Mongolian tour guide

Mongolian travel blog: Altai Tavan Bogd tour

Day 1 Stay overnight with Eagle hunters family

Our trip started on a light note by getting on the Bayan-Ulgii bound plane which is our first day of the trip at around 6 however our plane was little of the schedule we landed in Bayan-Ulgii province around an hour later than expected schedule. Our flight choice was Hunnu Air airline company and we spend an hour flight and landed in Murun after a short trip by plane. By the way, Khovsgol Lake is the older sister of fabled Russian Lake Baikal across Russian Border. Lake Khuvsgul consists of 1% of total drinking freshwater of the world and amounts almost 70% of freshwater in Mongolia. Its pristine blue water glittered in the afternoon sun and mist haze was set over the lake surface as we drove through the taiga forest. Lake Khuvsgul is over 100 meters deep and most freshwater in the world.

Hunnu air

After a brief flight over the Murun town of Khuvsgul, we headed over to the Bayan-Ulgii on Sunny August day on 25th. Mongolia has spread over 7th and 8th-time zone so Bayan-Ulgii is an hour late behind capital Ulaanbaatar. After being descended down among breathtaking snowy topped mountains of Altai mountain range that surrounds Bayan-Ulgii, we headed for our hotel and left our belongings and met our Kazakh a driver and guide straightaway.

Even though this idyllic town offered both adventurous feeling and awe of natural beauty, we didn’t forget to try rural cuisine taste. Mouth-watering traditional halal food sat in our empty stomachs comfortably, washed down by bottles of town beer.


Eagle hunter

The exotic feeling had been born as soon as we took off the plane, all of this feeling was intertwined with the different ethnic group which consists of a mere four per cent of Mongols. While they are a minority group in Mongolia they still maintained third face and clothes besides exercised their religious traits much better than their Russian sided Kazakhstan brothers.

Sooner than did we land, we were on the road again, driving towards our first camping spot 60 km away from Bayan-Ulgii centre. Glimpse through woods provided us with an impending feeling of waiting and wondering. After driving around for an hour we arrived in the winter stead of local Kazakh hunter’s home which accompanied by another neighbour. They spend their winter in a snug little house with a flat thatched roof which named tagz in the Kazakh language.

He snuggly sat with his family and a few cows and sheep, three-year-old huntress eagle. To our timid curiosity, hunter man demonstrated his hunting skill by throwing dud prey to the eagle and we awed oohed while eagle swooped low to catch what was thrown in the air and showed us its hunting skills. Hunting season is between mid-October and mid-April so it was the somehow privileged thing to witness such long-standing tradition and human-animal bond in its environment. Usual prey of the eagle consists of steppe fox, fox and other small furry animals. Fur-hunting season finishes and eagle taming season starts. There are two types of catching and taming techniques. First one is to catch the eagle while it is still chick or trapping juvenile eagle in summer.


In the evening

It was a truly majestic time of their life for our city dwelling Thai travellers to be sitting under the star-filled sky and wondering how far the eye could stretch over the endless gently rolling hills and steppe. We picnicked around the camping table behind our yurt talked deep into the night while gazing at the starry night sky.

Sitting and picnicking for a while, we huddled together inside our home. It was one a kind day and great adventure was waiting for us the next morning.


Day 2 Visiting Altai Tavan Bogd natural park

Morning sun peeped through slim drapery and we slowly arising from our beds. After splashing hands and face with cold water, we had a wonderful breakfast of hard-boiled egg and flatbread from our hosts. Back on the road, a stretch of 150 km ahead of us, we started on a happy note that day. After an unbroken stretch of over 100 km ride, we arrived at family winter house in Ulaan khus village which is deep into the woods and rivers. Crossing over a dozen meandering streams we finally settled down for lunch at one of the herder families dotting the steppe. Their family home resembles a sleeping swan on the gently rolling grassland.

Our lunch plan was supposed to be in the car not in the family home, unplanned lunch included the family ger. We didn’t expect much, but to our surprise, their ger was spotlessly clean and handcrafted and embroidered draperies were hung all over the ger, dazzling us with its intricate embroidery style. I quietly wondered how on earth those nomadic Kazakh wives find time to keep clean and dazzlingly bright home besides keeping the 20-30 cows and yaks to milk. After being fed and watered by our wonderful hosts, we headed towards fabled petroglyphs in and around the rocks of local Lake called Blue lake. Our destination was researched and written down in history by famous Mongolian Archeologist Tseveen and estimated to be 500-meter width and 15 m in length mostly shown a pre-historic depiction of wild animals and human dating back to 6000-3000 years.

After photographing session on petroglyphs on rocks, we went on driving through much less populated steppe and uninviting wind-whipped sparsely vegetated steppe, eventually, we arrived in our next spot. Lone ger rolled in to view all of a sudden out of nowhere when we turned around one of the many identical hills. A scene that met the eye was romantic and lonely in a literary sense, and we were hungry and stiff after sitting in a car straight 5 hours made that lone family stead much more welcoming than usual. The reason there were so few travellers along the road was no wonder since we chose the lowest season for travelling which is October 15th.


Normally teeming with summertime travellers this place gave us the otherworldly feeling of isolation and coming winter signs were everywhere. The bone-chilling wind was blowing our baggy clothes around, we might have seemed like creatures from an alien world to nomadic life. We didn’t get discouraged though from any of the obstacles that were in our way.


With each passing hour and insistent snow flurrying proved that it would be next to impossible to see our final destination, Altain Tavan Bogd Mountain Range, with naked eyes through blinding snowstorm. We decided to spend the night in one of the ger camps because it was a waste of time and energy to go on since it was getting dark and cold. Off-season travellers huddled around the warm firewood stove and exchanged food and snacks around before jumping into our beds. In our heart, we were all dreaming about our next days’ road trip and fresh adventure that were waiting for us around the corner.


Day 3 Visiting Altai Tavan Bogd natural park

Over the breakfast table, our guide forewarned us that Altai Tavan Bogd would less visible when it’s snowing and even summer rain and fine fog make it even more difficult to see the actual mountain peak. Even though we didn’t get to see our long waited mountain range that was appearing white from the distance, we contended ourselves by skiing and skating over the glassy green surface of the small mountain lake while minnows racing under the very surface under our feet. It was a fun and cheerful day.


The river we crossed over was frozen overnight and it was no fun and also dangerous to cross over easily cracked ice so we just had no way but look up to our weather-beaten driver to crack the ice to make it our driving less arduous. The car that crossed before us almost swerved and fell while crossing the half-frozen river. It made us a little bit nervous nevertheless challenged.


On the way back, we crossed over another glassy surfaced lake which was frozen over completely and played and be happy for a day. Sometimes small things make you happy not the looming mountain ranges.

Evening sun brought us to the next stop and the next family home. This time this homeowner generously lathered his prized animal fur collection over the wall. Besides inside wall hangings, this family has four hand-fed wolves, and owl and eagle plus.


Another day has come and gone, we found ourselves in the snuggly warm beds and thousands of star gathered over our heads and glittering behind the rooftop window. All ventured all gained day has ended. What another day might have in its store for us?


Day 4 Drive back to the eagle hunters family

The last and fourth day of our trip started with hearty breakfast of dried curd, and freshly beaten sour cream over homemade bread plus elderberry jam. We left with the rising sun and arrived upon a famous Tolbo(aka Spot) lake in near Bayan-Ulgii aimag. Tolbo Lake stretched over 185 sq.km from east southern to western north. It has freshwater and fish is abundant we tasted one of the species over lunch.

western Mongolia tour

Lake is 2080 meters over sea level 21 km wide, 6 km long. Lake is fed by 11 rivers and fed many different small rivers and streams. Even it was late October the lake wasn’t frozen one bit and still glittering in the midafternoon sun. In only 4 days, we became half nomadic and dreaded the moment to go back into the town and see all the sign of civilization was less unwelcome than our first days.


Day 5 Fly back to Ulaanbaatar

Spending the night in Ulgii city, we departed with 5.30 Ulaanbaatar flight and said goodbye to the beautiful memories we made in mountains and lakes. It was a divine experience, indeed. (sigh)


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