Mongolia - Altai Mountains
Mongolia is a fascinating country. It was once the home to Genghis Khan, who created the largest land empire the world has ever seen. Shrouded by the cloak of communism for so many years, it is a country we know so little about, and remains one of the world's truly undiscovered travel destinations. It is a land of nomadic herders tending to their animals on seas of rolling green grass beneath blue skies.
It is the 7th largest country in Asia, yet with just 2.3 million people it has one of the lowest population densities in the world. Outside Ulaan Baatar (Red Hero), the capital and centre of religion, administration and economics, be prepared to step into a land that time forgot as herders continue a lifestyle passed on through generations. World famous for camels wandering the Gobi Desert and for wild horses galloping across the steppe, this is a unique and exhilarating country to explore.
Areas & Borders
Mongolia is located in the heart of Central Asia, covering an area of 610,935sq miles. It borders with China to the south and Russia to the north.
Much of Mongolia is covered by grasslands, known as steppe. In the west and centre of Mongolia lie large mountain ranges. The southern third of Mongolia is dominated by the Gobi Desert. To the north there are larch & pine forests, extending up through Siberia. Mongolia has numerous rivers and both fresh & saltwater lakes.
Until the end of the 12th century, the Mongols consisted of a loose confederation of rival clans. The Great Mongol Empire was established in the 13th century by Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, who united these clans. By the time of his death in 1227, the Mongol empire extended from Beijing to the Caspian Sea.
In more recent times, Mongolia was under the rule of the Chinese and the Soviet Union. In 1990, with Soviet reforms under Mikhail Gorbachev, Mongolia suddenly found itself free from its strong neighbors and democratic elections were held. By the 21st century, a peaceful transition from Soviet satellite to flourishing open-market democracy had occurred.
The major religion in Mongolia is Buddhism. The 1st Mongolian Buddhist monastery was built on the ruins of the ancient Mongolian Capital Karakorum in 1586. During the years of the communist purge in the late 1930's over 17,000 lamas were arrested and monasteries and temples were closed, ransacked and burned. Today Buddhism is experiencing a revival and monasteries and temples are being rebuilt. Coexisting peacefully alongside Buddhism for centuries among the nomads is the practice of Shamanism, the worship of the earth spirit and mother-nature. Around 6% of the population are Muslim, primarily with the ethnic Kazakhs in the far west of the country.
Many think of Mongolia as a land of endless rolling grasslands, yet in the far western corner of this landlocked country dramatic glaciated peaks (Altai Nuruu) rise out of the steppe and form natural borders with China and Russia.
This range stretches from the Gobi Desert in a mostly continuous chain to the Tien Shan then ultimately the Karakorum Range. Bayan Olgii province is ethically Kazakh, and shares much that is culturally common with neighboring Xinjiang in China and Kazakhstan. Despite herders living in 'gers' similar to the rest of the country, this province's traditional dress, food and customs are distinctly Kazakh. The gers are traditionally made from felt and wood cross hatch, the large round shelters each house a number of beds and a stove in the center where most of the cooking is done. The ceiling has a retractable roof that can open and close, weather permitting. Floors may remain open so that you sit on grass or covered with rugs. As the cold weather approaches, additional layers of felt are added to the exterior walls.
Mongolia's lush alpine pastures make ideal grazing lands during the summer months and local herders bring their herds of yaks, sheep and horses, adding a cultural element to the mountains. In the wintertime local herders use Golden eagles for hunting small ground animals. Capturing eagles as chicks, the eagles are trained to hunt fox, wolf, rabbit & marmot. Most of the hunting is done in the fall, as the falconer will free the eagle and follow on horseback. Once the eagle grabs hold of a fox, the falconer must pry the eagle away from the catch in an attempt to save the fox pelt.
The highest peaks - Tavan Bogd (5 Holy Peaks) are located in the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in the west of Bayan Olgii.
Mt Khuiten (4374m/14,350ft) - Khuiten means cold in the Mongolian language and is the highest peak in the country. It was 1st climbed in 1956 by a team of Mongolian and Russian climbers and by westerners for the first time in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since this time a relatively small number of climbers have visited these mountains during the brief summer months.
Camp is set high up on the Potaniin Glacier; the traverse is made around the base of the North West ridge via glaciated terrain and up onto a col. The climb then heads south, up a steep face to the true summit of Khuiten. Here magnificent views of China and Mongolia can be witnessed.
Mt Nairandal (4180m/13,720ft) - The triple border peak with Russia, China and Mongolia - aptly named Nairandal or 'Friendship' peak in Mongolian.
Malchin (4037m/13,240ft) - The route up Malchin is a straightforward ascent from base camp on steep scree, though the North side of the summit drops away steeply and can be completely covered in ice.