ALTAI EXPLORE, 22 days, from 3315 USD, Kazakhstan-Russia-Mongolia LET'S PLAN YOUR TRIP
Join us on a truly ground-breaking journey, travelling through the forgotten lands of Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to the heart of the Altai Mountains and a land steeped in shamanism and ancient traditions. We start in Kazakhstan, flying from Almaty to the eastern capital of Ust-Kamenogorsk, the gateway to the Altai. Driving through pristine landscapes we cross the mighty Bukhtarma Reservoir and climb high passes, exploring waterfalls, canyons and lakes on the way. This area is home to the ‘Old Believers’, a breakaway sect of the Russian church who maintain traditional lives, and we stop to meet them and others along the way. Crossing into Russia we drive through the taiga to discover old traditions mixing with the modern, visiting a hidden monastery and meeting local shamans. We head into the mountains to discover the ancient graves and archaeological sites of a forgotten culture, and drive through stunning and utterly remote landscapes, looking out for wildlife and meeting people along the way. Our final country is Mongolia where we meet the Kazakh people of the west, famed for their practice of hunting with golden eagles, and spend the night as guests of an eagle hunter, or berkutchi, to learn more about this fascinating practice.We explore the untamed lands of Tavan Bogd and Tsambagarav, with mountains that are home to isolated populations of Tuvan and Uriankkhai people, as well as the iconic snow leopard, before flying leaving the wilderness behind and flying to Ulaan Baatar. This is an enchanting journey to a region that lies at the very edge of the countries it overlaps, with a unique culture that is steeped in the practices of days gone by – off the map in more senses than one. Adventure travel at its finest.
AlmatyArrive in Almaty and transfer to the hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight tourist class hotel. Almaty The largest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty is a relatively new place having been founded only in 1854 by Russian soldiers, as a frontier post for their forays into the region. Awash with oil wealth, it is Central Asia’s richest and most cosmopolitan city, and retains much more of a Russian flavour than others in the region. It is no longer the capital though – this was moved to the smaller city of Astana in 1997. With wide leafy streets and modern multi-storey buildings, it doesn’t particularly feel like part of the Silk Road and is quite different in character to somewhere like Samarkand, and its sights are from a more recent era. In Panfilov Park sits the impressive Zenkov Cathedral, one of the few buildings to date back to the time of Tsarist Russia and reputedly constructed without any nails. There are also several museums, including one for musical instruments and another dedicated to the repression faced by the Kazakh people under Stalin’s rule.
Oskemen- UstKamenogorskFly to Ust-Kamenogorsk. After lunch we head to the Bukhtarma Reservoir, one of the world’s largest, which we cross by boat. Upon arrival on the opposite shore we drive to the beautiful rock formations of the Kiyn Kirish cliffs. Overnight homestay. (BLD)
Lake MarkakolContinue driving east towards the border with China. Crossing the Mramorny pass we have great views of the surrounding area, then head to the mountains of Sonaly and the Azutau ridge. Our journey takes us through the taiga landscapes of the western Altai, and we spend tonight as guests of a local Urianhai family in their village. (BLD)
YazovoeAscend the Alataisky pass, with panoramic views of wide valleys and mountain plateaus. After lunch we cross the Burkhat pass and continue to the village of Yazevoe, close to Yazevoe Lake. Overnight camping. (BLD)
Lake RachmanovskoyeWe walk to the nearby waterfalls and explore the surrounding area. Today we visit a camp where local people cut, dry and process the horns of maral, a deer found in this region – a unique practice to the Atlai Mountains. After learning about their customs we continue to Lake Rachmanovskoye and explore on foot and by vehicle. Overnight camping. (BLD
Berel – Katon-KaragaiVisit the archaeological site of Berel, an ancient Scythian burial ground. In the 1990s archaeologists discovered the remains of Scythian nobles and sacrificed horses, giving a fascinating insight into this now disappeared culture. Afterwards we head to the small town of Katon-Karagai and explore its small bazaar. We camp tonight near a nomadic Kazakh family. (BLD)
Ust-KamenogorskA long drive as we return to Ust-Kamenogorsk, once again crossing the Bukhtarma Reservoir by boat. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)
ManjerokA long day on the road as we leave Kazakhstan behind and cross into Russia, travelling through the Altai Mountains. We pass by small villages inhabited by ‘Old Believers’ – a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church that rejected innovations in the 17th century and live very traditional lives, as well as Kazakh villages where you may be able to taste the traditional drink of koumis – mare’s milk. We arrive at the comfortable camp of Manjerok, a short drive from the city of Gorno-Altaisk. Second day is free to relax after our long journey, or explore the nearby area. Overnights in Manjerok Camp. (BLD)
Katun River Sarlyk Mountain – BoochiWe travel up the Katun River to Chemal village to visit the small and spectacularly located nunnery of Patmos monastery, situated on a rocky island in the river and accessible by a hanging bridge. We visit the Nunnery and learn how priests here converted the Turkic speaking Altai people to Christianity at the end of the 18th century. Later we delve into a more traditional side of life here and meet a local shaman and ‘throat singer’. Second day, drive to the top of Semeinskii pass, where we hike to Sarlyk Mountain, the highest point of the Seminsky ridge, Central Altai. The name means "wild yak" in Altaian and on the slopes one can usually find herds of yaks. The mountain is on the border of Shebalinskiy and Ongudai regions of the Altai Republic and from the top there are stunning views of the whole area. After lunch we continue to the village of Boochi where we spend time meeting local Altaian families and discovering local archaeological sites like graves and petroglyphs. We hope also to meet a local shaman if possible. Overnights in tourist camp. (BLD)
Pazyryk ValleyWe spend two days discovering the burial mounds of the Pazyryk Valley, a series of Iron Age tombs dating back to the 4th century BC. The tombs are the graves of tribal chiefs and at the time of their excavation contained numerous artefacts from that time such as decorated felt hangings and Chinese silk, preserved in permafrost for centuries. The landscape here is stunning with canyons, waterfalls and lakes to explore. Overnight in tourist camp. (BLD)
Kosh-AgachDrive towards the Mongolian highlands, crossing several mountain passes. It is a spectacular road journey on a good tarmac road following the Katun and Choy Rivers, almost to the tree line, up several valleys, until we almost reach the tree line. We continue to the Kosh Agach Plateau, and the town of Kosh Agach, populated by ethnic Kazakhs. Overnight in local hotel. (BLD)
OlgiiWe leave Russia behind and head into Mongolia. 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-Olgii province. The tarmac roads disappear as we drive into Bayan Olgii province, a stunning drive across the mountain steppes. The people here are Kazakh and Muslim, unlike most other Mongolians who are Buddhist. Overnigt in “Eagle Dreams” hotel. (BLD)
Visit Kazakh Eagle hunter’s familyAfter breakfast, drive to Sagsai and come to the Kazakh Eagle hunter’s family and feel the grade hospitality. The Mongolian Kazakhs use for hunting female eagles as far they are bigger mail ones and more aggressive. These eagles are trained to hunt fox, wolf, rabbit and wild cat. Staying with this family, you will learn and enjoy this unique customs of the Mongolian Kazakhs. The people here are largely nomadic, often on horseback and herding their livestock. Overnight in tent near a family. (BLD) Kazakh eagle hunters In this part of Mongolia the majority of the population are Kazakh, not Mongolian, following rather different practices; the most renowned of these is the customs of hunting with golden eagles. Young eagles are taken from nests and brought to live with a family – only the females are used for hunting as they are larger than males, and supposedly more aggressive. Until the bird has learned to trust its ‘owner’ it is kept masked. Once the eagle is used to eating out of its owner’s hands and familiar with his horses, training can begin. This consists of having the eagle chase fox furs pulled by string (shakhyru) either by hand or from the back of a horse. Eagles are used to hunt all sorts of mammals, foxes being a favourite due to the fur that they provide, and in previous years they even hunted wolves – with a wingspan of over two metres the birds are capable of taking down sizeable prey. Eagle hunters are known as berkutchi; the eagles are berkut. Hunting normally takes place in the winter months, from October onwards – the berkutchi ride out to the hunting grounds with eagles perched upon their arms, looking for high ground from which the eagle can spot prey. The eagle’s reward for this is usually the lungs of the animal caught, sometimes the tongue, which it will often rip from the animal while the hunter dispatches it. Eagles are kept for fixed amount of time – usually seven to eight years – before they are then released back into the wild. The practice of hunting with eagles is around a thousand years old, and originates with the Mongolians - descendants of theirs settled around the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. When the Russians conquered the region in the 1860s, they began suppressing eagle hunting and other militaristic customs of the warrior-nomads. Many Kazakhs fled into lawless border region of western China and Mongolia. With the rise of Stalin and Mao, eagle hunting was suppressed entirely in the Soviet Union and China. The isolated and largely ignored western region of Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia became the only place to continue the tradition. Though eagle hunting is undergoing a revival in the newly independent Kazakhstan, there are only 40 active eagle hunters, mostly displaying talents to tourists outside the largest city of Almaty, and a smaller number in Kyrgyzstan, compared at least 250 counted in a census of Bayan-Olgii and Hovd Aimags of Mongolia. Hunting is currently illegal in Kazakh regions of China, though a few eagle hunters can be found.
Tavan BogdDrive west to Snake Valley, where there are many ancient Turkic carved stones. From here drive to the Potanin Glacier, the largest in Mongolia, and explore the area on foot around the peak of Tavan Bogd. The area around here is home to many Tuvan families – we camp nearby for a unique opportunity to learn about their customs. Overnight camping. (BLD)
Drive to Khukh Serkhiyn Nuruu (Blue Goat) National ParkWe will drive 160kms (4-5hrs) to the northwest to come to a traditional Kazakh Eagle hunter’s summer home. Erbol will be our host, in an impressive valley on the northwestern side of the great Khukh Serkh Mountain. This is a mountain range renowned for its Snow Leopards, with abundant populations of Argali and Ibex. Our visit will be benefiting from an ongoing Snow Leopard research project that is being undertaken here, giving us considerable insight into the movements and habits of these elusive cats. We will meet Erbol and his magnificent Golden Eagle, and learn from a true master about the traditions and skills of hunting with Eagles in the Altai. Overnight in tent near a herding family. (BLD)
Khukh Serkhiyn Nuruu Nat. ParkWe will spend our days hiking in the wild and remote fastness of the Khukh Serkhiyn range. We will take our time to watch carefully for all aspects of wildlife here: Argalis, Ibexes and Red Deer, always entertaining the hope for a possible and rare Snow Leopard sighting. We will enjoy all that these mountains have to show, from the many raptors such as Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle, the awe-inspiring bone-eating Lammergeyer (Bearded Vulture), the great Black Vulture and the swift Saker Falcon (the Altai race of which is considered by many ornithologists to be a separate species). We will give ourselves the opportunity to observe these mountains in all their intricate grandeur, and appreciate their great silences, in the mountain heart of Asia. Staying with Erbol, the Eagle hunter, we will continue to learn more about Kazakh Eagle-hunting skills and gain from his unique perspectives about living in his mountain home. Overnight in tent. We will take an evening drive to Olgii, the through a dramatic landscape with Sairiyn Nuruu towering above us and the rugged Altai uplands beyond Lake Tolbo (Nuur). After 4-5hrs we arrive at the Blue Wolf ger-camp in Olgii. Overnight at local hotel. (BLD)
Fly to UlaanbaatarFly to Ulaan Baatar and explore the city.Explore Gandan Monastery, Buddhist center in Ulaanbaatar. See, Zanabazar Museum, Chojin Lama temple. Lunch time in a typical Mongolian Restaurant. The winter Palace, Buda Big Statue on the HillCentral, Market (black) (one or two hours if we have time). Typical folkloric Mongol performance (songs and dances), at the restaurant, during Dinner time (optional). (B)
Depart UlaanbaatarAfter early breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)
Summer months in Altai are from early June to mid September. Although the summers are hot and dry with occasional rain, the temperature can fluctuate as much 5-10 degrees centigrade
between day and night. /+20°+30° during a days and +10°+20° of Celsius during a
So be prepared for all weather conditions.
|What to bring||
Warm hat and gloves,
Long underwear for travel in the high mountains, comfortable footwear,
Prescription medications, (if needed),
belt and small padlocks
|Price||USD 3315 per person (min 6 members)|
|Group size||2- 25 (Discounts available for groups.)|
Airport transfers – We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – As this trip covers several different countries, you would normally have different guides for each, to take advantage of their specific knowledge regarding each destination. Please note that you will not be accompanied on the flights from Almaty to Ust-Kamenogorsk, or from Olgii to Ulaan Baatar.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
|What's not included||
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you.
Airport taxes – If
there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of
your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.
International flights – Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.
Travel Insurance – If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.
|Dates||from 15th of May until 15th of October|
Single occupancy is 660 USD.
Please note that the itinerary above may sometimes be subject to small changes as certain routes can become impractical from time to time. While we do our best to keep the itinerary updated, this is a pioneering trip through a remote part of Asia and as such you must be prepared for some flexibility to adapt to local conditions.
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