Ulgii Town is the capital of Bayan-Ulgii center and a passing point for everybody who is traveling to Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Established in 1940, Ulgii Town is the cultural center for the Kazakh people of Mongolia. With the population of over 32,000 people Ulgii Town makes up 30% of the Bayan-Ulgii province and 93% of people living in the town are Muslim. The town has an airport offering flights to Ulaanbaatar, Khovd, Ulaangom and Almaty with a standard paved runway and also the tallest radio mast in Mongolia with its height reaching 350m.
Exploring Ulgii: A 2024 Travel Guide to Bayan-Ulgii Province
Have you ever dreamed of exploring a land where centuries-old traditions meet breathtaking landscapes? A place where the rich culture and warm hospitality of its people leave you with memories to last a lifetime? Welcome to Ulgii, the heart of Bayan-Ulgii province in western Mongolia - a place where the ancient art of eagle hunting, vibrant Kazakh customs, and the majestic Altai Mountains come together to create an unforgettable travel experience.
- Explore Ulgii, the capital of Bayan-Ulgii Province, to discover its unique culture and heritage dating back over 2000 BC.
- Experience traditional Kazakh customs such as eagle hunting and nomadic lifestyle in summer months, along with international cuisine and handicrafts.
- Easily reach Ulgii by air or land from Ulaanbaatar for an unforgettable adventure.
Discovering Ulgii: The Heart of Bayan-Ulgii Province
Nestled in the extreme west of Mongolia, Ulgii serves as the capital of Bayan-Ulgii province, a region steeped in history and natural beauty. With a population that is 93% Kazakh, Ulgii offers a unique cultural experience, as the locals continue to maintain their age-old customs and traditions, making it a true gem for travelers seeking an authentic encounter with the Kazakh way of life.
The city has undergone rapid development since 2005, with an array of apartments, shops, and restaurants catering to the influx of tourists eager to explore the unique culture and natural beauty of UB Bayan-Ulgii. In addition to modern conveniences, Ulgii boasts numerous cultural attractions, such as the Kazakh National Theater and the Olgii Museum, where visitors can discover ancient deer stones dating back over 2000 BC.
Unique Traditional Kazakh Culture
Ulgii is a veritable treasure trove for those interested in traditional Kazakh culture and modern Turkic language groups. The locals, dressed in their vibrant traditional clothing, continue to practice age-old customs, such as showing respect for elders, patriotism, and love for their homeland. The Kazakh people’s strong extended families and adherence to their Muslim faith further enrich their cultural tapestry, with food and drink taboos, such as abstaining from pork consumption, shaping their everyday lives.
Music and art also play a significant role in the Kazakh way of life. Visitors can attend a traditional Kazakh concert, showcasing mesmerizing performances on a traditional kazakh instrument, and explore the local handicrafts, such as embroidery, felt-making, and leatherwork that adorn their clothing and dwellings.
It’s not just a feast for the eyes; your taste buds will also delight in the traditional Kazakh cuisine, consisting of lamb, horse meat, and various dairy milk products.
Eagle Hunting Heritage
One of the most captivating aspects of Ulgii is its ancient tradition of eagle hunting, a practice that has been passed down through generations for thousands of years. With approximately 250 active Kazakh eagle hunters in the province, the art of hunting with these magnificent birds is well preserved and remains an integral part of the region’s identity.
The annual Golden Eagle Festival, also known as the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival, is held each October and is a must-see event for anyone visiting the area. During the festival, eagle hunters from across the region gather to showcase their skills and compete in various contests, offering visitors a unique opportunity to witness this ancient tradition firsthand. It’s not just a celebration of eagle hunting, but also an affirmation of the deep bond between the Kazakh people and their natural environment.
A Blend of International and Kazakh Cuisine
Ulgii’s culinary scene is as diverse as its cultural offerings, with a mix of traditional Kazakh dishes and international cuisine available for visitors to savor. Some popular dishes include:
- Beshbarmak: boiled meat served over pasta
- Kuurdak: a traditional meat dish
- Laghman: hand-pulled noodles with meat and vegetables
- Shashlik: skewered and grilled meat
- Manty: steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetables
The local cuisine is a testament to the region’s nomadic heritage and the importance of livestock in their daily lives.
But Ulgii’s gastronomic delights don’t end with Kazakh dishes. The city also offers a selection of international cuisine, including Italian, Chinese, and Russian options, ensuring that every visitor’s palate is catered to.
After a day of exploring Ulgii’s rich cultural tapestry, there’s no better way to unwind than by indulging in its equally diverse culinary offerings.
Exploring the Altai Mountains
The Altai Mountains, which stretch across Bayan-Ulgii province, offer a stunning backdrop for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. These majestic peaks provide a wealth of opportunities for exploration, including:
- Trekking through lush valleys
- Scaling the towering summits of Tavan Bogd and Khuiten
- Visiting the picturesque glacial lakes of Khoton Nuur and Khurgan Nuur
The region is a must-visit for those looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature.
In addition to its breathtaking landscapes, the Altai Mountains are also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. The region is teeming with diverse fauna, including elusive snow leopards, majestic golden eagles, and sturdy ibex, which roam freely amidst the rugged terrain. The opportunity to encounter these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is just one of the many reasons why the Altai Mountains should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
The Altai Mountains are a treasure trove for wildlife enthusiasts. In this remote corner of Mongolia, you’ll find a variety of species, including snow leopards, ibex, and golden eagles, all thriving in their natural environment.
To maximize your chances of spotting these elusive creatures, consider joining a guided tour or hiring a local guide with expert knowledge of the area. With their help, you’ll be able to venture off the beaten path and experience the region’s diverse wildlife up close and personal.
Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or a seasoned wildlife photographer, the Altai Mountains offer a wealth of opportunities to connect with nature and create lasting memories.
The Altai Mountains provide a perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with a wide array of adventure activities to suit all tastes and abilities. Hiking and trekking are popular options, allowing visitors to explore the region’s rugged terrain and breathtaking landscapes at their own pace. The area also offers countless opportunities for horse riding, a nod to the region’s rich equestrian heritage, and a chance to experience the thrill of traversing the mountains on horseback.
For those seeking a more immersive experience, camping in the Altai Mountains offers:
- A unique perspective on the region’s natural beauty
- An opportunity to connect with the awe-inspiring landscape
- An unforgettable adventure in the great outdoors
Whether you choose to pitch your tent amidst the verdant valleys or under the shadow of towering peaks, camping in the Altai Mountains is an excellent way to experience the region’s natural beauty.
Ancient Monuments and Artifacts
The Altai Mountains are not only a natural wonder, but also a region rich in history and cultural heritage. Scattered throughout the area, you’ll find a wealth of ancient monuments and artifacts, testimony to the civilizations that once called these mountains home.
Among the most notable sites in the region are:
- The petroglyphs of Shiveet Khairkhan Mountain, home to approximately 10,000 ancient rock carvings, human statues, and Turkic stone men
- Kurgans (burial mounds)
- Deer stones
These sites provide a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of the ancient people who once inhabited this remote region.
As you explore the Altai Mountains, you’ll be transported back in time, retracing the footsteps of those who came before you and uncovering the secrets of Mongolia’s mysterious past.
Experiencing Kazakh Hospitality
One of the most endearing aspects of Ulgii is the warm hospitality of its Kazakh residents. The people of this region are renowned for their generosity and welcoming nature, making visitors feel at home in their midst. Hospitality is a sacred obligation in Kazakh society, and guests are always welcomed with enthusiasm and treated to the finest food and accommodations available.
From the moment you set foot in Ulgii, you’ll be embraced by the spirit of Kazakh hospitality, as locals share their knowledge, traditions, and stories with you. Whether you’re visiting for a few days or a few weeks, you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for this unique culture and the unforgettable memories of the friendships forged along the way.
Summer Nomadic Kazakh Lifestyle
During the summer months, a visit to Ulgii offers a rare glimpse into the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Kazakh people. Living in traditional yurts known as gers, Kazakh families tend to their livestock while maintaining their age-old customs and practices.
Visitors have the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in this fascinating way of life, as they:
- Learn about the importance of horses in Kazakh culture
- Partake in traditional kazakh horse games
- Sample local delicacies, such as steamed mutton dumplings and fried pancakes.
The experience of living among the nomadic Kazakh herders living in the remote regions of Central Asia is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step back in time and truly connect with the land and its people.
Kazakh Handicrafts and Art
Ulgii is a hub for traditional Kazakh handicrafts, showcasing the region’s rich artistic heritage and offering visitors the chance to take a piece of this culture home with them. Beautiful Kazakh embroidered bags, felt-making, leatherwork, and other locally made handicrafts are available in the local markets and shops throughout the city.
These intricate and colorful creations not only serve as a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the Kazakh people but also provide a tangible link to their rich cultural history, including traditional Kazakh embroidery. As you explore the vibrant bazaars of Ulgii, don’t miss the opportunity to pick up a unique souvenir, such as a complete Kazakh ger, that captures the essence of this captivating region and its people.
Festivals and Celebrations
The region of Ulgii is host to a variety of cultural events and festivals that showcase the unique customs and traditions of its Kazakh inhabitants. Among the most popular are the annual Golden Eagle Festival, a celebration of the ancient art of eagle hunting, and the Nauryz festivities, which mark the beginning of the New Year according to the Kazakh calendar.
These events provide a vibrant and colorful backdrop for visitors to immerse themselves in the local culture, as they witness traditional music and dance performances, participate in games and competitions, and sample delicious Kazakh cuisine. The festive atmosphere and lively celebrations are a testament to the enduring spirit of the Kazakh people and their rich cultural heritage.
Getting to and Around Ulgii
Ulgii is accessible by both air and land, making it a convenient destination for travelers seeking to explore the region’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. The city is served by Ulgii Airport, which offers flights to and from:
Alternatively, visitors can opt to travel by bus or shared jeeps from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, with a journey time of approximately 48 hours.
Once you’ve arrived in Ulgii, there are various transportation options available for exploring the region, including taxis, minibuses, and horse-drawn carts for a more traditional experience. Whether you prefer to traverse the city streets in a modern vehicle or journey through the countryside on horseback, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to discover the unique charms of Ulgii and its surrounding areas.
Ulgii Airport provides a convenient gateway to the region, with flights to and from:
The flight from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii takes approximately 2.30 hours, making it a relatively quick and easy journey for those looking to maximize their time in this captivating corner of Mongolia.
Once you’ve landed at Ulgii Airport, you’ll find a variety of transportation options available to take you into the city, including taxis and minibuses. This ensures that you can start exploring the region’s unique cultural and natural attractions as soon as you touch down.
For those who prefer a more scenic journey, traveling to Ulgii by land offers a unique opportunity to witness the diverse landscapes of Mongolia firsthand. Buses depart daily from the Dragon Center in Ulaanbaatar and arrive at the Theater in Ulgii, with a journey time of approximately 48 hours.
While the roads can be somewhat uneven in certain regions, the journey is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as you traverse the vast expanses of the Gobi Desert and the rugged terrain of the Altai Mountains. Just be prepared for some extended stretches of unpaved roads and exercise extra caution when navigating through the mountains.
Navigating your way around Ulgii and its surrounding areas is simple, thanks to the variety of local transportation options available. Taxis and minibuses offer a convenient means of getting around the city, while horse-drawn carts provide a more traditional and novel mode of transport.
Whether you’re exploring the bustling markets of Ulgii, visiting the Kazakh National Theater, or embarking on a thrilling adventure in the Altai Mountains, you’ll find plenty of options at your disposal to ensure a seamless and enjoyable journey throughout your stay.
How to drive from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii
Driving from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii affords an unforgettable road trip experience. Opt for the Northern Route one way and the Southern Route for the return. The Northern route presents stunning vistas of sand dunes, grass plains, lakes, and mountains. The southern route across the northern edge of the Gobi desert presents stunning views of a dry desert landscape, high snow capped mountains and some stunning lakes.
Northern Highway from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii
Southern Highway from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii
Planning ahead for this journey is crucial. Here are some important steps to take:
- Pack adequate provisions of food and water.
- Familiarize yourself with the local driving laws and customs.
- Check the weather conditions prior to departure.
- Stay alert for any potential road closures.
By following these steps, you can ensure a safe and successful journey.
With the right preparation and a spirit of adventure, you’re in for an extraordinary journey across Mongolia’s diverse landscapes, including the breathtaking Western Mongolia.
In summary, the captivating region of Ulgii, nestled in the heart of Bayan-Ulgii province, offers a unique blend of cultural, historical, and natural attractions. From the vibrant Kazakh culture to the majestic Altai Mountains and the warm hospitality of its people, Ulgii is a destination that promises an unforgettable travel experience for all who venture into its enchanting landscapes. So why wait? Pack your bags and embark on a journey of discovery to this hidden gem of western Mongolia, where the past meets the present and adventure awaits around every corner.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the ethnicity of the people in Bayan Ulgii?
Bayan-Ulgii is home to a predominantly Kazakh population, with 63.6% of the inhabitants being of Kazakh ethnicity, and the remainder including Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Uygurs, Tatars, and Germans. A significant portion of the population is also of mixed ethnic backgrounds. The Kazakhs in Bayan-Ulgii have their own distinct culture, herding yaks and goats and hunting with trained eagles.
How to get to Bayan Ulgii?
The quickest and most convenient way to get to Bayan Ulgii is to fly from Ulaanbaatar. Alternately, you could take a bus or jeep but the journey would be several days.
What is the climate in Bayan Ulgii?
Bayan Ulgii experiences an arid desert climate with yearly rainfall of 102.6mm and temperatures ranging from 10°C to 30°C in the summer and -15°C to 30°C in the winter. The region is home to the Mongolian Khazakh nation and is considered one of Mongolia's multi-ethnic regions.
What are some unique experiences to have in Ulgii?
Visitors to Ulgii can have a unique experience by climbing Tavan Bogd and Khuiten, witnessing Kazakh culture and instrument performances, and eagle hunting.
How can I experience the traditional nomadic Kazakh lifestyle?
Experience the traditional nomadic Kazakh lifestyle by visiting traditional yurt camps in the summer months and engaging with Kazakh families to learn about their customs, cuisine, and daily life.
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