While Mongolia is famous for the vast Gobi Desert, it’s not all there is to see by a long shot. Picture endless steppe, rolling hills, lakes and rivers, dotted with herds of wild horses and ger camps. It’s beautiful, dramatic and deserted.
I joined a 15-day tour from Ulaanbaatar through Golden Gobi for $535 and the first nine days were spent in the Arkhangai and Uvurkhangai provinces in Central Mongolia. Say hello to The Horselords! Jay, Marsha (Mongolia’s best driver), João, Steve, myself, Sebastian, our wonderful guide Jarra, and Antoine.
Terkhiin Tsagaan (White Lake)
Day 1 and 2
After a very long bus ride from UB to a tiny town called Tariat we spent our first night on the floor of a families house, and the next morning we were driven in the back of their truck to the shores of White Lake. It was a lovely, sunny day and we explored the area for a while, there was a small town (that was all but deserted) and a few ger camps, but we didn’t see many people and we definitely didn’t see any other tourists. It’s a gorgeous place to relax and I was excited to try out some astrophotography with the reflection of the stars on the lake! Then it started snowing…
Khorgo Uul Volcano
We woke up to a completely different scene from the blue skies of the day before; grey clouds and everything covered in a few inches of snow. It was freezing and we were reluctant to leave the fire, but we wrapped up warm and set out for a day hike to the nearby volcano. We trekked along the road that we drove the day before and had lunch at the base of Khorgo Uul. It was a quick, easy climb to the top of the vast crater and despite the weather, there was still a good view from the top. Once we hiked back down we stopped at Yellow Dog Cave and proceeded to smash all the ice in the small pond by chucking boulders at it, very
childish satisfying. It was a long, cold walk back and we were grateful to get back to the warm ger for dinner!
Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes)
Our fourth day was spent in our trusty Russian UAZ truck driving along dirt roads for over 250km passing a deep gorge, crossing rivers and eventually arriving at our stunning ger camp just in time for dinner and a few bottles of vodka.
The next morning we had breakfast and relaxed until lunch. The sun was shining and we packed our bags, ready for a hike into the mountains to reach the Eight Lakes. It was a relatively easy 7km hike that took just over 4 hours. The view from the ger was incredible, we had a spectacular sunset and I finally got to try out my new lens for some astrophotography!
The next morning we were greeted with another snowstorm and it was a struggle to leave the warm ger, but we came here to ride horses and that’s what we did. Mongolian horses are tiny and stubborn but extremely tough creatures, they had no problems trudging through the snow for four hours while we were all frozen half to death by the end of it. However, it was probably the funniest day of the entire trip: only two of us had ridden before and watching everyone have to learn in a blizzard was hilarious.
The next day was sunny again, but it was a slow trek back through the snow to our truck with a hot lunch and cold beer waiting for us. We drove the 20km back to the snow-free ger camp from the fourth night and many more bottles of vodka were consumed after staying sober for two whole nights.
Ulaan Tsutgalan Waterfall
Luckily our eighth day was sunny and snow-free because we all had to get back on a horse. We rode an easy 5km until we reached a waterfall falling over the edge of the cliff into a valley filled with fir trees. We had time to climb down to the bottom before riding back to meet the truck, it was time to hit the ‘road’ again, only 100km to the old capital city and our last night in Central Mongolia. And what better way to live it up than with hot showers and electricity for the first time in a week? Pure luxury.
The ancient capital city of Kharakhorum was originally built by Ogedai Khan, son of Ghengis Khan. It was the opposite of what his father would have wanted after he spent much of his life crushing cities from China to the Middle East, but Ogedai wanted a centre for the Mongol nation. Unfortunately, most of it has been destroyed but we visited the small Kharakhorum museum where you can see a model of how the ancient city used to look, and we spent an hour at the Erdene Zuu monastery. It was a long, slow and very bumpy 250km south into the Gobi Desert, to start the second week of our tour!
While we only saw a small portion of what Central Mongolia has to offer, but it was a great start. After finishing the tour I have to say that Central Mongolia is a lot more beautiful and has more to offer than the Gobi Desert, if you’re short on time I’d recommend spending it here!
If you have any questions about travelling in Mongolia, feel free to leave a comment below.