Arrive in Ulaan Baatar. Those not travelling with the group from London will join us at the hotel.
Today we take an introductory tour of this nation's capital city. Ulaan Baatar means Red Hero, the name adopted after the people's revolution in 1924. The Zaisan memorial was constructed in memory of fallen soldiers and makes an ideal point to start our tour with its panoramic views of the city. Next stop is Sukhbaatar Square, the town's central square named after the people's revolutionary hero. Gandan monastery is the largest functioning lamasery in Mongolia and the seat of Buddhist studies in this country. Here we may see monks praying and the 20m gold and bronze statue of Migjid Janraisig. No tour of Ulaan Baatar is complete without a visit to the landmark State Department Store Ikh Delguur - or Great Shop - here we can stock up on last minute provisions before starting the next day's journey.
We drive on the main road westwards towards Karakorum, making a detour to the Khustain Nuruu National Park, 2 hours west of Ulaan Baatar. Khustain Nuruu is famous for the re-introduction of Mongolia's wild horse. The Takhi Horse or Przewalski's horse was once native to Mongolia and almost became extinct earlier this century. Through the efforts of several Mongolian and international organizations, these magnificent wild horses now roam in the steppes once again in Khustain Nuruu National Park. We will visit the Project Information Centre and take a guided hike to see the wild horses. Tonight will be our first night staying in traditional Mongolian felt tents, or gers.
We continue our journey westwards towards Karakorum along an asphalt road, travelling at an easy pace. Today's destination, the Mongol Els or 'Little Gobi Desert' as it is known, is a unique belt of sand dunes in the steppe. Arriving at lunch, we check into a nearby ger camp and after lunch head out to explore the surrounding region. Bactrian camels wander the desert dunes as horses graze on green steppe nearby - an incredible sight. We will visit nearby Mt Khogno Khan, the small temple at its base. This region is also renowned for its birdlife, including steppe eagles. Mt Khogno Khan offers a great spot for bird watching. We return to camp in the late afternoon.
Today we make the short (90km) drive to the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire - Karakorum. Karakorum was established by Ogedei Khan and remained the Mongols power base until Khublai Khan established Beijing as the capital. Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) monastery was the largest Monastery in Mongolia, built in 1586 under the direction of Abtai Khan on the ruins of the ancient capital. Much of the monastery was destroyed during Stalin's purges of the 1930's, but an impressive wall with 108 stupas and a number of temples still remain. After lunch, we visit the monastery and explore the ruins of the ancient capital.
Mornings are a special time to visit Erdene Zuu monastery and this morning we may have the chance to witness monks chanting. Later we drive on the paved road to Arvaikheer, the capital of Ovorkhangai Aimag and on the northern edge of the Gobi. On the way to Arvaikheer we will visit Shankh Monastery, once the home of the great Mongolian theologist Zanabazar. We should arrive at Arvaikheer during the middle of the afternoon and check into our hotel. In the afternoon there will be time to visit the local museum, which contains nature collections, stone figures and Turkic scripts.
After an early breakfast we start towards Orog Lake via Bayanteeg soum, a coal-mining centre. Passing over Taats River, the majestic Ikh Bogd Mountain should be visible in the distance, the highest mountain in the Gobi Altai Mountain Range. We stop for a picnic lunch and then skirt the eastern edge of Mt Ikh Bogd, travelling a further 80km southwest to the Gobi Camels Ger Camp.
We start our journey southwards with a short drive to Bayan Mountain Range to view petroglyphs (Rock Art), called Bichigt Khad. These rock inscriptions date back to 3000 BC and the rocks are full of pictures and paintings including depictions of ibex, argali and men riding horses. We will hike up to the hills and explore the surrounding area. The journey continues through classic Gobi desert scenery of flat stony plains mixed with small rocky outcrops and patches of sand across the Khatan Suudal Steppe. We stop for a picnic lunch on the way, with views of Arts Bogd mountain to the north. We head off to the Kongoriin Els sand dunes and arrive there in the late afternoon. Overnight at the Juulchin Gobi 2 ger camp.
Today we have a full day to explore the sand dunes and surrounding area. The Khongoriin Els stretch for 200km and are as high as 300m in places. They are known as the 'Singing Dunes' because of the beautiful sound that resonates through the dunes on a windy day. The South Gobi has 100,000 camels, typically used by herders for transportation of their gers. We will take the opportunity today to visit a camel breeding family and get a glimpse of the way of life of the nomadic herders of these parts. Overnight at the Juulchin Gobi 2 ger camp.
This morning we will drive through the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. Gobi Gurvansaikhan means 'Three Beauties of the Gobi' and this range marks the eastern end of Gobi Altai mountain range. The park's landscape is extremely varied, with rocky and sandy desert plains, precipitous cliffs and ravines, salt pans and oases. We visit a spectacular natural sight of this region - Yolyn Am. Yolyn Am means Vulture's Mouth and is a canyon so deep and narrow that even in the height of summer winter ice can remain on the valley floor. This region is also renowned for the diversity of its wildlife and many endangered species can be found here, including Khulan, Ibex, Argali and Snow Leopard. We explore the canyon before transferring to a nearby ger camp for dinner and overnight.
Today we make a short drive to Bayanzag (70 km) known as the Flaming cliffs and hike amongst colourful sands of red, yellow and orange. Bayanzag is a world-renowned dinosaur fossil exploration site, discovered in the 1920s by Mongolian and American Palaeontologists. We are free to explore the region and may even be lucky enough to spot dinosaur fossils. After a picnic lunch we return to camp in the afternoon.
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for the mid-morning flight to Ulaan Baatar, arriving in the nation's capital at midday. We transfer to the hotel and freshen up before a light lunch. This afternoon is free for last minute sightseeing or souvenir shopping - cashmere, leather goods and traditional handicrafts are all good options. This evening we will enjoy a performance of traditional Mongolian song and dance performed by the world famous Tumen Ekh dance troupe. The most interesting performances are the throat singers, contortionists and Tsam dancers. Khoomii or throat singing is a musical art delivered with the help of a guttural voice and specific way of breathing. Night owls may want to sample the nightlife of Ulaan Baatar!
We make a relaxed start to our final day in Mongolia then take a short (50km) drive to the capital of Tuv province, Zuunmod, and on to the ruins of Manzushir Monastery on the edge of Bogd Haan National Park. This park was founded in 1778, making it one of the world's oldest protected areas. Manzushir Monastery was constructed in 1733 and was a major centre of Buddhism, although now just the ruins of many fine temples remain. We will enjoy some easy hiking and a picnic lunch, returning to Ulaan Baatar in the late afternoon for a farewell dinner in the evening, before transferring to the airport for the early morning flight (approx: 23:50) to London. Those not travelling on the group flight will leave us after dinner this evening.