A Guide to Visiting the Gorkhii Terelj National Park in Mongolia
Arranging a Tour Guide to Gorkhii Terelj Protected Area
For convenience and ease, many people will look online and book a guide through the website of a tour agency before they travel. However, this convenience comes at a cost; it will likely cost more to book in advance than it would if you found a tour guide once you arrived in Ulaanbaatar.
Most hotels will have arrangements with a tour agency, so one option is to ask them about tours when you check in. Another option for those a little braver and more budget-conscious is to either visit a tour agency in person or have a wander around the vast Sukhbaatar Square in the city centre. There are a number of reputable independent tour guides who you can find here who will offer to take you on a tour of the Gorkhii Terelj protected area and with whom you will likely be able to negotiate an excellent rate.
Whichever way you decide to book your tour, you will have a driver and a guide, both of whom will have permits from the Government to work inside the protected area.
Gorkhii Terelj Standard Tour Itinerary
Your guide and driver will arrange to meet you at your hotel bright and early in the morning. They will likely aim to get out of the city before rush hour, as the traffic in Ulaanbaatar ranks with the worst in the world.
You'll drive for a couple of hours until you reach your first destination inside the park. This will likely be a stop for a photo at the 'Turtle Rock'. Why is it called Turtle Rock? Well, have a look at the picture above and you tell me.
As the park is so big, there is quite a lot of driving, but you will get to see and experience a variety of things as part of the itinerary. One of the most amazing experiences of the tour is the feeling of solitude and quiet. Gorkhii Terelj feels like a million miles away from the busy, noisy day-to-day lives most of us lead at home. The natural wonder of the area and its natural, untamed nature is really quite breath-taking.
The itinerary is fairly relaxed and not so full-on. The guide will give plenty of information and they will almost certainly be from the local area and will have either grown up in the countryside or have family who live there. The Mongolian people are very proud of their village traditions and rural life even though more and more people are migrating to the capital to find regular work.
Where is the Gorkhii Park National Park located in Mongolia?
Staying With a Nomadic Family in Mongolia
Aside from the sights and the landscapes, the major highlight of the tour is the overnight stay in a traditional 'Ger' or 'Yurt'. You'll likely arrive at the property in the afternoon and will have time to yourself to explore and to meet the family. Don't expect them to speak English, but do absolutely expect them to be warm, friendly and hospitable. They might be a bit busy, though. You'll be staying at a real working home where the family is managing their home and their livelihood for pretty much their entire waking day.
You'll have your own Ger to yourself, so you won't actually be sleeping with the family. But you will eat with them in the evening and they will introduce you to the things they eat and the games they play.
When I did this tour, I was introduced to the game 'ankle bones'. This is a game played with the ankle bones of goats, which are very special to the families living in rural parts of Mongolia. It's a fun game that involves flicking your opponent's pieces out of the game until you're the last one with any pieces remaining. It's easy to pick up and surprisingly fun to play.
Our host family had a herd of cattle, hens, horses, goats and even pigs. Our guide had told us that she was from a farming family, and she proved it when she went out and started milking the cows!
Sleeping in a Ger
The gers are basically furnished, but the beds have warm bedding and there's a wood burner/stove in the middle of the ger with an extraction flue that goes out through the roof. It's likely that the stove won't be fed with wood, though—the Mongolians prefer to use dried cattle dung as it burns for longer and is fantastically sustainable.
Even in summer, the nighttime temperature can drop sharply pretty much as soon as the sun goes down. It can go from 18 degrees to 3 degrees in about an hour. With the stove on, the ger is nice and warm and the host will come into the room before dawn and refill with more fuel so it's nice and toasty when you awake.
Day 2 Itinerary
On the second day of the tour you will be taken to a mountain-top Monastery with breath-taking views across the valley. The Monsatery is a meditation temple used by Buddhist Monks and has been used since it's fairly recent construction and inauguration in 2006. It is decorated internally with bright colours and contains more than 200 images and quotes depicting Buddhist philosophy.
Visiting the Genghis Khan Statue Complex
No tour would be complete without a visit to the massive equestrian statue of Genghis Khan—or Chinggis Khan as he is known in Mongolia. The Mongolian people are very proud of their ancestor and this statue is a monument of national pride. It's quite a bizarre sight when you see it for the first time. With nothing else around it, it's really rather enormous. It makes for some impressive photos and you can climb up it and onto a viewing terrace on top of the horse's head.
The statue was completed in 2008 and is part of a long-term and as-yet-unrealised plan to create a tourism complex complete with replica villages from the time of Genghis Khan and his army controlled an empire covering half the planet.
Visiting a Traditional Kazakh Family
On the way back towards Ulaanbaatar, the tour will possibly include lunch in a Kazakh village with a traditional Kazak family. Compared with the stay in the ger and the host family there, this part of the itinerary may feel a bit more staged. You'll likely be offered some traditional Kazakh snacks and sweets such as fermented yoghurt pieces, and you have the opportunity to dress up in traditional Kazakh dress.
After that, it's back to Ulaanbaatar, which will likely take a considerable amount of time due to the horrendous traffic in the city. Many people do this trip as part of a stopover in Ulaanbaatar as part of the Trans Siberian Railway journey. If you have an onward journey booked for the same day, be prepared for some tense and anxious moments!
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Matt Doran