16 September 2016

Travelling In Khentii Province - Eastern Mongolia

Take an exploratory trip through the immense landscapes of eastern Mongolia

In the last few weeks, we've covered a few kilometres through the provinces of Khentii, Dornod, Sukhbaatar, Dorngobi and now Dundgobi. Currently, roughly 17% of Mongolia's landmass has some form of environmental protection. This trip brought us into contact with some of the 'quieter' national parks and nature reserves in the country. 

Sunset over the rock formations of Ikh Gazriin Chuluu in Dundgobi Aimag

We started with the mountain forest steppe of Khentii, then moved on to the sweeping grasslands of Dornod, and then the windswept volcanic landscapes of Dariganga in Sukhbaatar through to the gravel plains of the Gobi. Mongolians divide their country into three main landscape types – Gobi, tal herem bus and Khangai (desert, steppe and mountain) and this itinerary incorporated a taste of all three.

Mongolia is vast…the 19th largest country in the world and the 2nd largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. With a population of over just three million, it is also the least densely populated country on earth. That basically means there's a whole heap of space. And no-where more than in the east.

Sunrise over the volcanic landscapes of the Dariganga region in Sukhbataar Aimag

We were travelling with Marian, a returning guest. The focus being bird and flower photography. As eastern Mongolia is rarely visited by westerners, I thought I would do some advertising on behalf of the region and introduce the Mongolian provinces through which we have travelled. As is tradition, the journey went clockwise - so coming up first is Khentii.

Demoiselle cranes in Mongolia

Khentii Aimag

Khentii Aimag is named for the Khentii Mountains that dominate the north west of this north eastern province. Any journey through Khentii naturally focuses on  the history of Chinggis Khan as this is the region in which he was born and raised. Dadal is said to be the birthplace of Chinggis Khan. The Delguun Boldog monument / ovoo was erected to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the writing of the Secret History of the Mongols and is said to be located at the birth spot of Chinggis - although this is debated. 

The landscapes of Khentii Aimag.

Buriat Community

It is also home to one of Mongolia's ethnic groups - the Buriats. Binder, Batshireet and Dadal occupy the territories of the culturally rich and traditional Buriat communities (whom also make their home in the areas to the east of Lake Baikal in Siberia). The Buriats typically live in log houses and this difference in architecture is what will strike you on entering the region. In all three communities you can purchase buriad bread and ‘khaliartai khuushuur’ – both (delicious!) specialities of the Buriat community.

Baldan Bereeven Khiid

Baldan Bereeven Khiid was one of Mongolia’s most influential monasteries until  destroyed in the Stalinist political purges of the 1930’s. This would have been the centre of local life for a population whose faith and devotion more than made up for the simplicity and the challenging remote life-style. This remote little visited monastery has a ‘kora’ - a circumambulation around the site that the resident monks prior to the purges used to take. It’s a type of pilgrimage and meditative practise in Tibetan Buddhism and this one takes you through peaceful woodland and has the option to include some incredible view points out over the surrounding countryside.

Baldan Brereeven Khiid in Khentii Aimag, Mongolia

Onon-Balj National Park

The Onon-Balj is located at the southern edge of Siberian boreal coniferous forest and stretches into the Daurian steppe. It became a national park in 2000 to protect the biodiversity of the region. The fragile ecosystem is home to a number of rare and endangered species in Mongolia and globally  including the white-naped crane. It is used locally by herders as grazing land for their livestock and also for autumn hay making. 

A Siberian white naped crane.

And no, for those that have explored the region, I haven't mentioned Burkhan Khaldun or the Onon River or Binder ovoo or  Öglögchiin Kherem (Almsgiver’s Wall). But, if you're looking for solitude then Khentii should come towards the top of your list. Due to the lack of a ‘touchable’ history is it easy to be persuaded that Mongolia is actually short on history. It is definitely not – Mongolia is an ancient land and has a rich and varied history. In a country that only offers a hint at the flow of peoples and the cultures that have preceded modern Mongolia, Khentii is the place to come to touch base with that history. 

Our east trips take place from late August onwards. Why? The region typically gets a high level of rainfall during the summer months.  If you're interested in the EL way of travelling, why not have a look at the Mongolia Tour Calendar on my Eternal Landscapes website. You'll find in (almost) a nutshell a guide to the Mongolian seasons and the trips we operate during those seasons.

And remember, unless otherwise mentioned, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia that you will also experience.