Kazakhstan, Russia & Mongolia (Altai Explore), 22 days, from $3350 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.
Arrive 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.
|Fly 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)|
Continue 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)
Ascend 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)
Berel – Katon-Karagai
A long drive as we return to Ust-Kamenogorsk, once again crossing the Bukhtarma Reservoir by boat. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)
A 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 – Boochi
Drive to Chigertei Lake (2550m)
Drive 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)
We 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 family
After 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.
Drive 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 Park
We 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)
Tavanbogd massif (2550m-3300m, 4025m)
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)
Drive to Olgii
After early breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)