RUSSIA and MONGOLIA
The Altai Sayan EcoRegion has been identified by WWF as their Global 200 regions where more than 90 percent of the planet’s biodiversity is concentrated. The major parts of this EcoRegion is shared by Russia and Mongolia, and the minor parts also involves China and Kazakhstan. The Altai Mountains divide the different parts. The highlands of Mongolia are rather dry steppes with snow-capped mountains whereas the lower elevation western parts in Russia are largely forested and spectacular, being part of southernmost Siberia, with its own micro-climate. The Russian part is significantly more humid and wet. There are excellent apples and many berries of different kinds. Kazakhs, Russians and Altai peoples inhabit Respublika Altai and the Mongolian side is also mostly Kazakh, but also Tuvans, Mongols and many other ethnic minorities. The local people in the entire region speak a myriad of local languages such as Slavic, Mongol, Turkic and Altai language groups.
Brief Outline Itinerary
You will fly to either of Barnaul (Russian Altai region) via Moscow or to Ölgii (Mongolian Altai). There are a number of extension trips in westernmost Mongolia. Flight connections are best negotiated with Russian Aeroflot Airlines who fly on-line to both Barnaul (BAX) and Ulaanbaatar (ULN). The trip is vehicle supported and we will make use of the small and intimate Hotel Salyut, situated directly on the banks of the Katun River and the Blue Wolf Ger Camp, half an hour drive outside Ölgii. Between these places there will be tented camping, and cooks and guide brought along for the journey. The border crossing at Tashanta (Russia) and Tsaagannuur (Mongolia) is open for third country nationals as of 2005 only.
Day 1 To Moscow
You have the full day to arrive in Moscow. At Moscow international airport (Sheremetyevo II) take the free shuttle to nearby Novotel, and spend the time waiting there. There is sauna, restaurants, wireless internet, pub etc. Pick up at the hotel by a transfer guide in time for the overnight flight to Barnaul in southernmost Siberia. Pls note the domestic airport is a separate airport nearby.
Day 2 To Katun River
Arrive Barnaul in the early morning. It is the largest and ugliest city of the region with some 700 000 inhabitants. Barnaul is the urban hub for the Altai region. We will be invited for breakfast and registration procedures will take place here. Our bus will take us in 4 hours to the banks of the spectacular Katun River, a tributary of the mighty Siberian river Yenisey. Check-in at the small and cozy Salyut Hotel, which has a sauna, BBQ outdoor place by the river and excellent kitchen. After lunch we drive upstream the Katun to Chemal village to visit the small and spectacularly located – on a rock island in the middle of the Katun River - nunnery of Patmos monastery. There are some 50 nuns in residence and we walk across the hanging bridge to the nunnery. Makariya was the priest instrumental in converting the indigenous Turkic speaking Altai people’s to Christianity in the end of the 1700s. Although they remain also schamanistic today. The area is at 4-500 meters above sea level of elevation with plenty of broad leaf forests with linden, woodruff, asarum, birch, aspen as well as cedars and Larch. Some of the species are common in the Russian Plains and Russian Far East but not in Siberia.
Day 3 Katun River area
Full day exploration on foot of the nearby area. We will start out walking through the Anos village, which is poor and traditional. Families with a lot of kids live here. From Anos we will hike 17km up into the Altai Mountains, for spectacular views (weather permitting) towards snow-capped Mt. Adigan (1857m). If we reach all the way to the small Emurla waterfalls we will be picked up there, and drive to another village, where an informal dinner will be hosted by local people. The sauna at the hotel will be ready for those interested.
Day 4 To Kuraj area
We will now drive for the full day, gaining elevation towards the Mongolian highlands, crossing several mountain passes. It is a spectacular road journey on a good tarmac road up several valleys, until we reach almost to the tree line. We will have our lunch en route. The Katun and Choy Rivers follow the road and the surrounding mountains are high, often most with snow capped peaks. The dense forests will thin out as we gain elevation and there will be cedars at Seminskiy. We will pass several villages where Altai people’s lives. The Altai are Turkic speaking people. Such as at the village of Ondugai. Above Inya village – at Kuraj - we will meet our Mongolian crew and camp out near the river or up a valley, a few 2-3 hours short from the Mongolian border. Tented camp.
Day 5 Kosh Agach Plateau to Olgiy
Continue drive up on to the Kosh Agach Plateau, which visibly already is Mongolia. The area is now drier with some 160mm precipitation per annum. Kosh Agach is the main town of the area, almost all people living here are local Kazakhs. Another Turkic speaking people we will also meet on the Mongolian side. We will cross into Mongolia after the small village of Tashanta. It will certainly take an hour of formalities for both sides. The goods roads will totally disappear as we enter into Mongolia, and Bayan-Olgiy province. From the border there is a spectacular 2-3 hour ride across the mountain steppes to Olgiy. We will have our dinner at a local restaurant in Olgiy. We will tonight stay in a local ger camp at Sagsay, a community and village half an hours drive beyond Ölgiy.
Day 6 Olgiy area
Full day to enjoy this remote corner of Mongolia on foot, or if we can hire, some camels. Bayan-Ulgii is where most ethnic Kazakhs lives and they are muslims, rather than buddhist’s (as Mongolians usually are). With luck we will be able to meet up with a local family who train and domesticate Golden Eagles for fox hunts from horseback. Locals are often on horseback and are nomads herding yaks, goats, sheep, camels and horses. Handicraft is spectacular and the interior of the Kazakh yurts are like small temples.
Day 7 End services
After breakfast we will transfer you to your next destination. Be it a flight to Ulaanbaatar or continue any of our additional itineraries in western Mongolia. Either out of Ulgii. Hovd is an 6 hours drive away and it will cost an additional EURO 145 of transfer cost to join our itinerary for Khar Us Nuur National Park.
Price at Barnaul ( 6d/7n)
EURO 655 (min 2members)
Price at Olgiy ( 8d/7n)
EURO 870 (min 2members)
Includes: All meals. All overnights in Ger Camp, tents or hotel. All local transport. Park entry fee. Local cook and local guide from Ölgii and Barnaul respectively.
Excludes: Imported drinks. Laundry. Air or train tickets in and out of Russia/Mongolia. Domestic flight in Russia. Visa fees. Single supplement is USD 80 per night.
Dates at Barnaul
You are best off sourcing Aeroflot flights, which are on-line both to Barnaul and Ulaanbaatar and to the rest of the world. Meaning they are likely to offer the lowest fares. This trip operates in reverse way also. Flights from Barnaul to Moscow are always in the early morning as day flights. Due to local time zones, you will arrive in Moscow only one hour later local time, which means you have the whole day for the connection to other parts of the world.
Moscow and Ulaanbaatar:
Are gateways cities to connect to this journey. It is of course possible and recommended to take advantage of being there and order stop-over in both cities. Moscow is affluent and pricey. The classical sights are certainly accessible. 3d/2n in Moscow is USD xx in shared double. And 3d/2n in Ulaanbaatar is USD xx in shared double.
In addition, our 4d/3n itineraries to the Mongol heartland at Jalman Meadows and Arburd Sands are recommended as good value extensions as well as our Yak and Camel Treks, which operate on fixed dates almost weekly.
Hazard: You need to plan to stay in Mongolia for at least 2 nights after the return from western Mongolia. Flights from the interior may cancel due to poor visibility (rain/fog), why there need to be some “rubber” time built in to the itinerary, in order to accommodate such changes, to be able to be back in time for your international flight departure.