Welcome to Ulaanbaatar. On arrival in UB, as it is 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 and whisked away to the group hotel. Different parts of the city reflect the country’s different historical and cultural influences: the Russian-influenced Communist era architecture and planning of the centrally located Sukhbaatar Square, the suburbs filled with the traditional ger homes, the Buddhist-inspired temples (sum) and monasteries (khiid). There are several museums and galleries to check out if you want to see dinosaur skeletons, modern art or rare religious items. Your leader will leave information at the hotel letting you know when and where to meet for the group meeting this evening. We’ll meet with the rest of the group at welcome dinner and get an informal introduction to the great cycling tour ahead of you.
If you are arrive early there’s plenty of options to explore 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. 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.
The introductory city excursion starts with a visit to the country’s main Buddhist monastery. The awe-inspiring gigantic gold-plated Buddha statue is the principal object of worship. You will also observe local believers busy with various worship rituals and generally praying, many of them wearing colorful traditional overcoats. Then visit the central square adjacent to the parliament building with a façade adorned by marble statues of Genghis khan and his successors. Rightfully, the city’s signature photo point, it is always busy with newlyweds, reunification parties and public in general. Consider hearing an overview of Mongolia’s history from stone age period to modern era at the National Museum and seeing a few but remarkably important dinosaur fossils such as intact nests containing eggs, carnivores fighting herbivores and embryos still in the eggshell in the Paleontology Museum of Mongolia. A panoramic view of Ulaanbaatar from an elevated hill on the city’s edge gives an idea of its size and topography. Finally, having watched a show of traditional music, songs and famous throat singing, enjoy a Mongolian dinner.
We load in 4WD expedition vans which have special racks for carrying bikes and drive west of UB on rough tarmac across vast open steppes with rolling hills in the background. Countless flocks of grazing sheep, goats, horses and cattle herded by nomads and their traditional homes, known as ger, is a common sight. Around late afternoon we arrive to a provincial capital and settle in a hotel. The small town of Arvaikheer, the capital of Ovorkhangai Province, named after a famed racehorse produced in the area. If wished, you can explore the town on foot before dinner.
2 hour car transfer brings us to foothills of the Khangai mountain range where we start riding after a snack break. It is an acclimatization day with a gradual climbing angle across grassy valleys fed by small streams that flow to arid plains of the Gobi desert a glimpse of which you can get, looking back. A few homes of nomadic herders and their enormous herds will come in to your view this afternoon. Always curious about bike travelers, they may abandon their daily chores and come to greet and wave you. We establish our first tent camp soon after crossing over the day’s highest point at 2450m. On most of the nights on this trip you will sleep in a comfortable tent camp erected every afternoon upon finishing the day’s biking. It provides all amenities of a good wilderness camp including tents designated for dining, showering and bathrooms, not to mention great meals cooked by a chef.
Throughout the most of the day we gradually gain altitude on well established car tracks cut in and around mountain sides that provide a high angle views of a lush river valley teeming with yaks and horses. The great scenery compensates for some rocky sections of the road which eventually brings us to Shargaljuut mineral springs many of them boiling hot. A massive soviet era health spa dominates the mountain side gushing with hot mineral water famous for its curing qualities and widely used in traditional Mongolian medicine. Summer is a busy time here with lots local people spending a week or two getting rid off their ailments. We spend some time looking around the place and trying the water temperature. One more hour of pedaling further along the valley and civilization is completely left behind. We erect our tents on a pretty riverside with a few gers, the tents of herding locals, and their many animals in our sight.
During these 3 days we cross the Khangai’s watershed that separates its southern basin from the northern basin. The whole route follows the least travelled and hidden corners of the range. It’s truly delightful to see beautiful landscapes change every single day. Each ascent, at times quite challenging, brings you to a panoramic highpoint which is then followed by a breathtaking downhill. The road is then usually replaced by a level portion where you pedal leisurely and absorb the appeasing beauty of the virgin nature. Local herders and their immense flocks of animals will be your only and silent spectators. Invariably, our campsites are located in the vicinity of their homes allowing you opportunity for more interaction and cultural experience.
Having made it to the northern side of the Khangai we bike to Tsetserleg town, a pretty provincial capital located in the shelter of a spectacular granite ridge. A short but steep pass is followed by an overall fast day on excellent packed surfaces. The last climb finally opens an interesting view of traditional residential districts, geometrically aligned and with a lot of bright rooftops. We will have ample time for exploring the town including its busy market where local people sell pine nuts, various wild berries and other natural produce of the Khangai region. In just half an hour’s pedaling, we settle in a traditional style guest accommodation with relative comforts of a conventional hotel such running water, showers and bathrooms. For a guest room you will be allocated a real Mongolian ger.
Today is a half a day riding across a few short but steep passes, and we arrive to Tsenkher valley, famous for its mineral hot spring. Although somewhat crowded with both local and foreign travelers during short summer season, it certainly feels good to sooth your muscles with beer in your hand. Relaxing massage and laundry service is available too. Another night in traditional Mongolian tents.
Another fast day on great soils to reach Orkhon river valley littered with sponge like volcanic rock. As a UNESCO historic heritage site contains many hundreds of ancient burial mounds that dot the landscape. We set up tented camp right beside the river and take a dip in its cool waters before dinner is ready.
We cycle downstream along the Orkhon river and loose altitude throughout the day. Our destination is town of Karakorum - the site of the Mongol Empire capital in 1200s. Largely an experiment of city building by nomadic people, Karakorum never became a fully functional capital before it was destroyed by invading Chinese armies in late 14th century. Today the main attraction here is the monastery museum of Erdene Zuu established in 16th century by a Mongol khan as part of introduction of Buddhism as the main religion. The monastery then suffered almost a complete destruction during the anti-religion campaign of 1930-ies with just a dozen of temples surviving till present. We visit the monastery and the local museum to take a glance at a few surviving artifacts of the old capital before heading to a ger camp to celebrate our ride.
We load bikes and drive to Ulaanbaatar stopping for a picnic lunch at some scenic spot along the way. Upon arriving you can settle in your hotel and then meet at a good-bye dinner. Tonight we celebrate the end of our epic ride.
Today is departure day and you are free to leave at anytime. We'll transfer you to the airport for you onward flight home.