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Eastern Mongolia

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164

lonelyplanet.com

History

Eastern Mongolia
Eastern Mongolia is where heaven and earth fuse into one part – a blank slate of blue sky
colliding with an equally empty sea of yellow grass. The occasional wooden shack or ger
reminds you that humans do inhabit this enormous landscape, but for the most part it’s an
unspoilt amphitheatre of bounding gazelle, scurrying marmots and jeep tracks that squiggle
endlessly into the distance.
Biologists fawn over the region, touting it as one of the world’s last great unharmed grassland ecosystems – imagine the scenery from Dances with Wolves. Yet, Mongolian politicians
have their own vision of Manifest Destiny and threaten the region with ill-planned urbandevelopment schemes. Get there before the grassland disappears.
Besides the grasslands, the major feature of the region is the Khan Khentii mountains. This
was the homeland of Temujin, the embattled boy who grew up to become Chinggis Khaan. A
number of sites recall his legacy – the highlight being Dadal, a storybook village of log cabins
that claims to be the birthplace of the great khaan. In the southeast of the region, Dariganga
remains an inspiring getaway. This volcanic area is filled with craters, lava tubes, ancient stone
figures and legendary stories about horse bandits that harassed the Chinese.

Climate
HIGHLIGHTS
„ Get on the Chinggis Khaan trail by working your way from his coronation site at Khökh Nuur

(p171) to his childhood stomping grounds in Dadal (p173)
„ Hire some sturdy horses and set off on an

expedition to holy Burkhan Khalduun
(p172), the hill sacred to Chinggis Khaan as
described in The Secret History of the Mongols

Burkhan
Khalduun

Dadal

Khalkhiin
Gol

„ Climb the sacred Shiliin Bogd Uul (p183)

to restore your soul and then tour the area
around Dariganga (p182), rich in cultural
relics and eerie landscapes

Khökh Nuur
Shiliin
Bogd Uul

„ Travel across the empty steppes to the

war memorials at Khalkhiin Gol (Khalkhiin
River; p179) and then spot wildlife, including
moose and huge herds of gazelle, at nearby
Nömrög Strictly Protected Area (p174)
„ POPULATION: 195,100

Dariganga

„ AREA: 287,500 SQ KM

Nömrög
Strictly
Protected
Area

Eastern Mongolia’s climate and landscape has
more in common with northeastern China
than it does with Central Asia. Temperature
extremes are less severe and winds less violent than in the west. While the Khan Khentii
mountains get a lot of rain in the summer,
per-year precipitati...
EASTERN MONGOLIA
EASTERN MONGOLIA
lonelyplanet.com KHENTII
Eastern Mongolia is where heaven and earth fuse into one part – a blank slate of blue sky
colliding with an equally empty sea of yellow grass. The occasional wooden shack or ger
reminds you that humans do inhabit this enormous landscape, but for the most part it’s an
unspoilt amphitheatre of bounding gazelle, scurrying marmots and jeep tracks that squiggle
endlessly into the distance.
Biologists fawn over the region, touting it as one of the world’s last great unharmed grass-
land ecosystems – imagine the scenery from Dances with Wolves. Yet, Mongolian politicians
have their own vision of Manifest Destiny and threaten the region with ill-planned urban-
development schemes. Get there before the grassland disappears.
Besides the grasslands, the major feature of the region is the Khan Khentii mountains. This
was the homeland of Temujin, the embattled boy who grew up to become Chinggis Khaan. A
number of sites recall his legacy – the highlight being Dadal, a storybook village of log cabins
that claims to be the birthplace of the great khaan. In the southeast of the region, Dariganga
remains an inspiring getaway. This volcanic area is filled with craters, lava tubes, ancient stone
figures and legendary stories about horse bandits that harassed the Chinese.
Most travellers write off the east because it’s not on the way to anywhere and lacks the sex
appeal of the Gobi. This is a shame as it’s one of the most beautiful areas of the country and
relatively easy to get around by jeep. Yet it’s something of a blessing for those travellers who
want to leave the tourist buses behind and experience an almost untouched landscape.
Eastern Mongolia
History
The Tamtsagbulag Neolithic site in Dornod,
active more than 4000 years ago, is proof that
agriculture predated nomadic pastoralism on
the eastern steppes. But it was the Kitan, a
Manchurian tribal confederation, who made
the first big impression on the region, building
forts and farming communities in the 10th cen-
tury, including Kherlen Bar Khot in Dornod.
Another Manchu tribe, the Jurchen, de-
posed the Kitan in the early 12th century,
renamed itself the Jin, and returned eastern
Mongolia to its warring ways. It wasn’t until
Chinggis Khaan united the fractured clans in
1206 that peace took over.
It was from Avarga (modern Delgerkhaan)
that Chinggis launched expeditions south to-
wards China. When the capital was moved
to Karakorum in 1220 the region withdrew
into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1939 that east-
ern Mongolia was again in the headlines, this
time as a battlefield between Japanese and
Soviet forces. Heavy losses forced the Japanese
military machine south, but the Khalkh Gol
region is still littered with battle scars from
the brief campaign.
The discovery of zinc and oil in the region
in the 1990s brought the promise of develop-
ment. Uranium is also found in the north-
east. However, resources have so far proven
relatively small and whatever profits have
been made have so far failed to stimulate the
local economy.
Climate
Eastern Mongolia’s climate and landscape has
more in common with northeastern China
than it does with Central Asia. Temperature
extremes are less severe and winds less vio-
lent than in the west. While the Khan Khentii
mountains get a lot of rain in the summer,
per-year precipitation on the steppes is around
250mm. Winter daytime temperatures fall to
minus 20°C but skies are usually blue.
Getting There & Away
A paved road between Ulaanbaatar and
Öndörkhaan is nearly complete, allowing
for a relatively hassle-free entry into the re-
gion. Decent dirt roads connect other areas,
although the far north can get boggy after
heavy rains.
Vehicles for Öndörkhaan depart from
Ulaanbaatar’s Naran Tuul jeep station.
You can also get a ride with vehicles from
Ulaanbaatar that go through Öndörkhaan
on their way to Baruun-Urt and Choibalsan.
Another route into the region is through
northern Khentii – daily minivans from
Naran Tuul travel to Dadal via Ömnödelger
and Binder. During the rainy season this trip
can take more than 25 hours.
With your own vehicle, it’s possible to
drive to eastern Mongolia from the Gobi.
You could even enter from Russia at the
Ereentsav–Solovyevsk border crossing in
Dornod aimag. If you are in Selenge aimag,
the only direct way into Khentii is on foot
or horseback; jeep travellers will need to go
via Ulaanbaatar.
Getting Around
Public transport can get you to some places of
interest, including Dadal and Dariganga. But if
you want to maximise your time and see what
the region really has to offer you’ll need your
own vehicle, either hired from Ulaanbaatar
or from one of the aimag capitals. Make sure
your guide and driver have some experience in
the region, as this will make navigation easier
(a GPS is a handy alternative). The best way to
explore northern Khentii, including the Khan
Khentii Strictly Protected Area, is on horse-
back – both Batshireet and Dadal are great
places to launch an expedition. The train that
connects Choibalsan and Chuluunkhoroot is
something of an adventure, but not that useful
for serious exploration – you’re better off with
your own vehicle in the region.
KHENTII ХЭНТИЙ
pop 68,100 / area 82,000 sq km
Khentii is Chinggis Khaan territory. The
great man grew up here, established his em-
pire on its grasslands and, from Delgerkhaan,
launched his military machine to the heart
of Asia. As a nomad empire the khaans left
few physical reminders of their existence, but
with a jeep, a copy of The Secret History of the
Mongols and a GPS unit you could launch
your own expedition to scour the land for
clues to their past. So far researchers have
identified more than 50 historical sites relat-
ing to Chinggis Khaan’s life.
The aimag is named for the Khentii Nuruu
(Khentii Mountain Range), which covers the
northwestern corner of the aimag and is part
of the giant 1.2-million-hectare Khan Khentii
Strictly Protected Area (most of which is in
© Lonely Planet Publications
POPULATION: 195,100 AREA : 287,500 SQ KM
HIGHLIGHTS
Get on the Chinggis Khaan trail by working your way from his coronation site at Khökh Nuur
( p171 ) to his childhood stomping grounds in Dadal ( p173 )
Hire some sturdy horses and set off on an
expedition to holy Burkhan Khalduun
( p172 ), the hill sacred to Chinggis Khaan as
described in The Secret History of the Mongols
Climb the sacred Shiliin Bogd Uul ( p183 )
to restore your soul and then tour the area
around Dariganga ( p182 ), rich in cultural
relics and eerie landscapes
Travel across the empty steppes to the
war memorials at Khalkhiin Gol (Khalkhiin
River; p179 ) and then spot wildlife, including
moose and huge herds of gazelle, at nearby
Nömrög Strictly Protected Area ( p174 )
Area
Protected
Strictly
Nömrög
Gol
Khalkhiin
Khalduun
Burkhan
Dariganga
Bogd Uul
Shiliin
Khökh Nuur
Dadal
164 165
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