Explore the Altai of the Golden Eagle and Snow Leopard
Mongolia is the land of two of Nature’s most iconic predators – the Golden Eagle and the Snow Leopard. Snow Leopards – called Altai Irves by the Mongols - are one of the most elusive of all the big cats in the world. While most people associate it with Asia’s highest mountains such as the Himalaya, Tien Shan and Pamir, the Mongolian Altai and Govi-Altai mountains harbor strong populations with some the highest recorded densities in the world. Critical to their survival are the strong populations of prey, such as Mongolian Argali sheep and Siberian Ibex, as well as abundant Marmots. Here in the Mongol Altai this journey will take you into the heart of Snow Leopard habitat, where an abundance of wild prey ensures that the Irves lives unmolested from persecution. Ongoing scientific research associated with this exclusive itinerary means there is an opportunity to spend time in study areas, intimately experiencing the Snow Leopard’s mountain home, with an exciting possibility of even encountering this magnificent elusive cat.
Soaring over the Altai’s cliffs and slopes are the legendary Golden Eagles – known as the Berkut, which are renowned for their hunting prowess and revered by the Altai Kazakh people. As we go deep into the mountains to encounter the wild Golden Eagles that inspire such Kazakh “berkutchi” hunters, this journey will also give us the opportunity to directly experience the Kazakh Eagle hunting tradition that has been practiced uninterrupted by hunters for over 1000 years. While this Eagle-hunting culture has been recently rediscovered, there remain very few traditional, authentic berkutchi left. Fortunately, we will be able to visit some of these renowned hunters to experience their age-old working relationship with their magnificent eagles at first hand. Larger, more aggressive female eagles are favored by the Kazakh hunters, given the bird’s capacity to bring down large prey, such as foxes, ibex and even wolves. In the old tradition they are taken as eaglets, raised to work with the hunter for many years until fully mature, and then released as experienced hunters back into the wild to join their wild kin.
This itinerary will take us into the heart of the Altai Mountains where Golden Eagles, Eagle hunter and the mysterious Snow Leopard coexist in a truly mythic landscape and culture.
Day 1. Arrive UB
Arrive UB airport and meet by our guide. Transfer to hotel. After a short rest to freshen-up we will do a sight -seeing tour of Ulaanbaatar, focusing on such significant cultural sites as Gandan Buddhist Monastery, the Zanzabar Fine Arts Museum, which holds the finest collection of thangka paintings, carvings and sculptures in Mongolia. The Chojin Lama temple will be visited, the location of which clearly illustrates the great contrast between the old and the new in Mongolia. Lunch will be enjoyed in a nearby Mongolian restaurant with traditional cuisine. In the afternoon, the Winter Palace of the last Bogd Khan will be visited which houses some very interesting cultural and religious artefacts. To get a panoramic overview of the city, we may visit the Great Buddha statue and memorial at Zaisan. In the evening at dinner we will enjoy a typical folkloric Mongol performance (songs and dances). We will overnight at a 4 star hotel.
Day 2. Fly to Hovd and Drive to Chandman village near Jargalant Mountain
After early breakfast, transfer to UB airport. Arrive Hovd airport to be met by the team. Lunch in Hovd town. After lunch, we will drive south across the Great Lakes Basin south to Chandman soum where it is claimed that the renowned Mongolian throat-singing originates. En route we will see the Khar Us Nuur (Black Water Lake) with its vast reed beds (among the largest in Central Asia) and abundant water birds (Cranes, Gulls, Herons, even Pelicans). This National Park, like the Jargalant Hairkhan Mountain is a priority for WWF Mongolia who are very active here. Overnight in tent. (BLD)
Days 3-5. Explore Jargalant Mountain - home of the Snow Leopard
Today, we explore Jargalant Hairhan Mountain and hike into Rashantiin Am (Spring Canyon), a sacred valley with a spring renowned for its medicinal properties. Jargalant Hairkhan (Mountain of Sacred Happiness) is a great range that dominates the Great Lakes Basin. Rashantiin Am is an atmospheric valley piled with rocks and ancient poplar trees. WWF Mongolia have done many years of research here on what is known to be an important population of Snow Leopard. We will immerse ourselves in the ecology of this, our first Altai mountain experience, learning about the plants, birds and mammals that make their home here. We will do a number of hikes within this spectacular canyon and surrounding valleys, looking for sign of Snow Leopard and other wildlife. Overnight in tents. (BLD)
Day 6. Drive to Khukh Serkhiyn Nuruu (Blue Goat) National Park
After breakfast, we cross open plains below Jargalant Hairkhan and will look out for the rare and unusual Mongolian Saiga antelope, a relic of the Pleistocene era. We will then drive 160kms (4-5hrs) to the northwest to come to a traditional Kazakh Eagle hunter’s summer home. Erbol will be our host, in an impressive valley on the northwestern side of the great Khukh Serkh Mountain. This is a mountain range renowned for its Snow Leopards, with abundant populations of Argali and Ibex. Our visit will be benefiting from an ongoing Snow Leopard research project that is being undertaken here, giving us considerable insight into the movements and habits of these elusive cats. We will learn from Erbol and his magnificent Golden Eagle, and learn from a true master about the traditions and skills of hunting with Eagles in the Altai.
Days 7-9. Khukh Serkhiyn Nuruu (Blue Goat) National Park
We will spend our days hiking in the wild and remote fastnesses of the Khukh Serkhiyn range. We will take our time to watch carefully for all aspects of wildlife here: Argalis, Ibexes and Red Deer, always entertaining the hope for a possible and rare Snow Leopard sighting. We will enjoy all that these mountains have to show, from the many raptors such as Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle, the awe-inspiring bone-eating Lammergeyer (Bearded Vulture), the great Black Vulture and the swift sacker Falcon (the Altai race of which is considered by many ornithologists to be a separate and little-known species). We will give ourselves the opportunity to observe these mountains in all their intricate grandeur, and appreciate their great silences, in the mountain heart of Asia. We will vary our hiking routes each day, looking for signs of Lynx, Pallas’s Wildcat, Wolf, Fox and other mammals. Spending time with Erbol the Eagle hunter, we can learn more about traditional Kazakh Eagle hunting skills and gain from his unique perspectives about living in his mountain home. We will overnight in tents hosted by a local family. (BLD)
Day 10. Drive to Olgii
We will take an early morning drive to Olgii, the through a dramatic landscape with Sairiyn Nuruu towering above us and the rugged Altai uplands beyond Lake Tolbo (Nuur). After 4-5hrs we arrive at the ger-camp in Olgii. After lunch we will spend the afternoon sightseeing around Olgii, visiting its interesting bazaar as well as the recently renovated local mosque, and a well-stocked local museum. Some interesting backstreet handicraft shops will give us the opportunity to look for traditional Kazakh crafts and wares. Overnight at local hotel. (BLD)
Day 11. Departure from western Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar.
After breakfast, we will head for Olgii airport and for Ulaanbaatar. From UB airport we will transfer to our hotel. There will be opportunities for shopping in the city. Overnight at our 4-star hotel. (B)
Day 12. Depart UB
After early breakfast, we transfer to UB airport and depart Mongolia. (B)
The western Mongolian winters are cold and dry with occasional snow, but most days have clean blue sky and strong sun. /-10°-25° during a days and -15°-30° of Celsius during a nights/.
Summer months can have highly variable weather, with the possibility of snowfall and cold weather, as well as warm, even hot days. /+15°+30° during a days and +5°+20° of Celsius during a nights/. Therefore travelers should be prepared for both moderately warm and cold conditions, with dramatic fluctuations in temperature.
For eagle hunting, local Kazakh people use horses. The services of some herdsmen will be hired by the expedition, and they will provide us with their animals.
Staff: A local guide who speaks English and Mongolian will accompany the group at all times. A cook will follow, with an assistant. In addition, the services of the local herdsmen will be hired along with their animals. The horsemen follow a traditional lifestyle in the areas where we will be riding.
Meals: Our cook will prepare the meals. We pride ourselves in having cooks adapt to both western and Mongolian cooking on our trips. There are always vegetables available, and we have no problem accommodating vegetarians on our trips. For breakfast we can usually buy fresh yogurt from the herdsmen in the local area.
My price is: ... per person, if you are 2 people.
It includes: Eng. guide, 3meals per day, overnights with nomadic families and local hotel in Olgii, sleeping matts and bag, 4x4 car, Kazakh eagle hunter and riding horses, nat. park ranger and permits. ULN-HVD and ULG-ULN flights.
For a confirmed booking, a deposit of (10%) is required. Deposit is paid by credit card (secure payment via Stripe, no credit card fees). The remaining balance can be paid in cash upon start of the trip - unless Host & Traveler agree on different payment methods.
Cancellations can be made free of charge up to 30 days prior to the beginning of the booked service. The deposit (10%) is only refundable if the booking is canceled at least 30 days in advance.