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Big Skies Trail

At a GlanceItineraryDetail

Mongolia’s Big Skies Ride

Horse Riding Mongolia

Khan Khentii is 40 Km outside Ulan Bator, the capital city and airport gateway to Mongolia. Rendez-vous with the local crew and horsemen at the bridge over the Upper Tuul River where they will have established the gers and set up camp. There will be a trial ride this afternoon and tomorrow we’ll do a circle ride, returning to the same camp, which provides ample opportunity for riders to change horses and find one that they feel comfortable with.

Horse Riding Mongolia

A Cavalry Line – Mongolian style

The ride continues in true nomadic style, without vehicle support: luggage and collapsible ger lodges will be loaded onto yak carts and moved with the assistance of local nomads. The yak caravan takes the shortest route, while we ride a more circuitous trail over mountains, steppes, forests, fording rivers and through wooded meadows, and reach the new camp in the evening. Two nights are spent in each location.

No need to bend yourself into a sleeping bag or tent, the gers have cot-beds and bedding is supplied; they are heated by a pot-bellied wood-burning stove and are really cozy.

Itinerary: Horse Riding Mongolia

Day 1:  Ulaan Bator

Arrive in Ulaan Bator; we’ll meet your flight and drive you to your hotel. Tour briefing followed by dinner and a little light entertainment, Mongolia style!

Accommodation: Shangri La Hotel (or similar)
Meal plan: Dinner
Time in the saddle: 0

Day 2: reaching the steppe.

The morning begins on foot with a visit to the Gandan Lamasery which is a Buddhist temple, with stupa in front and presided over by an abbot. We should be there in time to hear morning prayers which is a remarkably peaceful experience (even for non-practitioners of Buddhism). This temple was one of the leading centres for the Buddhist revival in Mongolia. The Mongols follow the Tibetan version of Lamaism, the Dalai Lama being the supreme theocratic leader.

Around mid-morning we set off in jeeps into the Mongolian countryside. By the time we come to the Hadan Hoshuu valley we are in the steppes, there are no traces of civilization and no urban sounds; this is the world of pastoralist nomads with their horses, gers and livestock. This is their summer pasture and their stock is widely dispersed but each nomad’s flock or herd remains separate and apart from his neighbour’s. We’ll have a picnic lunch en route.

In the afternoon we’ll cross the forested Zamtiin Pass into the Upper Tuul River Valley and catch up with the yak carts and horses at Bosog Meadows, a camp on the bank of the Tuul River where we’ll stay two nights. Trial rides around camp in the afternoon.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 2

Horse Riding Mongolia

Looking towards Jalman Ger Camp from Hevtee Gatsaa

Day 3: Exploring Bosog Meadows

After a night under the stars (zero light pollution) in our luxurious ger camp, we’ll make a full day trail ride on the southern side of the Tuul River, exploring side valleys, following forest trails and reaching ridges that give stunning panoramic views of the southernmost Siberian forests as they make the transition to Mongolian steppe. Return to camp along the tiny Baruunbayan River until we come to the meadows by the Tuul River. Cross the Tuul River with the horses to return to camp for the second night.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Day 4: To Baruunbayan Valley

Luggage is loaded before breakfast and while we prepare for the day’s ride, camp is struck and loaded onto the yak carts. All provisions, camping equipment and luggage is whisked away and stowed by an efficient team who get things done without fuss or bother! Mount up and ride northwards towards the Hentii Mountains. During the morning we’ll cross the forested ridge into the next valley, the Baruunbayan River valley, pausing for a picnic lunch which each person carries in their saddlebags. The views from the top are once again, stunning and we may be able to glimpse the yak caravan far below, following a much flatter trail. Descend into the valley to reach the fresh camp, for a two night stay.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Day 5: Explore the Baruunbayan Valley

Wake to the sounds of pristine wilderness and emerge from the cozy yurt into the crisp morning air; even at the height of summer, mornings and evening s can be on the parky side, so do bring a warm fleece. This morning we ride up the Baruunbayan River valley to the ruined Gunjin Sum temple, shrouded in forest. The temple attracts pilgrims, but is a simple construction and in need of some tlc.
Return to camp via several river crossings and forest trails.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 7 hrs

Day 6: To Zuunbayan Valley

Pack up and load the caravan for the last time: we leave the yak cart caravan on the valley floor and ride up the lightly-forested ridges to the south.  Most of the forest consists of larch which is quite a small tree and gives a dappled light to the forest. These ridges also have some larger stands of pine which are taller and more dense. For birders, this is the idea habitat for the rare Black-billed Capercaillie, a cousin of the bird that can still be found in the Highlands of Scotland. As is also the case in Scotland, the Black Grouse is a more common resident. Our ger camp will be built next to the Zuunbayan River, a tributary of the Tuul River.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Day 7: Explore the Zuunbayan Valley

This morning is the high-point of the ride; literally, rather than metaphorically! We set off after breakfast and ascend steadily up towards the treeline of the Hentii Mountains. The going is quite steady but there are a couple of opportunities for a quicker pace. We should reach the top in time for a picnic lunch with outstanding views of the steppe below.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Horse Riding Mongolia

Fisherman near Jaman Meadows

Day 8: To Jalman Meadows

Today we say good bye to the herders and their yak carts and head on horseback to the Sharbulag Valley, crossing the headwater of the Tuul River. We reach the small ger camp at Jalman Meadows by mid-afternoon. This camp is operated by different nomads, so we’ll meet some new people in camp this evening.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 5 hrs

Day 9: Jalman Meadows

Jalman is a little more sophisticated that the mobile gers and has a small library! We will ride out today, but if you fancy a day in camp, relaxing and thumbing through some books you can do so. There are a couple of great titles about Genghis Khan, contemporary Mongolia or the local horses and you are in the perfect spot to read all about it.

This camp also has some Russian-made inflatable rafts if you prefer an easy river descent today! The rafts are loaded onto yak carts at the take-out and you and raft return to camp in style!

There is also a streamside sauna, which is ideal at the end of a week riding.

If you rather spend the final day in the saddle, which is why most of us are visiting the steppes, then the trail is a large loop the goes through the light forest and returns to camp along the river bank.

Accommodation: Ger lodge
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Day 10: To Ulaanbaatar

Return to Ulaan Bator which we should reach by late morning and check into the hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to explore the city. There are loads of cafes and restaurants for lunch and the guide will be on-hand to make some suggestions. Everything is within walking distance of the hotel.  The local guide will remain on stand-by to assist with shopping suggestions, places to eat and temples to visit. In the evening we’ll meet for a farewell dinner in the city.

Accommodation: Shangri La Hotel (or similar)

Meal plan: Breakfast and dinner
Time in the saddle: 0
Day 11: Departure
We will drive you back to the airport to catch whichever flight has been arranged. Breakfast is included.

Included in the price

Local leader (English speaking)
Meals as detailed.
2 nights hotel and 8 nights in ger lodges.
All camping equipment  and  all  local  transport. (No need to bring a sleeping bag or pillow)
Local medevac coverage for evacuation to Ulan Bator.

Horse Riding Mongolia

Terelj and Blodtopp Hill which we explore on this ride

Excluded

Lunch in Ulaan Bator day 10.
Air or train tickets in and out of Mongolia.
Visa fee.

N.B. The Nadaam Games
This sporting festival takes place in Ulan Bator once a year in August. If you would like to include it you need to add an addition two days (3 nights) in Ulan Bator making a total of 13 nights.

Practical notes.

Each rider will have saddlebags to carry things like water bottle, camera and wet weather clothing. Your main baggage is carried from camp-to-camp on a wooden yak cart. You won’t have access to your main baggage at lunchtime.

Accommodation: we use gers on this ride which are large enough to accommodate several people sleeping on camp cot-beds. You do not need to bring your own sleeping bag

Staff: an English-speaking Mongol guide will accompany the group at all times. A cook will follow, with an assistant. In addition, the services of the local herdsmen will be hired along with their horses. The horsemen will come from Badrakh’s family with whom we have worked in earlier years. The Badrakh family follows a traditional lifestyle in the areas where we will be riding.

Meals: The meals will be prepared by our cook; western, vegetarian and Mongolian meals will all be produced during the ride. For breakfast we can usually buy fresh yogurt from the herdsmen in the local area to go with the supplies we carry with us.

Minimum riding ability: you need to be fit and capable of riding at all paces confidently over varying terrain, for several hours on consecutive days.

Horse Breed: the horse in Mongolia is the Mongolian Horse! What its origins are, are less easy to pin down. Records go back to 2,000 BC making it one of the oldest breeds around. Genetic research shows this breed has the greatest genetic variety of all horse breeds, which suggests an ancient strain with minimal human selection. Furthermore, its genes crop up in a large number of modern breeds. Despite is modest stature (14 hh to 14.2 hh) it is a horse, not a pony. It is also tough as tin tacks, sure footed and faithful. There are all sorts of anecdotes about this breed, but the one that most surprises me is that during the horses races at the Nadaam Festival, where the jockeys include children as young as 4 yrs, the horses are trained to gallop for 35 Km, which is staggering. Even more surprising is that if a jockey is dislodged the horse continues at full speed. The owner would rather have the winning horse, than the winning rider! Interesting philosophy on teaching kids to ride!

Whilst on the subject, and because we’re going to Mongolia, we ought to mention Przewalski’s Horse, which comes from the Asian steppe and is a true wild horse, as distinct to a feral horse. It was extinct in the wild but has been reintroduced to Khan Khentii from breeding programmes in China and southern France. We should see them on this trek.

Tack: we decided not to use the traditional Mongolian saddle – which is made of wood! The tack is based on English tack. Some western saddles available.

Rider’s involvement: you may groom and tack your horse; untack during breaks if you wish. Guides available to advise and assist as necessary.

Rider’s weight: 90 Kg max.

Best season for ride: June to end Sept.

Transport: Mongolian families frequently move from one  pasture to  the other  using  traditional wooden carts.  These are drawn by whatever animals are available in the region. Here we will use yaks, or rather yak-cow crossbreeds called “hainag”. A few local herdsmen will be hired by the expedition and they will provide us with their animals.

Staying on

We can happily extend your visit to Mongolia by adding additional nights in the capital. Here are a few suggestions:
•    Travel by train (the final leg of the Trans-Siberian Express) to China, or westwards to Moscow.
•    Visit the eastern Gobi Desert and the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve. Good wildlife and remarkable rock formations.
•    Additional riding! Arburd Sands on the Gobi grasslands is accessible and completely different from anything else you will have experienced. It’s a minimum stay of two nights.
•    Hustai National Park and see the re-introduction Przewalski Horses. It takes the best part of a day to drive there from Ulan Bator. There is an excellent hotel there called the HS Khaan Ger Resort.

Please enquire for any of these combinations; we can provide a seamless travel solution.

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