live peacefully keeping their completely different customs, strict traditions, religion and inhabit the Altai Mountains. Not like their relatives in Kazakhstan, they speak in their own Kazakh language as Mongolian government gave them the rights to keep and conserve their native language and religion. Mongolians can be subdivided into more than 20 different ethnic groups, which are scattered across the country. These groups can be distinguished by their individual customs, histories and dialects.
The largest ethnic group is Khalha which accounts for over 75% of the total population mainly live in central, eastern and southern Mongolia. The Oirats are a group of ethnic western Mongolians, which includes smaller groups, Durvud, Torgud, Bayad, Uuld, Zakhchin, Myangad and Uriankhai. Since the early history of Mongolian Oirat people have resided around Siberias Lake Baikal, the Sayan Mountain Ranges in Northern Mongolia and forested areas within the Altai Mountain Range. Northern Mongolian ethnic groups include the Darkhat, Tsaatan, and Khotgoid. They inhabit the dense forests of Khuvsgul lake area, near the Russian border. The Buryat are the only group who originates from the vast eastern steppe.
Key destinations: Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, Mongolia’s largest lake and UNESCO world heritage site Uvs Lake basin, snow capped mountains of Tsambagarav and Sutai, Khoid Tsenkher caves with ancient rock paintings, Khar & Telmen Lakes to name a few.
Activities: horse riding, trekking, mountain climbing, hunting with Golden Eagle experience, rafting, bird watching, 4x4 driving and fishing.
Khoid Tsenkheriin Agui or the Blue Caves dating 20,000-15,000 years ago are rightfully considered world class evidence of the Upper Paleolithic period. Numerous symbols and animals painted with rosy and brown colors deep inside the cave are world class evidence of the Upper Paleolithic period. The rugged beauty of Bayan-Ulgii province with its pointed mountain tops reaching for the sky and vast valleys crisscrossed with meandering streams has always stood out of the Western aimags of Mongolia. Bayan-Ulgii is the home to the second largest ethnic group - the Kazakhs with their unique culture who continue to hunt with trained golden eagles besides herding goats.
The Altai region is abundant with significant archaeological sites dating back to Paleolithic era, evidences of human habitation as far back as 40,000 and 12,000 years ago. Bronze age petro glyphs, man stones from the later Turkic period and deer stones along with Khurgan or burial mounds can be found. Elaborate graves of Scythian warriors and princesses have also been discovered in this region rich in natural wonders and archaeology. The Tsagaan Salaa and Baga Oirog rock paintings depicting prominent hunting and livestock are important monuments of the art of the transition from ancient hunters and gatherers’ society to livestock breeding and the beginning of the classic nomadic economy in Mongolia. The Altai mountain range stretching for 900 km across Russian, Mongolia, and China.
Tavan Bogd National Park
It has always stood out from any other part of Mongolia. The highest mountain peak, the KHUITEN UUL at 4,374 meters (14,300 feet) flanked by four other peaks along with the Potanin river, the source of a massive glacier, are commonly known as Tavan Bogd or the Five Saints. The range is home to Argali sheep, ibex, maria (large Siberian deer like elk), brown bear, marmot, fox and wolf, as well as the endangered snow leopard and lynx. Birds include Saker falcons, Altai snow cocks and golden eagles.
Uvs Nuur Basin, UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Uvs Nuur Basin, covering an area of 1,068,853 is the northern most of the enclosed basins of Central Asia. The basin is named after Uvs Nuur Lake a large, shallow and very saline lake, important for migrating birds, waterfowl and shorebirds. The site is made up of 12 protected areas representing the major biomes of eastern Eurasia. The steppe ecosystem supports a rich diversity of birds and the desert is home to a number of rare gerbil, ger boas and the marbled polecat. The mountains are an important refuge for the globally endangered snow leopard, argali (mountain sheep) and the Asiatic ibex.
In view of its unique climatic and hydrological regimes, the closed lake system of Uvs Nuur has great importance for the scientists. The scientists have an opportunity to unravel the rate at which Uvs Nuur (and other smaller lakes within the basin) has become saline and eutropic amidst an unchanging nature of nomadic pastoral use of the grasslands within the basin over thousands of years.
Altan Els or Golden Sands, part of the Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area is another wonderful area for wildlife viewing and lies on the border of Uvs and Zavkhan aimags.
Khyargas Nuur national park has wonderful hot springs. South of Khyargas Nuur at the end of Zavkhan River lays a freshwater lake Airag Nuur where more than 20 breeding pairs of migratory Dalmatian pelicans are found every year. Khar Us Nuur or Ulgii Nuur and Uureg lakes round off the many lakes of Uvs aimag each with its own natural beauty of flora and fauna. Lastly, Achit Lake the largest freshwater lake in Uvs offers stunning sunsets and sunrises and great fishing
This area comprised area of 1109.6 squear kilometers of Tsambagarav Mountain was established in 2000. It is located between Erdeneburen sum of Khovd aimag and Altantsogt and Bayannuur sums of Bayan-Ulgii aimag. The area is of significance for the study of glaciers and is also designated to protect snow leopards.
Zavkhan Aimag is well endowed with many rivers and lakes. In addition to 808 km long Zavkhan River responsible for the Aimag name, rivers like IDER, TES, and KHUN meander through the province. Lakes OTGON, TELMEN, KHAR, and KHOLBOO vary in size. The eastern edge of Zavkhan aimag is the western flank of the Khangai Nuruu, the second highest mountain range in Mongolia, and a spectacular area of forests and lakes, dotted with snow- clad peaks, white-water streams and hot and cold springs of Otgontenger, Ulaan Khaalga, and Khojuul add to the natural attractions of the aimag. The wildlife is represented by the forest bear, deer, boar, musk deer, wild sheep, ibex, lynx, and antelope in mountains and black-tailed antelope in the steppe. Bird species include black vultures, golden eagle, great bustards, Dalmatian pelican and black stork.
Otgontenger Mountain is located 60 km east of Uliastai, third historically significant settlement of Mongolia and the capital of Zavkhan aimag has been worshipped for centuries (women are not allowed to ascend the mountain). At 3,905 meters the mountain is the highest peak in Khangai range and is favored by hardcore mountaineers and alpine explorers.
The southern and western parts of Zavkhan present a stark contrast with its vast deserts, salt lakes and sand dunes where rain falls once or twice a year. The largest sand dune called the Mongol Els and Bor Khar sand coexist along the meandering rivers and lush green forests and valleys.
Khar Nuur nestled in the western part of Zavkhan aimag is surrounded by fine sand dunes and mountains covered in dense wood. It is one of the most stunning natural scenes so inviting and remote. The same holds true for salt Lake Bayannuur in the Bor Khar sand dunes where locals claim have good fishing. The nature reserves jointly protect the Altai habitat home of snow leopard, argali, ibex, wild ass, Gobi bear, the wild Bactrian camel, jerboa, and antelope to name just a few.
Takhiin Tal or the Wild Przewalski horse steppe borders with the northern section of the Dzungaria National Park. In 1996, 8 wild horses were reintroduced to the reserve and today there are more than 60.
Dashpeljeelin Khiid is a small monastery built in 1990 and home to 30 lamas who perform religious ceremonies and daily praying. The monastery located in the Gobi-Altai aimag capital is an example of religious revival of the country. More than 35 spots of historical and cultural significance such as ruins of ancient cities, religious and cultural artifacts, burial grounds, etc are spread across the 14 soums of Gobi-Altai.
Eej Khairkhan or the Mother Mountain Natural Reserve that took more than 100 years in making is a surreal experience. The Eej Khairkhan Mountain at 2,275 m is located in Gobi-Altai Aimag north of the Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area. The Nature Reserve came under state protection in 1992. For centuries, the Sacred Mother Mountain was revered and worshipped by the locals in their belief that the mountain blessed families with children. The nine green framed stone pools and paintings of ibex, horsemen, and archers are some of the attractions for nature lovers.