Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mongolia | Eight Great Places

Wandering through the Web the other day I came across a story entitled 8 Best Places to Visit in Mongolia That Are Safe and Beautiful. First question: Are there some places in Mongolia that are not safe? Second: could these really be the “Best”? Wouldn’t “interesting” or “well-known” have been better word choices? “Best” is pretty subjective. Anyhow, here are the eight places on the list:

8. Sukhbaatar Square. 
Well, if you are going to visit Mongolia you will probably pass through Ulaanbaatar, and if you pass through Ulaanbaatar it is pretty hard to miss Sukhbaatar  Square. And I suppose it qualifies as safe and beautiful. OK. Stop for lunch at the Silk Road Restaurant just south of the square.

7. Terelj National Park
Almost any trip to Ulaanbaatar usually includes at least a day-trip to Terelj, just north of the city. OK, no argument with that. Be sure to wander by Aryaval Temple

6. Lake Khövsgöl
The Niagra Falls of Mongolia. You got to go there. Once. OK.

5. Genghis Khan Statue
It’s a big statue, no doubt; reportedly the biggest equestrian statue in the world! If big statues turn you on, go for it. Question: why didn’t the article include a photo of the statue? My photos:
(Click on photos for enlargements)

4. Orkhon Valley
The Orkhon Valley covers a lot of territory, most if not all of it arguably safe and beautiful. OK. Erdene Zuu in Kharkhorin is a must-see. 

3. Amarbayasgalant Monastery
I have been to Amabayasgalant a dozen times or more during the last twenty years.  Undeniably safe and beautiful. If you don’t like crowds avoid the big ceremony days, when the place turns into Woodstock without the music. 

2. Western Mongolia
Western Mongolia covers a LOT of territory. The authors could have been a little more specific. Still, not hard to find someplace safe and beautiful in Western Mongolia. 

1. Rock carvings on Yinshan Mountains
This is ranked #1 in the list of safe and beautiful places in Mongolia?  As the name suggests, the Yinshan Mountains are in China, not Mongolia. Whoops! The authors of the story went totally off the rails here. Is that why they included a photo of railroad tracks?

OK, here is my list of eight safe and beautiful places in Mongolia, in no particular order. They may not be the “Best”, but they are all places I have been. 

Asralt Khairkhan Mountain in Tôv Aimag. 9,173-foot Asralt Khairkhan Uul is the highest mountain in the Khentii Range north of Ulaanbaatar. The base of the mountain is accessible only by a three or four day horse ride. One-day slog on foot from the base of the mountain to the summit. 
 Approaching  Asralt Khairkhan Uul
 9,173-foot  Asralt Khairkhan Uul 
 Scholar and bon vivant Yooton taking a rest on the way to the summit 
 The summit of  Asralt Khairkhan Uul. As so often happens on sacred mountains, a thunderstorm broke out the moment we arrived at the summit. It was been perfectly clear when we started out in the morning and it cleared off again as soon as we returned to the base of the mountain. 
Horse wrangler and wife on my Asralt Khairkhan Uul trip at the summit. They are probably the oldest people ever to climb the mountain. 

Onon Hot Springs in Khentii Aimag. Wonderful spa accessible only by three-day horse ride, one way. Reservations not required. 
 Horseman preparing mutton for the trip to Onon Hot Springs. Note that the horseman is wearing the same shirt and the same hat as on the Asralt Khairkhan trip (see above), even though the trips took place in different years. Obviously not a guy to waste money on clothes. 
 Preparing tea on the way to Onon Hot Springs
 Onon Hot Springs on the banks of the Onon River
 Bathhouses at Onon Hot Springs
Party Time at Onon Hot Springs!
Ovoo at Onon Hot Springs

Burkhan Khaldun Mountain in Khentii Aimag. Arguably the most sacred mountain in Mongolia. According to legend Chingis Khan went here to pray before launching major military campaigns. Also see Burkhan Khaldun Khora
7724- foot Burkhan Khaldun Mountain, also known as Khentii Khan Uul. The famous “Black Crown” of the mountain is not visible from this angle. 
Ovoo half way up the mountain. A temple reportedly built by Zanabazar, The First Bogd Gegen Of Mongolia, once stood on this site but it is gone now. 
 Approaching the “Black Crown” of Burkhan Khaldun. The ovoo on the summit can just be seen on the skyline.
  Ovoo at the summit of Burkhan Khaldun
The summit of Burkhan Khaldun

Otgon Tenger Uul in Zavkhan Aimag. 
 Statue of Ochirvani (Vajrapani), the Protector Deity of Otgon Tenger, which can be seen in the background.  Several Kings of Shambhala are believed to be emanations of Ochirvani.
Ochirvani
Otgon Tenger Ovoo
 Gazarchin Yooton at Otgon Tenger Ovoo
 Otgon Tenger Ovoo
13,192-foot Otgon Tenger Uul
Herdsmen at Övör Badarkhundaga Nuur, a glacial lake nestled in a cirque just below the south face of Otgon Tenger.
Herdsman praying at Övör Badarkhundaga Nuur
Yootan at Övör Badarkhundaga Nuur
 The legendary medicinal plant  Vansemberuu found near Otgon Tenger. 
 Vansemberuu. There are any number of legends and Songs about this exceedingly rare plant.  Another SongThe video of This Song uses my photos!

Eej Khairkhan Mountain in Gov-Altai Aimag.
 Eej Khairkhan Uul (Mother Dearest Mountain) 
 Pilgrim at Eej Khairkhan Uul
Pilgrim praying at Eej Khairkhan Uul

Atas Bogd Uul in Gov-Altai Aimag. One of the old Silk Road caravan routes goes by here. Gobi bears nearby. Fantastic night skies. If you want to get away from it all this place in the middle of the Big Empty is the place to go. Six days there by camel and six back. 
Atas Bogd Uul

Shar Khuls Oasis in Bayankhongor Aimag. Perhaps my favorite place in Mongolia (at least outside of Sükhbaatar Aimag). Not easy to get to though; at least twelve days round-trip by camel from Bayan Tooroi in Gov-Altai Aimag. Famous, along with Atas Bogd Uul (above) as one of the homes of the exceedingly rare Gobi Bear. The 13th Dalai Lama and the Roerich Expedition also visited here. 
On the way to Shar Khuls Oasis, with Eej Khairkhan Uul (see above) in the background.
Camp boss and cook Uyanga on the way to Shar Khuls Oasis
Camp boss Uyanga supervising the loading of the camels
Uyanga preparing dinner on the way to  Shar Khuls Oasis
Shar Khuls Oasis
Shar Khuls (Yellow Reeds) Oasis
Part of my posse at Shar Khuls Oasis
 Tea break at Shar Khuls Oasis

Baitag Bogd Mountain in Khovd Aimag. One of the least visited areas in Mongolia, which is a shame because it is gorgeous, I might even say magical. 
  On the way to Baitag Bogd Uul
Oasis-like valleys with wonderful water for tea make great places for occultation.
The Baitag Bogd area is right on the Mongolian-Chinese border. Two of Mongolia’s finest patrol the border, demarcated here by a barbed wire fence. 
Baitag Bogd Uul

I could go and and on but I think I will stop at eight places. There are dozens more . . . 

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