Landlocked between Russia and China, Mongolia is a nation of nomads and conquerors. Its national identity is a mixture of tribes, whose coming together has always centered around the power to adapt to harsh climates. Throughout its history, Mongolia has ensured the protection of its resources and traditional ways of life. The natural beauty of this country is born from extremes, and its lands and waters are testaments to just how much the country understands about weathering storms.
The settlement of Terelj is filled with many of the sites for which the area is known. Beyond it is Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, which is mostly undeveloped land that is hard to access. Upstream from the Terelj river are some of the main attractions of the park, including the remote glacial lake, Khagiin Khar Nuur. Then, there’s the 437-mile Tuul River, the companion to the Terelj, which is considered sacred to the Mongols.
Located in the Övörkhangai Aimag, Kharkhorin is home to the ruins of Karakorum, one of the former capitals of the Mongol Empire. Under the leadership of Ögedei Khan, the third son of Genghis, Karakorum was finished in 1235. The capital was filled with crafted palaces and pavilions, as well as a variety of houses of worship for his multi-ethnic followers.
As the capital of Bayan-Ölgii Aimag, Ölgii was an ethnic Kazakh village that was considered the center of Islam. With the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the rise of Communist China, Ölgii experienced an influx of people from both nations, as it was a connecting point between the countries. The main language here is Kazakh, and the people practice their traditional culture, which includes showcasing the Kazakh specialty of hunting with eagles during its annual Golden Eagle Festival.
Located in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, the Zaisan Memorial honors the allied soldiers from Mongolia and Russia who died during the Second World War. One notable part at the memorial is a mural depicting a combination of historical moments, including the 1939 defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army at the Mongolian border and the voyage of the first Mongolian in space in 1981.
Designated as a specially protected region since 1993, Khustain Nuruu National Park is classified as a natural reserve that covers 125,000 acres and is home to over 1,000 species of flora and fauna. One of the most notable sights in the park is Przewalski’s horse, also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse, which can probably be seen grazing around the Tuul River, which runs through the park.
Known as the “younger sister” to Lake Baikal, Lake Khövsgöl occupies an area larger than Yellowstone National Park and holds more than two-thirds of Mongolia’s potable freshwater. This 85-mile lake is more than two million years old, making it one of the world’s 30 ancient lakes. The number of fish species is not as robust due to poaching, but Khövsgöl still has abundant wildlife living on its banks and the panoramic views.
The Gobi Desert is the 930-mile link between China and Mongolia that’s surrounded by the Taklamakan Desert, Altai Mountains, and Tibetan Plateau. Its climate is one of the most extreme, where it can easily swing from -40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 113 degrees in summer. Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is a nature preserve within the Gobi Desert that’s home to several endangered species you can observe, such as the Siberian Ibex.
Located in Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park, Khorgo is an extinct volcano that last erupted about 10,000 years ago. Visitors can take a 15-minute jaunt up the stairs on the west side to head to the top, walk the crater ring, and enjoy the view. On the eastern side is a slippery slope that’s great for climbing.
This natural grassland comprises several small lakes and the Uvs Lake, which is a saltwater lake close to 2,500 feet above sea level. Despite the nearly 200-degree temperature swing between winter and summer, Uvs Lake Basin is home to over 200 bird and mammal species, which include the Asiatic Ibex and snow leopard.
Danzandarjaa is a Buddhist monastery that was built in the 1990s as a replacement for the Möröngiin Khuree monastery, which was founded in the early 1800s. Over the span of 100 years, the town of Mörön grew alongside the monastery, but in 1937, when it had approximately 1,300 monks in residence, it was destroyed. The belief is that Möröngiin and other monasteries in the country were probably destroyed by then-Prime Minister Khorloogiin Choibalsan, who was a devotee of Joseph Stalin and participant in the Stalinist purges.