Mongolia: the stop-and-smell-the-wildflowers,Terelj to Naadam to Hustai; shamans, musicians, nomads and Przewalski’s horses festival ride.
Ride the Mongolian Steppe from Terelj National Park following the Nomads as they saddle up and set course for Ulaan Batur and the annual Naadam – the Nomad Olympics of Mongolia.
Last year’s ride birthed a new tribe made up of 8 international cyclists, 3 Shaman’s plus their 3 translators of ancient ancestor Mongolian, one multi talented musician,and a support crew of camp kitchen staff, drivers, mechanics and cultural interpreters.
The Shamans enacted traditional rituals channeling the voices of ancestors at one of our evening camps. Dawa, our throat singing, mouth harp and horse head fiddle playing flautist entertained us whilst we ate our traditionally barbequed lamb chops (and our seven cheeses vegetarian salad).
Naadam with its (eye) opening ceremony, wrestling knockout, Narnia-esque archery competitions, and horse-races is a bucket-list world event which this year we are programming mid ride as a rest day, a chance to see other people being athletic.
Following straight on from the horse-racing on Day 2 of Naadam, we travel on to Hustai national park, a refuge for Mongolia’s wild creatures, and home of the rehabituated Przewalski horse.
A real conservation win – the Przewalski horse is a truly wild horse and the only surving wild-horse ancestor, snatched from the cusp of extinction by genetics genii.
Red deer, steppe eagles and marmots frolic in numbers rarely seen elsewhere. A new addition to our itinerary, we are looking forward to using bikes for wildlife spotting on this stop and smell the wildlife add-on to this year’s trip.
Dates: July 6-14 2018
Cost USD 2700
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- Rolling along jeep tracks and horse trails through wildflower-strewn grasslands, creek crossings and along forested hillsides.
- Gazing up at the stars from outside your tentout on the wild Mongolian Steppe.
- Taking your first sip of Airag (mares milk) with nomads, enjoying their famed hospitality (usually in the form of proffered buzz (dumplings) and khushuur (Russian meat pastries).
- Feasting on a traditional Mongol lamb barbecue – Mongolian grass-fed meats are out of this world.
- Feeling the resurgent spirit of Mongolia’s epic history and ancient customs and the people’s love for the land and its extreme environment.
- Meeting with a shaman (or three) and witnessing a shamanic ritual. This is an unusual and special privilege that we are setting up through long-time friends of ours in Mongolia – who are as intrigued as we are to experience this resurgent spiritual practise.
- Watching Ullaan Baatar come alive for the Naadam Festival, Mongolia’s unique national games that celebrates wrestling, archery and horse racing – the three manly sports!
- Watching big men in small undies go toe to toe
- Experiencing one of Asia’s last wild frontiers and it’s huge range of birdlife, mammals and semi-wild livestock, pristine rivers, forests and grasslands.
- Songs on the Steppe – hearing Mongolian throat singing, flute and horse head fiddle in the environment from which it evolved – in the ger and on the grasslands.
- Dining like Ghengis in a big tent with fabulous food prepared by our Mongolian chef, including a traditional Mongolian lamb hot rocks barbeque.
Itinerary in Brief
|Day 1||Jul 6||Arrive Ulaan Baatar. D Hotel|
|Day 2||Jul 7||Tuul River Bridge Camp Terelj National Park. Cycling 50km. BLD Camp|
|Day 3||Jul 8||Cycle to Princess Temple. Cycling 25km. BLD Camp|
|Day 4||Jul 9||Cycle to Terelj/ family stay. Cycle 20km. BLD Camp|
|Day 5||jul 10||Cycle to Galchuurt. Transfer to Ulaan Baatar. Cycling 50km. BLD Hotel|
|Day 6||Jul 11||Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony, Wrestling, Archery and Knucklebone comps. Hotel|
|Day 7||Jul 12||Horse Racing outside of Ulaanbaatur, afternoon in Hustai national park, hiking and tracking Przewalski’s horse.|
|Day 8||Jul 13||Wildlife spotting and ride Hustai national park ride with a transfer back to UB for final night dinner.|
|Day 9||Jul 14||Departure day|
airport transfers on arrival and departure days
accommodation (4 nt’s Hotel/ 4 nt’s tented camping)
meals as listed
snacks, water and beverages whilst cycling
transport as per itinerary
camping equipment (tents, basic shower tent, toilet tent, dining tents, mobile kitchen, etc)
high quality mountain bikes
local cycling guides, mechanics
tips, personal expenses
alcohol, minibar, softdrinks
Itinerary In Detail
Day 1: Arrive at Ulaan Baatar
On arrival in UB, as it colloquially called among the foreign and expat crowd (the city, to the locals as there’s only one!),you’ll be met by our driver ( usually a cousin of one of our guides) and whisked away to our centrally located hotel. We’ll get together for a group meeting in the early evening and head out for a Modern Mongol fusion dinner and a stroll around the centre.
If you are arrive early there’s plenty of options to explore in downtown Ulaan Baatar. The city has modernised rapidly over the last 10 years with western style, Dubai-inspired shopping malls and brand name glitz, but there’s more than a few hints and nods to it’s soviet past. Around Suhkbataar Square, the huge cosmopolitan public square, and adjoining Parliament House with it’s monuments to Chinggis Khan and family, you’ll find wide, somber, low slung and squat Russian built buildings. Off the square is the National Museum, where you’ll get a pretty good look at Mongol history and national dress – not far away along Peace Avenue is the State Department Store where you can dress yourself and buy the same get up.
Ganden Monastery is the country’s most important monastery and where you can see the revival of buddhism, although there are several other practised religions. The Bogd Khan Museum, the residence of Mongolia’s last theocratic ruler, rounds out the main historical sights, and houses one of the worlds more important collection of buddhist artworks.
Venture further and flavours of Johannesburg emerge, with ghetto-like housing towers and hip hop inspired fashion, graffiti and attitudes prevail. Further still, the city is surrounded by the ger districts, an ever growing sprawl of traditional housing of nomads that have moved off the land and into the city in search of work and an easier life. It’s a heady mix of east, west, modern, traditional, communist and cowboy.
Day 2: Drive Ulaan Baatar to the steppe. Cycle to Cycle to Tuul River Bridge
We depart early after breakfast to drive for two hours into the countryside to our start point. Here we’ll pull on our cycling gear, size up the bikes and set off across the Mongolian steppe which begins as soon as the city ends. Horsemen and their herds dot the countryside as do the white dots of gers in the distance, signalling each family’s location. The mongolian light on the Steppe can be incredible.
Today’s ride takes us from the rolling grasslands over a pass where we can take in vistas of wooded mountains and fast flowing pebble based rivers winding into the distance. We’ll roll into lunch on the open steppe, prepared by our chef, and dine al fresco with revolving courses of soups salads and mains.
The afternoon ride takes us over to the Tuul River bridge and through dense scrubland into a narrow valley that features granite outcrops protruding from steep mountains. The valley floors are a rush of colours as dozens of species of wildflowers cover the valley floors and mountainsides. We finish the day at a camp by the Tuul River and a dip in it’s crystal clear water. There will be time to relax and soak up the countryside.
Dinner will be a hearty meal in our communal dining tent with a locally recruited musician playing the the horse head fiddle, conjuring the sounds of Mongolian life as we toast the start of our ride with a semi-traditional shot of vodka.
Accommodation: tented camp
Cycle approx: 37 km
Day 3: Cycle to Princess Temple Valley
Wending our way through forest, marsh and up and down some steep slopes brings us near the base of Altan mountain, over which lies the Khaan Khentii National Park. Just north of here, human influence wanes, and the world’s largest biome begins, the Siberian taiga forest, home to an incredible array of wildlife including reindeer, moose, bears, wolves, Siberian tiger, lynx and sable. It’s also where the birthplace, and rumoured burial site, of Chinggoss Khan lies.
We head back down toward the Tuul river again on a nice long descent before turning into a valley that houses a temple to a revered Mongol Princess. Walks in the area are highly recommended – it may be possible to take a horse ride up to the hidden temple – or just to simply explore the surrounding forest and rock features. This is a perfectly suited sacred place for our shaman to unleash his magic and we’ll see what transpires for us in the spirit world!
Accommodation: tented camp
Cycle approx: 40 km
Day 4: Cycle to Terelj/ family stay
A shorter day on the bikes is an enjoyable one as we we rejoin the Tuul River and meet a local family who we’ll spend the afternoon and evening with. We’ll be welcomed into their homes and get a chance to see the layout and lifestyle of these traditional ger dwellings that both house and produce the high dairy diet of the nomads. A Mongol BBQ will end our day, a traditional lamb feast prepared with fire heated river stones and pressure cooked with vegetables.
Accommodation: tented camp
Biking: approx: 25 km
Day 5: Cycle to Gachuurt- Transfer to Ulaan Baatar
We begin the day cycling through Terelj village and a crossing of the river Terelj. This is where modern Mongol city slickers come to escape modern life, sleep in tents and ride horses – a real sign of how fast things can change. We have a pretty big hill to climb before we have a endless downhillll into forest, open valley and sand dunes. We’ll ride to the edge of the city that appears like a line drawn in the sand and pack up our bikes for the drive into town. Bright lights will appear that much brighter as the city will have geared up fully for the coming Naadam. Fireworks and pop performances will be happening in Suhkbaatar Square and we’ll hit the town to take in the festivities.
Biking: approx: 50 km
Day 6: Naadam Festival – Opening Ceremony/ Wrestling/ Archery/ Knucklebones
Mid-morning the ceremonies begin in the square with a full regalia of military, police and a you name it of uniforms on parade in front of the Parliament house. The Mongolian Military band grinds out a Lord of the Rings Mordor battle dirge as traditional Mongol horsemen, a special guard, receive a horsetail totem, symbolic of the nine Mongol tribes, and trot it all the way to the the Stadium about 3 km away. It’s pretty cool to see and not hard to imagine how these people once dominated Eurasia!
We’ll do our best to be in the stadium as the ceremonies begin, but it’s mayhem and madness as the whole of the present population of the country tries to do the same. Every opening ceremony is different, and it’s as much about watching the locals as it is about the events. After the opening ceremony we’ll watch the opening rounds of wrestling before heading over for the finals of the men’s and women’s archery. We’ll also take in a bit of the knucklebone action too – more skilful than it sounds! The day and evening is free to wander around the the events, head into the city or take it easy with a beer on the square and people watch.
No biking today.
Day 7: Naadam Festival – Horse Racing and tracking the Przewalski Horse
The final day of the Naadam is an early start to head out to the horse racing. The race actually starts as soon as we are on the road, as every vehicle in the country, it seems, jostles for position and rally races out to the event. Horses are revered and the horse racing is very prestigious to Mongols. Wildly chaotic, it’s not the Melbourne Cup or Happy Valley, as spectators on foot stand side by side with spectators on horseback watching ten year old kids race highly trained horses over a 30km distance. It’s a carnival atmosphere that thats as much about the spectators as the jockeys.
In the afternoon we head to Hustai, and trek into the hills to spy out the small but successful Przewalski horse herds and the unique social organisations of Alpha males plus harems, and power hungry outcast males banding together in their own side communities.
Accommodation: National park bungalows
Hiking and opportunities for an evening ride
Day 8:Hustai National Park.
Riding with Marmots, Steppe Eagles, Red Deer and most famously the Przewalski horse, the day promises to be a great ride with unique opportunities to get up close to wildlife. There are very few vehicles in the park and our bike offers a rare opportunity to travel relatively quietly over big distances in this conservation zone. Binoculars are a great investment if wildlife spotting is your thing.
We spend the day in the park, cycling back to park headquarters then transfer back to UB for final night dinner.
Accommodation: National park bungalows
Day 9: Departure
Today is departure day and we’ll get you to the airport for your flight back home.
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