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 get together for a group meeting in the early evening and head out for a Modern Mongol fusion dinner and a stroll around the centre.
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.
Today is devoted to exploring the city and its main sights. First up is a visit to Ganden Monastery, Mongolia's largest and most important lamaist monastery, where you'll see monks and locals going about their daily devotions. Lamaism is a branch of buddhism that is practiced in Mongolia and Tibet. Next, we visit the Bogd Khan Museum, the former winter residence of the last theocratic ruler of Mongolia, where you'll see the Bogd Khans' personal living spaces and possessions as well as one of the most important collections of Buddhist artworks in the world. We'll head up to Zaisan Memeorial, for views overlooking the city and classic soviet murals depicting Mongolia's invlovement in WWII. Finally, we settle in for a performance of Mongolian traditional music featuring the unique horse-head fiddle and long songs, or throat singing: sounds of the steppe that will stay with you on your journey throughout Mongolia and beyond. The rest of the evening is free to explore further or prepare for the upcoming journey.
The start of our epic adventure begins by loading up the Russian luz 4WD vans and meeting your local crew. Along with your cycling leader, you'll be accompanied by a team of locals including a cycling guide/ mechanic, cooks and drivers: all there to make sure you get the best out of your time in Mongolia and they always leave a long lasting impression on our guests for their warmth, humour and smiles. It's a long day's drive but we'll stop for lunch, and the chance to ride a camel (optional camel ride), at Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes: a vast 80km stretch of dunes surrounded by semi-desert steppe and thickets of elm, willow and dogwood. After lunch, we'll continue on toward the small town of Arvaikheer, the capital of Ovorkhangai Province, named after a famed racehorse produced in the area. Just beyond Arvaikheer we'll set up camp for our first night under the stars.
We'll pack up camp and head to our cycling start point on the southern edge of the Khangai Mountains near Bayanhongor, capital of the province of the same name. We take our time setting up the bikes and, after a hearty lunch, we set off across the steppe and into the Khangai mountains to the Sharguljuut River. The first section is takes us on a slight upward trend on hard pack, with some sandy sections, on open steppe until we reach our high point for the day with magnificent views of the Sharguljuut valley below and the Khangai mountains beyond. A nice series of downhills brings us to the river where we set up camp for the evening. Several semi-nomadic families inhabit the valley during this time of year and you'll see several gers, or yurts in russian, dotted along the valley along with their herds of sheep, goats, yak and horses. You may wish to take a walk among the surrounding rocky outcrops, where several species of ground squirrel and gerboa dart about on the lookout for the numerous species of birds of prey. A refreshhing dip in the nearby river is also an option.
Dinner as the sun sets is a daily highlight. Our cook is adept at whipping up hearty, nutricious food in several courses of soups, salads and mains that will fuel us throughout the ride. Dining, shower and lavatory tents are set up for each camp and fold-out chairs and handwashing facilities are available too.
Start Elevation: 2027m, Max Elevation: 2205m, Camp Elevation: 1956m, Climb: 250m
Cycling distance: ~25km
Our first full day on the bikes! After a hot breakfast and beverages we hit the road for beautiful ride up the Sharguljuut River valley. The ride is undulating on jeep track for the first 20km or so, and you'll need to familiarise yourself with the terrain as it varies from smooth to rock strewn with several stream crossings; a challenge when the scenery is doing everything to draw your eyes. Local families will call out to you to stop and join them for some milk tea, airag (fermented mare's milk) and curd, along with several types of dairy product that sustain the nomads during the fruitful summer months. Migratory ducks and cranes can sometimes be seen so it's worth keeping your eyes peeled.
Our first break occurs at our first major river crossing. We'll cross the Sharguljuut River and rest up to re-fuel with some snacks, tea, coffee and juice. If the river is high the water can get over wheel height so you may have to carry the bike across, jump in the van or pick a good line and power through - we'll teach you the best lines and technique for crossing Mongolian streams! After break, it's a steady 10km climb into the mountains on a gradually steepening incline. Stone mounds dot the valley as we climb higher - these are cairns built by the nomads so the pergrinne falcons and other birds of prey can launch themselves on the rodents in the valley and keep their numbers in check - nomad conservation! It becomes very steep for one kilometre to the summit at 2557m where the views open up on both sides of the pass. We'll stop to rest up and take in the panorama. There's a steep one kilometre downhill before it flattens out for the downhill run all the way to camp in one of the nicest valleys of the tour.
Start Elevation: 1956m, Max Elevation: 2557m, Camp Elevation: 2264m, Climb: 932m
Cycling distance: ~48km
Today we make our way across the Shar Hutul pass at 2540m for a spectacular downhill into the Tuin River valley. With several stream crossings as we crisscross the Tuin River to make our way upstream toward the river's headwaters. The riding is more challenging in the afternoon as we steadily gain altitude as well as traversing wide rock strewn riverbed. The high mountain terrain and impressive glacier-formed valleys are pocketed with forest and strewn with colourful wildflowers. As we are in high country, headwinds and flash hail storms can cause the temperature to drop suddenly. Then, just as suddenly, the sun appears to dry everything out as if nothing had happened! Across Mongolia the weather can change very rapidly so you need to be prepared to use all your gear - from cold weather to hot weather cycling gear - sometimes using it all across even an hour. It's reccommended you bring wet weather cycling gear as temperatures drop suddenly when it rains. It's uncommon for prolonged days of rain but it is neccesary to be prepared just in casae as we are cycling in remote regions.
Our camp tonight, far from civilisation, is the highest and most spectacular of the tour looking down the Tuin River valley over an often frozen lake from 2511m. You might even catch a glimpse of marmot, hear their barking or, if you are lucky hear the howl of a wolf. Sightings of both these animals are rare as marmot is the most favoured meat of the nomads and wolf are hunted for the prestige it confers on the hunter.
Start Elevation: 2264m, Max Elevation: 2540m, Camp Elevation: 2511m, Climb: 640m
Cycling distance: ~47km
We kick off the day with a nice 6 km climb to the top of Khul Sayngiin pass where we'll rest at the ovoo, a cairn of rocks and blue prayer flags that mark the pass on all mountain roads and trails in Mongolia. It's here that locals will make offerings of rocks - that help maintain the cairn - while circumnavigating the ovoo three times in a clock-wise direction. It's considered respectful to do this. You'll also see plenty of vodka bottles and crutches among other offerings at these sacred palces too; a dead giveaway to many Mongolian nomads favourite pasttimes; riding horses and drinking and they excel at both!
A tricky downhill on rocky roads leads us down to the valley floor. The rest of the day we have to navigate dozens of stream crossings and extended rocky sections - the trick is to maintain your speed and glide over them as best you can. This stunning valley will lead us to the Tamir River and we camp riverside - a perfect swimming spot in a spectacular location that boasts rocky outcrops, forested hillsides, wildflower grassland and steep mountains.
Start Elevation: 2511m, Max Elevation: 2714m, Camp Elevation: 2063m, Climb: 250m
Cycling distance: ~53km
The riding today is a breeze! Well, there is one steep hill to negotiate but it's, mostly, downward speedy cycling on super smooth tracks and trails. All the roads are jeep track but, if you like singletrack, you can hunt for it off the sides of the roads where horses and motorbikes have made some fun lines to follow. We visit a nomad family today and have a tour of their ger dwellings and sample some of the dairy that is particularly famous in the Khangai mountains. We'll stop at nearby Bulgan to pick up any supplies, our first stop in relative civilisation for days. Onward to camp overlooking the Tamir River, we'll knock off the day's ride with a relaxing afternoon ahead of us and lunch at camp.
Start Elevation: 2063m, Max Elevation: 2228m, Camp Elevation: 1821m, Climb: 472m
Cycling distance: ~46km
A flat mornings ride, with a small climb, takes us up to a vantage point overlooking Tsetserleg, one of Mongolia's more picturesque towns. A descent down into the town gets us on tarmac for a few kilometres and we are in civilisation. A coffee shop break and a visit to the Tsetserleg Museum are good options. There are plenty of supermarkets here so its a good chance to stock up on any goodies. We'll head back out of town to the Tamir river for lunch before tackling three hills to our destination after a final long sweeping downhill to Tsenker Hot Springs. Our stay is in a tourist ger camp with shower facilities, restaurant and outdoor hot springs to relax and soak any tired muscles.
Start Elevation: 1821m, Max Elevation: 1950m, Camp Elevation: 1783m, Climb: 611m
Cycling distance: ~52km
Today we'll head for the hills and make our way up through pine forest and narrow valleys as we head back into the heart of the Khangai National Park. We'll cross several streams and rivers before a last climb and a 15km descent brings us to Tsaagan sum (county) where natural springs are said to have special healing qualites. Our camp is on the open steppe with views up and down the valley below.
Cycling distance: ~53km
Start Elevation: 1783m, Max Elevation: 2051m, Camp Elevation: 1736m, Climb: 723m
A short day of 30km has us on two steep climbs with equally thrilling downhills on either side. A last run takes across the Orkhon River where we make camp and settle in for lunch. We'll take a drive up the river for a hike and, perhaps, a swim in the Orkhon waterfalls which are dramatically positioned just above where the Orkhon River passes through an impressive canyon.
Cycling distance: ~30km
Start Elevation: 1736m, Max Elevation: 1951m, Camp Elevation: 1696m, Climb: 448m
Our last full day on the bikes brings us along the Orkhon River valley - an amazing ride through ancient lava flow and ancient Kazakh burial mounds. This valley has witnessed massive volcan eruptions in it's past which has made the region particularly fertile: attractive to Chinggis Khan, who based the capital of the Mongol Empire at the end of the valley, and earlier Uighyr and Turkic peoples who also ruled vast areas of Central Asia from the same area. As such the Orkhon valley is considered one of the great archeological and historical sites for peoples across central Asia and into the Middle East. We'll have a few climbs today but it's a relatively easy day and we camp by the Orkhon once again with the chance for a refreshing end of ride swim.
Cycling distance: ~47km
Start Elevation: 1696m, Max Elevation: 1701m, Camp Elevation: 1533m, Climb: 318m
With our destination not far away, we'll complete our ride by summiting our last hill for expansive views back up the Orkhon valley. A great downhill and flat run brings us to the Mongolian Nations monument where you can see the various groups, and the areas of their territories, depicted pictorially around a huge ovoo. A great stop for a final group shot! We head down into Kharkorin, a smallish town that bears no clues to the fact that it was once the capital of the world's largest empires, and tuck into lunch as we pack up the bikes.
We are hearding to Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes to camp tonight but on the way we'll stop at the Erdenne Zhu monastery, once Mongolia's largest, and built from the remains of Mongolia's former capital, Karakorum. Tonight we'll feast on a traditional river stone cooked lamb dish, horhog, and toast our last night on the steppe!
Cycling distance: ~30km
Start Elevation: 1533m, Max Elevation: 1705m, Finish Elevation: 1466m, Climb: 324m
We'll begin our journey early today so we can make it back to UB in good time. We'll arrive mid-afternoon to do any last minute souvenir buys and to refresh for our last night dinner. Tonight we celebrate the end of our epic ride across Central Mongolia.
Today is departure day and you are free to leave at anytime. We'll transfer you to the airport for you onward flight home.