Our unique trek is through the Harhiraa Mountains in the greater Altai Range. This is home to a small and intriguing ethnic group called the "Khotont". Our trek follows the migratory routes of the Khotont families along the Harhiraa river gorge and to the 3000mtr pass between Harhiraa and Turgen peaks. We'll pass evidence of ancient nomadic people in the form of Turkic gravestone markers. The landscape is dominated by the open slopes dotted with nomad tents, deep river gorges, alpine lakes and inspiring capped peaks. The second part of the journey takes us to a small village to complete our community project. Close to the village live the Nomadic guides and horseman whom have accompanied us on our trek, and some of their children attend the school we will be working on.
This Mongolia Adventure is rated level 5 - moderate. We therefore advise that any physical training you complete before undertaking the trip will be to good effect. In preparation for your trip you should be doing at least one hour of good cardiovascular exercise, 3 - 5 times per week for approximately 3 months prior to your trip. Remember the fitter you are the more enjoyable your experience will be.
THIS IS JUST A SAMPLE. IT CAN BE TAILORED TO YOUR NEEDS.
On arrival in the Mongolian capital will be met and transferred from the airport to the group hotel for tonight's accommodation.
Late this morning we will have a trip briefing with Tseren our Mongolian guide before heading out into the city for a days sightseeing. First stop is Sukhbaatar Square, the central square named after the revolutionary hero of 1921 Damdiny Sukhbaatar who declared independence from China. We visit Gandan Monastery the largest and most famous functioning monastery in Mongolia, here we may experience monks in worship and see the impressive Golden Buddha Statue of Migjid Janraisig. We return to the hotel in the afternoon to relax before a welcoming concert of Mongolian traditional music followed by dinner.
Following breakfast we transfer to the airport for a flight to the far western town of ‘Olgiy’. Olgiy itself is a fascinating mix of traditional Kazakh mud huts, gers, mosques and in the centre Soviet architecture. It has a distinct Central Asian atmosphere and as as the trading point, and capital of Kazakh culture in Mongolia is always bustling with both town dwellers and nomads who converge daily. Kazakhs are famous for their colorful embroidery and felt work and there will be the opportunity to see some of these handcrafts at the market. Later today we drive to Khovd Brigad, a tiny settlement about 150km to the north east of Olgiy. This is actually just a summer camp of Khotont people in their gers (much like having a mobile village). The ‘winter village’ is Khovd Sum through which we will travel on our way out. By the time you set foot here it does feel as if we have come a long way. This is as far as vehicles can make it, and will get ready for the trekking the next morning. Overnight camp.
We start the trek from a waterfall near Khovd Brigad. We will witness a day of ever changing landscapes - from the river gorge and forest, to high plains, a sea of green steppe, a spectacular waterfall for lunch, and finally desert-like mountains and plains. We will meet nomads in their summer pasture, and encounter ancient graves.
Today we have a spectacular, and at times challenging day of trekking ahead. The river that began as a trickle at the high- pass camp is now sunken deep into a gorge below. We trek along the steppe above following the routes of the nomad camel trains and eventually rise up into a forested gorge. Here a stream cascades down among boulders. The smell of fresh forest and water will be a change from the past few days. Here we will make camp, and celebrate with a wash in the stream.
Having reached the high point of the journey it is time to begin our descent to the west. Conditions allowing we will detour from the main trail to have lunch on a spectacular blue alpine, glacier-fed lake. From here the southern peaks including Kharkhiraa itself rise. This lake is hidden until you reach within a few hundred metres. From here we make our way among a myriad of hills and alpine lakes and get a totally different perspective of the Kharkhiraa mountains. Eventually we will begin encountering gers and nomads once again and will make camp along a river valley.
We wake early and make our way up a steep pinch on the final climb to the pass (quite steep, but fairly short, and on foot poses no real risks). The pass itself is a wide plain. You have the sensation that somehow you have reached the clouds because many of the glaciers are well below eye level, and the summits are only about 1000m above. Weather permitting we will lunch on the pass together with the camels. The view expands again when we reach beyond the highest point of the pass. Conditions permitting the distant ‘Sayan Mountains’ of Russia will be in view, and far below a series of alpine lakes pock-mark the steppe. From here there will be the option of descending to camp on the south side of the pass, or climbing up to 3600m on Turgen mountain. This trek which is the most challenging and steep of the journey takes us to a high ridge from where the extent of the mountains, including Kharkhiraa peak itself, will will be in view. Glaciers flow down from below your feet to the east, and to the west is the airy drop down to the high pass. The mountains right before us form a breathtaking ampu-theatre draped in ice. We make the descent via different route to camp and won’t arrive until late evening. Although this high trek is quite physically challenging and gives a real sense of mountain exposure it is a very safe route that anyone with a good level of fitness could complete.
After a possible stop among nomads for morning tea to watch how they make traditional vodka from Yak yoghurt, the river valley makes a bend and suddenly before us the mountains will be revealed. The highest peak is Kharkhiraa itself at 4037m, encrusted in glaciers. This is a particularly surprising view since these particular peaks have actually been hidden until now. From here we make our way directly up towards the high pass in between the main peaks of the Kharkhiraa range. Near the base of the climb to the high pass we will make an early camp with Dorvod and Khotont nomads to spend the evening with them as they herd in the yaks and sheep from the surrounding mountains. We will buy a sheep from a nomad and have a traditional feast with a family in their ger. This half day walk is the shortest of the itinerary.
A day of winding our way upwards when we may catch a glimpse of the ice-encrusted peaks of the high Kharkhiraa rising as spectacular pyramids and domes. Along the way we will meet with many nomad families who are making the most of the alpine pasture. We may have a chance to visit a ger and drink their ‘salty tea.’ Tseren will provide the translation and personal connections that allow us rare and intimate experience with the nomads. Keep in mind that the Kharkiraa as a whole only sees about 30-40 foreigners a year. On our way today we will pass more Turkic grave marker stones and camp near a nomad camp on grassy steppe. The Turkic grave markers and ‘kurgan’ graves date back to the bronze age (about 2,000 years ago) and can be seen as circular piles of rocks surrounded by squares or circles. In one Kurgan up to 45 people would have been buried with many horses. They are the distant nomad ancestors of the Mongols and Khotont people. In fact, the Kharkhiraa are part of the greater ‘Altai’ mountain range which is said to be at the very heart of Asia. Iranians, Turks, Mongols, Kazakhs, and many other people trace their history back to the people who came from the Altai and moved down to the steppe to tame horses, yaks, and camels. Even today the Altai splits Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Russia and is the meeting point of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Shamanism. In the evening we will enter a deep valley and the peaks above will be hidden from view. Camp will be made once again in the vicinity of nomads.Our route the next day takes us into the mountains via a gorge through which the Kharkhiraa river flows. Aspen forest grows along the bank, and the combination of the mountain shadows and glacier-fed waters makes it a spectacular start to the trek. River crossings will be made to avoid cliffs (these cliffs appear on different sides of the riverbank as the river twists an turns hence the need to cross). These crossings will be made with the aid of horses, and perhaps tractors depending on the conditions. This is the way that the Khotont people migrate themselves from the plains near Taralian into the mountains for summer. If we are lucky we will meet some families moving in camel trains into the mountains, children, and babies strapped into the cane baskets high up on the back of the camels. The Khotont people are a strongly nomadic tribe numbering about one or two thousand and live primarily in the Kharkhiraa mountains. Their history is very murky. No one really knows where they came from or when although they believe they have Turkic origins. They have adopted many Mongolian customs, but their language is different, and their facial features differ from Mongolians. In the evening of DAY 9, we will make it to Tarialan soum, 30 km drive from our finish point.
Our trek is completed as we travel to a small village where we will commence our Community Project. The nomadic guides and horseman who have accompanied us on our trek live nearby and many of their children attend the school. We will be split into groups and start the renovation of the school and medical facility. This is a substantial project and everyone has earned the right to participate through fund raising the project work amount. This area is very rarely if ever frequented by travelers and our project will be a highlight for all participants. The main objection of the community project is to help the local people. One project involves renovating the local school building to encourage the young people in the soum to gain an education by attending the school. We are looking at painting, fixing the existing structure and replacing some facilities like chalkboards. If monies are raised then we could buy some new medical facilities for the hospital.
We will complete work on our Community Project this morning and this afternoon we catch a flight to Ulaan Baatar. You may have time to relax in one of the capitals sidewalk cafes, do some last minute shopping, or visit other sights such as the Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan.
Today is at leisure to explore Ulaan Baatar one last time before we transfer to the airport for our flight home.
Per Person, Twin Share