Our action-packed itinerary took us from northern Mongolia at the Onon River to the far south in the Gobi, encompassing many of the country’s unique highlights.
In comfortable land cruisers we left Ulaanbaatar (UB) behind and set off through dramatic landscapes, and enjoyed our first views of graceful demoiselle cranes through the spotting scope. The crescent moon ger camp at Jalman Meadows was Mongolian camping at its best—in simple comfort and in a superb setting. Our two nights here were truly wonderful, since it allowed us to explore this beautiful region on foot, on horseback, and to visit a horse-herding family and their ger.
Combining the ancient and modern, Central Mongolian Air helicopters whisked us northeast on a short journey over the hills to the Onon River, giving us views of the first snows of the autumn on the peaks to the north. By mid-morning we had traded helicopter for rafts and were afloat in style on the Onon. Highlights along the way included an excellent riverside picnic, and both whooper swans and white-naped cranes.
Having enjoyed the north of the country and the cultural highlights of UB, we commenced the second half of our journey by flying to the southern wilds—the Gobi. We made our way along dusty tracks towards Bulgan Sum, stopping along the way to watch a small, nervous herd of white-tailed gazelle sprint at great speed away from us, and flocks of arid-land Pallas’s sandgrouse that flew up from beside the track. At the Saxaul Forest, or Bayanzag, which we tracked down by GPS, we were introduced to the first of our southern Gobi “picnics.” From our picnic table we could see the famous Flaming Cliffs, where Roy Chapman Andrews was successful in finding significant dinosaur remains (despite being on a hunt for mammalian bones!). Finally we climbed off the dusty plains towards the foothills of the mountains to reach our remote camp, with another warm welcome, at Dungenee.
The Dungenee valley and both the Dungenee and Yol gorges in the Gurvansaikan National Park provided us with some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery of our Mongolian journey. This was a day of raptors, with fantastic bearded vultures, steppe eagles, Eurasian kestrels, and saker falcons, and also a day of mammals with long-tailed souslik, dozens of pika posing for us to photograph them outside their burrows, and distant Siberian ibex, which we were able to enjoy through the telescope. The Yol Gorge provided another avian highlight in the form of not one, but at least four wallcreepers. This grey and crimson bird, reminiscent of a giant butterfly in its flight pattern gave us point blank views in the narrowest section of the gorge.
Our final destination was the wonderful hills and grasslands of Hustai National Park and further good weather greeted us as we set off to seek out the rare, reintroduced Przewalski’s horses. Our morning views of several horse groups were enhanced by the scope, as were those of red deer and Amur (Olga’s!) falcon. Further explorations of the park later in the morning and in the late afternoon gave us views of several Siberian marmots and brought our total of horse sightings to over 80.
Our opportunities to visit local families in their gers and to learn about their customs were especially memorable aspects of the trip. The telescope and tripod brought distant wildlife into view, and almost throughout the trip we were fortunate both with weather and with bird and animal life. Mongolia and its people were wonderful and exceeded all expectations.
Excerpts from the Welcome Home Letter written by Expedition Leader Mark Brazil for our August 2008 Mongolia: Land of Chinggis Khaan program.