Naadam Games & Altai Mountains
Celebrate the famous Naadam Games in rural settings in the far west of Mongolia. At the Great Lakes Basin of West Gobi. All Mongolia is on its hooves for two full days in mid-July. You will also venture into the snow-capped Altai Mountains. You will experience the best of the last remaining nomadic cultures of Eurasia, both from Kazakh and Mongol ethnic backgrounds. Especially getting to meet with a hunter with his Golden Eagle. This trip is also extended to the northeast Hentii province to experience a secluded monastery ruin and amazing cranes.
PRICE On request
SEASON July only
TRIP TYPE Place-based Experiences
ACCOMMODATION Private 360° Wilderness Camps and hotel in Hovd
ACTIVITIES Day hikes. Encounter with nomads of various groups and eagle hunters.
DURATION 14 days ex-Ulan Bator
We will venture to the Altai Mountains to hike into prime snow leopard habitat in Bayan-Ölgii province. We will meet Kazakh nomads on their remote summer pastures on the China border with Xinjiang. You will travel into Hovd province to get lost into the Naadam Games, both in the provincial capital of Hovd as well as in rural communities. Horse races with children jockeys charging across the plains. Archery and Wrestling.
Our journey will also venture to the northeast of the country. To Hentii, where there are the amazing archaeological remains of the secluded Öglögch Wall and petroglyphs. There is also the remote Baldan Bereeven Monastery, which has been partly restored, where a few local lamas are happy to strike a conversation in Mongol. Potentially you can see five different species of cranes around the Daurian steppe lakes.
We would love to tailor a custom trip for you.
On the arrival day, to orient yourself we suggest a stroll on to central Sukhbaatar Square. The square is flanked by state buildings from the mid Soviet Era, and contains statues of Genghis Khan (seated) and Damdin Sukhbaatar (on horseback). A full day of explorations of Ulan Bator. The National Museum of Mongolia to admire its ethnographic collections of nomadic culture and examine the history which led to the imperial era of Genghis Khan. The Gandan Monastery, the busiest Buddhist site in Mongolia. Mongols share a strong religious affinity with Tibet, and the Dalai Lama as its supreme leader. The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan.
TO DELUUN VIA ÖLGII
An early morning plane Ulan Bator will fly you the two-to-three hours to Ölgii. You will continue the journey by Land Cruisers for the four-hour drive to Deluun. Ready your cameras for beautiful Tolbo Lake, with the snow-capped Sair mountain serving as backdrop. Deluun, a small Kazakh village, is located on the west side of Hökh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park. Your private 360° Wilderness Ger Camp will be set up either along the Buyant River or in the Chigertei Valley, ready for three nights of glorious isolation.
HÖKH SERKHIIN NURUU & CHIGERTEI NATIONAL PARKS
You will set off on foot up the Ikh Yamaat (Big Goat) Valley, of Hökh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park, where with luck you might encounter hundreds of Siberian ibex. The Argali sheep, the world’s largest wild sheep, is also sometimes seen. These are prey animals to snow leopards, which are tracked and studied here by the Altai Research Institute. On one of the days. you will reach the remote border zone, summer highland pastures of Kazakh nomads at high elevation at the main ridge of the Altai Mountains, which marks the border with China’s Xinjiang province. There, we will strike up a conversation with these hardy nomads herding their sheep and goats, some of whom are prominent eagle hunters as well as pastoralists. Chigertei National Park joins with Keketuohai National Park across the border, the so-called ‘Yosemite of China’. Camera traps here enable ongoing research into wolverines. Numerous archaeological remains in the area, including kurgans (grave mounds) and Deer Stones, reveal evidence of habitation by Scythians, Hunnu, and layers of later cultures.
Today we break camp and drive the four-to-five hours to Hovd Province, departing Altai proper and entering a region where the majority of inhabitants are not Kazakhs but Mongols. Hovd is an appealing, multi-ethnic town of Halkh Mongols, Myangad Mongols, Kazakhs and other peoples, hence why it boasts both Buddhist temples and a mosque. Hovd also has a noteworthy local museum, the only university in West Mongolia, and a vibrant local market to explore.
We will dedicate two days to enjoy Naadam Games in two settings. One at any of the nearby communities of Buyant, Duut Mankhan, Chandman or Dörgön, in order to experience a traditional rural Naadam Games, mostly featuring Mongolian wrestling and horse-racing. These are festival-style celebrations which draw entire steppe communities together, including those in the wider diaspora, such as ‘city-dwellers’ from Ulan Bator or Hovd come to be with their kin. People will dress in the best attire for the occasion. The horse-racing takes place over distances of up to 32km, with children, aged between four and 12 years old, as jockeys. Nomads take this event very seriously, training horses for 21 days prior to the race as they put their equestrian rearing skills to the ultimate test. To the victor goes fame and the admiration of the community. One of the days we will dedicate to Hovd. As well as horse-racing and wrestling, the games in Hovd will probably also feature archery. Together known as the ‘three manly games’, they have been practiced since at least medieval times and the heyday of the Mongol Empire. During the festivities, we will also encounter local throat singers and horsehead fiddle players. Throat-singing is claimed to have originated from Hovd’s Chandmani community in the nearby Great Lakes Basin.
TO JARGALANT STEPPE VALLEY VIA ULAN BATOR
Today you will transfer to the nearby airport and fly back to the capital, for the transfer to your hotel in downtown Ulan Bator. The following day after breakfast we will depart the city eastwards, making a brief stop at the Genghis Khan Monument, the world’s largest equestrian statue, just under an hour into our journey. Crossing the bridge over the Kherlen River, we will enter Hentii province and continue on to the Jargalant Steppe Valley, seasonal summer pastures for local nomads and their livestock. Here we will visit Deer Stones dating back to the Turkic period from the 7th to 9th century AD, predating the era of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Your private 360° Wilderness Ger Camp has been set up for you on the summer pastures of many Mongol nomads. We will remain here for two overnights.
BALDAN BEREEVEN MONASTERY
Tucked away in the nearby hills, the secluded Baldan Bereeven Monastery was founded in 1654 and rose to become one of the most important monasteries of eastern Mongolia with up to 8000 resident lamas. We will explore the remains of the site – it was destroyed during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s, but the main temple has since undergone renovation – and chat to the last few lamas here, who are friendly and keen to talk about their experiences. The monastery itself abuts the steep cliffs of Mönkh Ölziit, and the scenic grounds are surrounded by sacred mountains rich in Buddhist petroglyphs. Return to our private glamp camp.
TO THE ONON RIVER
Today, your entire 360° Wilderness Camp will be packed up, loaded on to a small truck, and transported to your next site. Meanwhile, you will explore various points of interest on route, beginning with Binder Ovoo, one of the most sacred cairns in Mongolia, believed to have been here since the time of Genghis Khan. Nearby is the famous Rashaant Had (Spring Rock), so named because spring waters bubble forth directly from it. Petroglyphs indicate that it has been an important site for thousands of years. Next, we will continue into taiga forest to the hidden Öglögch Wall, a stone wall several kilometers long believed to date from the era of the Xiongnu (Hunnu), just before the birth of Christ. You may look for the secret of Genghis Khan’s grave here. After hiking along the wall, we’ll stop for a picnic lunch before journeying to camp, already set up somewhere convenient at a scenic and private spot.
ONON RIVER OR DAURIAN STEPPE LAKES
Today you can choose to explore the area of Binder and meet its Buryat Mongol inhabitants, or head to the Daurian Steppe Lakes, habitat to several crane species and kept in place by underlying permafrost. Keep an eye out for five of the world’s crane species that may be seen here, including the rare Siberian crane, Hooded crane, and White-naped crane. Great bustards (Otis tarda) are also commonly seen, the heaviest flying bird in the world - as large as a border collie with wings! The village of Binder sits beside the Onon River, the longest tributary of the Amur which drains into the Pacific Ocean through Russia. Together they comprise the longest undisturbed river in all of Eurasia. People around Binder are Buryat Mongols, a Mongol-speaking people who immigrated from east of Lake Baikal in nearby Siberia.
TO ULAN BATOR & DEPARTURE
After breakfast we we´ll drive for one hour to the small community airstrip at Binder village, where a Cessna Caravan aircraft, landing and taking off directly on to the grass, will fly you the one-and-a-half hours to Ulan Bator’s international airport in time for your connecting flight out of Mongolia.
This is a relatively accessible location my Mongolian standards, only a 3hr drive from Ulaanbaatar, yet feeling surprisingly wild and remote. The trip can suit varying levels of fitness as there are options to hike, ride or travel by yak cart. It’s an outdoors experience with camping in comfort and a unique style.
- All overnight accommodations.
- English and Mongol-speaking guide for the duration of the trip.
- All transport incl domestic flights.
- Land Cruisers max 3 guests’s sharing one vehicle.
- Activities as per itinerary.
- All meals outside Ulan Bator.
- Camp entourage including cook, camp master, and guide.
- National Park entry fee.
- Air or train tickets to/from Mongolia.
- Lunches and dinners in Ulan Bator.
If you’d prefer some hiking and open-air slow travel you may consider adding a few extra days to trek in East Gobi supported by local nomads and camel carts, or in Khan Khentii supported by yak carts. Alternatively, you may wish to replace the Hentii portion of this journey with one of the aforementioned trek segments.
You may also consult with us about spending the main Naadam days in Ulan Bator, which presents a more largescale version of the games than in the countryside.
FLEXIBLE ITINERARY: Naadam Games are celebrated nationwide in every province and in every community provided that there is no drought or other local threat to pastoralist livelihoods. For the best and most authentic experience, we endeavor to help you experience Naadam in remote communities. Because the dates for local Naadam Games are decided according to the lunar calendar and subject to change, this might entail a reshuffling of some of the days of this itinerary. The games won’t be postponed; rather they might take place earlier, in which case we can switch days in Deluun with days in Hovd, yet still fly on the same dates.
Ulan Bator Arrangements
Our trips can be customized and combined in a modular fashion. Your stay in Ulan Bator will be quoted separately, allowing you the choice of hotels and experiences matching your entries and exits in our capital.
All Ulaanbaatar packages include:
- private chauffeur service to and from the airport at the start and end of your trip;
- city guide and private driver available as required;
- the services of our Ulaanbaatar guest relations team;
The Eastern Steppes is a region of global conservation significance. Khar Yamaat SPA is now under management by WWF, while TNC is supporting Tolsonhulstai SPA. WCS has done extensive scientific research on the Gazelles, and are working with herder community groups to support Gazelle conservation in the region.
South of the Onon River, Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre undertake research on the plains on Cranes, partnering with The International Crane Foundation. Five different species of Cranes can sometimes be seen here!
Jalman Meadows Ger Camp
On this trip we spend the last night at Nomadic Journeys’ Jalman Meadows Ger Camp. This is a well-appointed low impact ger camp with no permanent structures.
Bedrooms, dining room, and even hot shower are all housed in traditional Mongolian gers. At the end of the season the camp is fully dismantled for the winter, and re-erected the following spring.