Altai Tavan Bogd National Park
It is one of the main attractions of the Altai region. A UNESCO World Heritage Site is characterized by the group of peaks known as “the five illuminated ones”, among which Mount Khuiten (4374m) stands out, the highest peak in Mongolia and a border point with China and Russia. In the park you can admire the Potanin glacier and the numerous caves where inscriptions, petroglyphs and artifacts of ancient civilizations have been found, especially near the Shiveet Khairkhan. The park is also inhabited by the Kazakh minority, together with the Tuva and Uriankhai minorities, traditionally expert in hunting with eagles.
Starting Point for Visiting the Park
Altai Tavan Bogd park can be reached from Olgii, a multicultural city where Kazakhs are 80% of the population compared to the average of 5% in the rest of the country. Here you will find a mosque, reopened after the end of Mongolian socialism, a sign of the religion to which the Kazakhs belong although their Islam is quite tenuous, in fact you will see women with bare heads and men drinking alcohol. Do not miss a visit to the bazaars where you can admire the splendid traditional felt rugs.
Where sleeping in Olgii. The proposals are not many, of value the Bayan-Olgii Ger Camp and the cheaper Bulbul Jamak Travel Hostel.
Going further south you enter the aimag of Khovd, the southernmost of the Altai, characterized by semi-desert and sandy environments. From Khovd, a village with many ethnic groups animated by trade with neighboring China, you can in fact reach the Gobi Altai area, so called because here mountains and desert meet. Not to be missed here are the national parks of Tsambagarav, on the border with Bayan-Olgii, and Khar Us Nuur. The former is famous for its spectacular views, while the latter is home to the second largest lake in Mongolia. Also of great value are the paintings believed to be from the Palaeolithic period in the Tsenkheriin Agu cave.
The Province of Uvs
Further north we find the less frequented aimag of Uvs, rich in splendid lakes such as Lake Achit and that of Uureg, surrounded by high peaks, Lake Khyargas, whose banks are a steppe desert, and in particular that of Uvs, an immense basin in the middle of a desert expanse and according to some scholars five times saltier than the ocean. It is a protected area particularly interesting for the approximately 200 species of birds that inhabit it. Uvs, and its capital Ulaangom, also has numerous ethnic minorities such as the Dorvod, the Bayad, the Khoton and the Khalkha. Finally, do not miss the beautiful Kharkhiraa valley.
The Feast of the Eagles
October is a special month to visit Mongolia, not only for the nature of the landscapes that go into the terrible Mongolian winter, but also because it is the month in which the festival of the eagles is held (of which this year we celebrate the twentieth edition ). Every year, on this occasion, numerous Kazakh falconers gather in Olgii who, after a parade in their traditional costumes, will compete in skill tests with their eagles, demonstrating all the skill in knowing how to train birds of prey. If you want to learn more about the culture of the Mongolian Kazakhs, this is truly a unique opportunity to do so.
How to Get to the Altai Mountains
Traveling to Mongolia can be very expensive, which is why many people prefer to rely on organized travel. Each capital of Aimag has its own airport, but Mongolian internal flights are not cheap, the alternative is to use the local buses, which represents an adventure in the adventure, tiring of course, but which will allow you to enjoy magnificent views. The country’s road network is not developed and where present it is in poor condition due to the winter frost, you will have to rent off-road vehicles to travel the Mongolian tracks, so it is better to plan carefully and keep up with the times.