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Altai Mountains Mongolia Travel Guide

 

The Altai region is one of the 4 main regions of Mongolia and takes up the western part of the country. This is a region including and surrounding the Altai Mountain range. It is a mountainous area that has all sorts of geographical significance with a little bit of Gobi, a little bit of steppe and a whole lot of Altai Mountains. Mostly known for its towering mountains, Kazakh people and the eagle hunting there are some other attractions in Altai region if you have the time. Although it is the farthest region from Ulaanbaatar, Altai Mountains absolutely worth a visit and is a must see of Mongolia.

National Parks
Altai Tavan Bogd

Altai Tavan Bogd is the tallest mountain in Mongolia reaching 4374 metres at its highest point, Khuiten peak. Famous for its massive glaciers (Potanin Glacier etc) and vast lakes, this picturesque mountain has become climbers’ favorite, both locally and internationally. Since first explored by Mongolian cilmbers back in 1956, over 700 people has climbed the mountain.

Khar Us Lake

Protected due to its increasing shrinkage, Khar Us Lake is one of the biggest lakes in Mongolia. Surrounded by prairie, steppe, gobi desert, and snowy mountains, this area oozes beauty. The lake hosts wild ducks, geese, wood grouse, partridges, and other rare sea birds and it’s great for bird watching.

Khan Khukhii, Khyargas Lake

Known for its rich fauna and flora, Khan Khukhii Mountain is worshipped because it is believed to prevent droughts when worshipped according to the history. As for Khyargas Lake, it has picturesque area including Khetsuu Khad which is a home to many migratory birds. Although ideal for bird watching, you can also enjoy medical spa on the northern shore.

Tsambagarav Mountain

Tsambagarav Mountain is a part of the Alta Mountain range and is located between Khovd and Bayan-Ulgii province. With its 4195m height, Tsambagarav Mountain has everlasting snow. It is worshipped by the locals and officially a sacred mountain. The permanent snow-cap, modest amount of height and some other difficulties makes for a perfect extreme climbing spot.

Places to visit
Altai Tavan Bogd Mountain

The towering mountains, breathtaking glaciers, green valleys, crystal lakes, unique culture, eagle hunters, challenges and adventure…what is not to like? Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is easily one of the top three destinations of Mongolia.
Altai Tavan Bogd itself is the tallest mountain in Mongolia, reaching 4374 meters at its highest point, Khuiten peak. Famous for its massive glaciers (Potanin Glacier etc) and vast lakes, this picturesque mountain has become climbers’ favorite, both locally and internationally. Since first explored by Mongolian cilmbers back in 1956, over 700 people has climbed the mountain.
In total, Altai Tavan Bogd National Park covers an area of 630,000 hectare and has three large freshwater lakes and 34 glaciers in addition to several waterfalls. From the 34 glaciers, the largest one is Potanin Glacier and it covers 23 square km.
Besides all the glorious beauty of the nature, Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is also an important attraction, culturally. Because it is located in Bayan Olgii province which is predominantly occupied by Khazakhs, you can experience different cultural settings from Mongolians. The main thing that excites tourists is eagle hunting. Not hunting the eagles but hunting wild animals with trained eagles. Intriguing right? The Khazakhs preserved their ancient method of hunting and other traditions pretty well. You can visit during their national holiday (Nauriz) or eagle hunting festivals in spring or autumn to get the full experience.
Since Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is based on Altai Mountains, specifically Altai Tavan Bogd, the mountain climbing is the main activity there. Each year, many climbers come seeking a challenge in pursuit of completing their trophy cabinet because the previously stated Khuiten peak is world famous among mountaineers. But do not worry, even if you are not a mountain climber there is plenty to do in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. You can go fishing for Taimen, Lenok Trout, Osman, Grayling and Pike or go rafting or skiing or ride horses and camels and bike.
All in all, exploring Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is a lifetime experience and a must to see when you are visiting Mongolia. Mighty snowy mountains and crystal clear lakes surrounded by full green valley await you.

Khoton and Khurgan Lakes

Khurgan Nuur and Khoton Nuur are lakes situated in Altai Tavan Bogd Mountain and they are connected by a tiny channel with a number of small brooks feeding into the lakes that took source from the mountains surrounding the area. And actually, two of these brooks respectively form waterfalls with a height of 7m and 10m each. You can cross the channel via pontoon bridge that is capable of vehicle travel.

Tsagaan Salaa

Located in Ulaankhus soum, Bayan-Ulgii province, Tsagaan Salaa is famous for its rock paintings. The rock paintings are discovered in 1979 by an archeologist named Tseveendorj and was further examined by the team members of Russian-American project called “Altai”. Painted on the walls of southern part of Oigor Mountain, these paintings belong to the Neolithic to the Bronze Age and scattered across 15km long rock walls. This borderline gallery of petroglyphs primarily depicts hunting and herding of animals.

Khar Us Lake

Khar Us Lake is Mongolia's third biggest lake by area with surface of 1578km2, and it is home to wild ducks, geese, wood grouse, partridges and rare sea birds. Although, the lake is swarmed by mosquitos it’s a great spot for bird watching.

Khan Khukhii Mountain - Khyargas Lake

Known for its rich fauna and flora, Khan Khukhii Mountain is worshipped because it is believed to prevent droughts when worshipped according to the history. As for Khyargas Lake, it has picturesque area including Khetsuu Khad which is a home to many migratory birds. Although ideal for bird watching, you can also enjoy medical spa on the northern shore.

Tsambagarav Mountain

Tsambagarav Mountain is a part of the Alta Mountain range and is located between Khovd and Bayan-Ulgii province. With its 4195m height, Tsambagarav Mountain has everlasting snow. It is worshipped by the locals and officially a sacred mountain. The permanent snow-cap, modest amount of height and some other difficulties makes for a perfect extreme climbing spot. It is recommended to visit Tsambagarav during summer, specifically from late June to late August. The reason is the Kazakh families move and set camps there during the said period of time and you can rent horses from them for the exploration of the area.

Activities

The real authentic Altai region experience includes these activities:

  • Hiking: It is in the name ‘Altai Mountains’ that Altai Region is a mountainous area. So what better way to explore it than hiking?
  • Trekking: Because it is a rugged mountainous area there are not a lot of country roads and even if they are there it is pretty harsh for most of the commercially available vehicles. So you have to ride a horse out of necessity which can double as a trekking activity. Other options include camels and mountain bikes.
  • Fishing: Although you cannot go fishing on the Altai Mountains, you can fish at Khar Us Lake and Khyargas Lake which are the main attractions of the area themselves. Though you will face a tough competition from the migrating birds.
  • Rafting: Rafting is offered by few of the local tour companies and most of them are supervised by professional river guide staff. Inside the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park there is a river called Hovd and it is one of the main rafting spots. Though the river is riddled with large rapids and approached only by expert level rafters. Usually rafting is provided as a part of a tour with other activities such as climbing and trekking.
  • Climbing: One of the biggest reasons people come to Altai is obviously mountain climbing. The optimal time to climb starts in July and ends early September when it is warm. Though you can climb during any time of the year, it is really difficult and quite dangerous when it is winter times.
  • Skiing: During winter times you can go skiing in the mountains, specifically around the Potanin Glacier. But you have to be an experienced mountain climber and skilled skier as it is proven to be extreme to climb the Altai Mountain’s peaks. But one nice thing about skiing in the Altai is all 5 peaks have trails along the Potanin Glacier that lead to the base camp which means you can start at Khuiten Peak and go through all the other peaks and then ski all the way down to the base camp.
  • Eagle Hunting: The main draw to the Altai region is of course the eagle hunting. Nomadic Kazakh hunters on a horse back carrying majestic creatures on their arm riding through the snow is such a spectacle. According to some sources there are around 250 eagle hunters in Bayan-Ulgii province, most living inside or nearby Altai Tavan Bogd National Park.
Wildlife

Altai region has a lot of rare species that some of them are endangered. The fauna includes ibex, argali sheep, grey wolves, black vulture, red deer, elk, snow leopards, golden eagles, Beech marten and many others. As for the flora, there is not much to talk about as you can encounter plants and trees that can be found in every other parts of Mongolia.

Culture

The folks that occupy the Altai region are one of the main attractions. You can meet Kazakh hunters and Tuvan herders here and visiting them in their own home is one of the most exciting parts of the tour. The Kazakhs are larger in number and they are the world famous eagle-hunters. As for the Tuvans, they occupy the Tsagaan Gol (White River) valley and are distinguishable from the Mongolians in terms of clothing, diet and spoken language. The Kazakhs that live inside the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park have preserved their cultural tradition more than any other Kazakh communities in Central Asia. And those people usually do not leave the region and barely even speak Mongolian due to their secluded lifestyle

Travel Recommendation

You can explore most parts of Western Mongolia on your own with a good 4x4 rental car (we recommend to rent a new Toyota Landcruiser 76) but the boarder szone and the Altai Tavan Bond National Park require access permits (can be arranged in Ulgii via local tour companies or directly with the authorities). Hiking the Tavan Bogd and the glaciers should be done only with a professional guide.

In two weeks it is great to drive from Ulaanbaatar via the southern route across the Gobi to Khovd and Bayan Ulgii. SIXT offers one way car rentals from-to Ulgii. Keep in mind that domestic flights allow just 15kg of luggage so it might be better for you to rent the camping equipment with the rental car from SIXT. For trips more than 20 days it is great to drive back via the northern route along the Great Lakes and across Central Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar. This trip takes around 4 to 7 days.

FollowTheTracks offers a great way to travel independently with your friends from Ulaanbaatar to Western Mongolia with a modern 4x4 equipped with everything you need. You can do the trip by driving yourself or with an English speaking driver. Along the tracks of their Eagle and Horse Route you will meet interesting local families like Eagle Hunters in Altai that show you their majestic birds and take you on a scenic horse back riding. You also have the option on their horse route to do an excursion to the Altai Tavan Bogd.

Kay just did this trip in 2019, have a look at his epic video from the trip:

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  • bayan-ulgii
  • western-mongolia
  • hiking
  • roadtrip
  • culture
  • sightseeing
  • wildlife
  • adventure
  • climbing
  • horse-riding
  • festivals
  • attractions
  • relaxation