Mongolia: A Natural Museum

A canvas of untouched beauty capped by a sky so blue with its 260 days of sun a year, home to the last authentic nomads, 200 dead volcanoes, incredible snow mountains, breathtaking lakes, unique culture & hidden treasures, Mongolia is truly a ‘Natural Museum’. With the towering sand dunes and red stone cliffs of the Gobi desert in the south, covered with thick forests, peaceful meadows & crystal clear lakes in the north, rugged mountains, snow capped peaks, scenic lakes & glaciers in the west, rolling steppes, horses, grass & wildlife in the east & the rich historical & cultural heritage bang in the centre, one must travel to this most sparse country in the world to escape civilization & enjoy these natural beauties.

This land of Chinggis Khan has barely changed over the years. Once upon a time the most powerful country in the world, it now remains a country with abundant wilderness, ancient ways of life & a language barrier, so it pays to travel with a trusted local with wilderness survival skills, which is what we at Utopiic offer all our members.

Art & Culture: Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, is a mixed bag of old & new, of traditional & modern & of hope & despair. The look of the city is not very welcoming with its block communist style buildings, but a visit to the Winter Palace of Bogd Khan for a glimpse of Tibetan religion, the Zaisan monument where you can view the entire city amidst colourful illustrations of soldier camaraderie, the Kultegin monument housing artefacts from the Turkish Empire, the traditional folk show & a walk through the modern Sukhbaatar (parliament) square, gandan monastery, the largest horse statue of Chinggis Khan, national history museum & the all night bars, clubs & shopping paradise of the black market may be up your alley!

Their ancient culture & religion is deeply rooted in the natural earth & the nomads worship different animals & natural wonders. Karakoram, the ancient capital of Chinggis Khan, has the first Buddhist centre - Erdene Zuu Monastery. The monastery, before the purge, had 100 temples & was home to 1000 monks, but after the destruction of monasteries in the soviet purge, only 3 temples remain.

700 standing rocks & stonemen exist in the world & over 500 exist in Mongolia. Visit the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park with its 1000s of ancient rock carvings, mysterious stone men & burial mounds. These are the most complete & best preserved visual record of human prehistoric representation called the petroglyphic complex. The 1000s of years of ancient tribal history & culture dated from the Neolithic to Bronze Age depict transition from ancient hunters & warriors to livestock breeding & nomadism.

Visit a local family to learn about nomadic life. They live in ger camps - round portable dwellings, covered with animal skin for warmth. The horse culture is very prevalent as the horses are strong, fast & flexible. Mongolia is also home to the Golden Eagles, who are used by the nomads for hunting & are trained from a very young age.

Mongolians love their festivals & the harsh winters are spent in celebrations of Golden Eagle festival, Winter Horse festival, Ice festival & the Thousand Camel festival aimed at protecting the endangered two humped Bactrian camels & increasing the income of the nomads. The Naadam festival is a colourful, historical, exciting & the only summertime fest celebrated by them. Ask Utopiic if cultural immersion is more your kind of trip.

Food & Drinks: There is a common saying amongst the nomadic tribes of Mongolia that they will happily offer the last meals to their guests even when they are low on food! The nomads are known for their kindness & amazing hospitality. Food here is basically meat of the cattle - mutton soup, mutton dumplings, mutton on a stick…& more mutton soup. The Kazakhs favourite dish is the ‘Kaz’ - a natural sausage dish made of horse meat. It is extremely tasty & beneficial for health. Apart from meat, dairy products from cattle like curd & butter are available everywhere. Araig, the alcohol from fermented mare’s milk, though pungent, does the rounds at all the local camps! They usually drink green tea with milk & salt mixed in it, which may sound weird but is definitely interesting. Cook dinner with the family & learn to make boz (dumplings) & try their dried meat snacks (Borts) with some beer.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it isn’t easy to find restaurants or meals with the local nomads, but Utopiic has ties with the local organic farms in small villages & can provide a special menu of fresh fruits & vegetables as wellas imported wine & cheese throughout the journey.

Health & Wellness: Ovoo is a great place to explore the nuances of beliefs of shamanic rituals. They call our souls ‘wind horse’ & practice both soul & body healing with nature, meditation, yoga, tai chi & shamanic rituals. You can also work with a Shaman & learn all their arts through Utopiic.

Orkhon valley is a beautiful, relaxing place & it is pure bliss to hike through the forest to Khuisiin Naimaan Nuur (8 lakes). The Orkhon waterfall is the biggest in Mongolia & the Tsenkher hot springs are a short hike from here. You can even go skinny dipping & even buy some refreshing beers!

Massage is a traditional healing art that has been practiced in Mongolia for thousands of years. With Utopiic you can enjoy various forms including the cupping therapy at the hands of a native Bariach (Masseuse) while sampling some local healing green teas after a long & fulfilling day of exploration.

Wildlife & Nature: From rocky cliffs to ice valleys, dinosaur fossils to white stupas, singing sand dunes to an abundance of wildlife & nomads with their two humped Bactrian camels, the Mongolian Gobi desert in the south evokes the sense of an alien world. Khongoryn Els sand dunes, ‘singing sands’, are a long stretch of mountainous golden coloured dunes, even more magnificent in the winters as they get covered by snow. They make a sound when the wind blows over them & they feel like they are vibrating. The Yolyn Am Valley is an ice field with its dramatic rocky cliffs & shade clad canyons which prevent ice from melting even in the summers. Keep your eyes peeled for wild sheep, ibex & bearded vultures in the deep ravines. Tsagaan Suvarga or White Stupa is a unique sand pinnacle formation, an unknown natural wonder in the desert. They were once the floor of an ocean. How crazy is that?!

North Mongolia is often called Mongolian Switzerland for its scenic beauty. Lake Khovsgol is one of the freshest lakes on Earth & is called the ‘Blue Pearl of Mongolia’. It is home to reindeer herders & shamans. Watch out for the Pallas’s cat - the rarest felines in the world.

The hidden lakes - Khoton & Khurgan promise rare wildlife & crystal clear, icy cold water. The Altai ranges are home to red deers, brown bears, gray wolves, foxes & marmots. Endangered species like the snow lynx, argali wild sheep & snow leopards can also be spotted here while impressive birds like the golden eagle, eurasian eagle owl, snowcock & several species of falcons call this home.

Eastern Mongolia is just never ending, green, rolling hills & steppes. It is home to 200 dead volcanoes, 60 stonemen statues & lake Ganga with its 1000s of swans.

Adventure & Sports: Hiking, horseback riding, yak treks, mountain climbing, dinosaur fossil & egg finding & many more fun adventures are waiting for you! Ask your Utopiic lifestyle manager for the best trails through the woods or take a boat trip or go kayaking on the Khovsgol lake. You can also learn fly fishing in the summers & ice fishing in the winters to cook dinner with the local families!

Initiated by WWF, Silver Reeds Winter festival promotes diverse ethical cultures, old traditions & winter sporting games like Uncle’s bone shooting on the ice - a traditional game for loving couple teams & mounted archery. Take mounted archery workshops with the native experts to challenge yourself!

The sand dunes are hard to climb, so expect to get sweaty, but the never-ending view from top is worth it, plus you can sled down, which is awesome! Camel caravaning to the top is also an option & can be quite the adventure! Utopiic can organise stargazing as the milky way makes a grand appearance most nights & makes for amazing night sky photography.

The Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs are the Mongolian version of the Grand Canyon & look bright orange at sunset, like flames. It is a great site to go exploring for dinosaur fossils & eggs. The Altai has the 5 highest peaks of Mongolia & the Potanin glacier. If you enjoy mountain climbing, ask your Utopiic manager for an experienced local guide who can help you climb all 5 mountains or hike the glacier even if you’re a beginner!

Whether it’s extreme activities or a sunset walk, bike riding & even learning to build a ger, you are covered & a mindblowing adventure awaits!

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