Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia

Bayan-Ölgii is an aimag (province) in far western Mongolia. It’s home to 100,000 people (mainly ethnic Kazakhs) and more than 1.5 million livestock. It’s the country’s only Muslim-majority region, whereas the rest of Mongolia is predominantly Buddhist. Bayan-Ölgii is most famous for its Kazakh eagle hunters who domesticate and train wild eagles for hunting prey. These include foxes, hares, and wolves. Hunting is conducted on horseback, and the prime season is early October to early February. Riders carry their eagle on their right arm and supported by a baldark (forked wooden support fitted to the saddle). This collection of western Mongolia photos is from a ten-day trip spent with a group of eagle hunters. It also served as a training ride for a horseback trip across eastern KazakhstanUppsala University has a collection of historical western Mongolia photos taken by early 20th-century Swedish missionary Erik Joel Eriksson. 

Apart from being an excellent place to arrange independent multi-day horseback riding trips, the western part of the country has plenty of hikes, backcountry skiing and mountaineering opportunities. The west has two national parks: Altai Tavan Bogd, on the Russian-Chinese border and Tsambagarav-Uul, which is south-west of Ölgii and less visited. Altai Tavan Bogd is home to Khüiten (4,356 m), the country’s highest peak, and as part of the park are Tsagaan Salaa’s 10,000 rock paintings dating back to the Neolithic to Bronze Age. You can access Bayan-Ölgii via a flight or shared taxi from Ulaanbaatar, but beware the overland journey takes over two days of non-stop driving, but the entire drive passes through spectacular scenery. There are several fixers and travel agencies running trips to the area. Whoever you choose be sure to work with someone who knows the area well, has extensive contacts, and ideally speaks Kazakh — Bek Travel and Blue Wolf are two Bayan-Ölgii-based operators.

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