Into The Taiga: Horse Trekking Through Northern Mongolia & A Visit With The Tsaatan Reindeer Herders
August 28-September 10 2022
Join us for a horse pack trip through Lake Khovsgol National Park in the Horidol Saridag Mountains of Northern Mongolia. Supported by Estancia Ranquilco's T.A. Carrithers and a fantastic team of local Mongolian guides, cooks, and nomadic herdsmen, ride in good company through the stunningly beautiful and varied landscapes of the region. Rich meadows, lagoons and coniferous forest surround the crystalline Lake Khovsgol, where waterfowl, wild boar and five species of deer make their home. Gorgeous rivers wind through the valleys. The steppe - Mongolia's signature ecosystem - rolls out in a vast expanse of open grassland encircled by towering snowy mountains rising up in the distance. And at the edge of the steppe in the northern-most reaches of the country grows the deep mossy forest known as the taiga.
Unique among most national parks, Khovsgol is home to many nomadic herding families, including the Tsaatan reindeer people who have lived there for thousands of years. The people of Khovsgol are deeply tied to the natural world within which they live, and follow ancient herding traditions - moving with their herds to follow the grass. We'll have the opportunity to witness this way of life firsthand through close interactions facilitated by our local guides. We’ve developed dear friendships with a couple of these families on our previous trips, and look forward to visiting with them again.
Day 1: Arrive in Ulaanbaatar and meet for dinner and lodging at the local Guesthouse. Accommodation is a traditional Ger (yurt) or shared room.
Day 2: After breakfast we’ll head to the large, open-air market, Narantuul, where the locals shop for anything and everything. We'll gear up for the trip with yak sweaters and socks, cashmere beanies, and "dels" - the warm robes worn by the locals - a must-have for cozy riding in the chilly north. In the evening, following a delicious dinner, we'll see a traditional musical performance featuring Tuvan throat singers, various musical ensembles, and contortionists!
Day 3: Board an hour and a half flight to Murun, capital of the Khovsgol province. Enjoy a traditional Mongolian lunch and then drive three hours along one of the typical Mongolian rough roads to Lake Khovsgol. Here we will spend the night at a gorgeous ger camp on the shores of the crystalline lake.
Days 4-10: Leave the vehicles behind and begin our 7-day expedition through the mountains and across the steppe. The first two days we'll ride north along the blue waters of the massive Lake Khovsgol. We’ll then cross over the Horidal Saridag Mountains to the Darkhad Valley, a vast and ancient lakebed surrounded by snowy peaks. We'll spend several days crossing the valley, stopping in the evenings to stay with our herdsmen's families at their gers - sharing traditional Mongolian foods and laughter. Upon reaching the edge of the valley, we'll ride deep into the taiga forest bordering Russia to seek out the Tsaatan reindeer herders. Upon finding the tribe, we'll have the opportunity to visit and talk with community members in their teepees, drinking reindeer milk tea around a cozy wood stove while exchanging stories about our very different lives. We'll spend time with their reindeer, and perhaps even ride one of these gentle, strong, otherworldly animals. The next morning we'll ride back out of the taiga forest to meet up with our van drivers, who will take us to a ger camp near Tsaagaan Nur Lake for our final night of the pack trip.
Each day of riding we'll break at beautiful spots to enjoy prepared, hot lunches, then mount up again to continue riding through the afternoon. We'll arrive in the evenings to our camp spots where we can settle in and relax for a few hours, have dinner, and perhaps share some songs around the fire before bedding down for a much deserved sleep.
Day 11: All day van ride through gorgeous mountains and valleys, mostly on minimal 2 track "roads". We'll spend that night at a beautiful riverside ger camp near Murun.
Day 12: Spend the day at this gorgeous spot, relaxing together and with our local hosts, practicing archery by the river, fishing, and possibly going for another ride into the expansive countryside surrounding Murun.
Day 13: All day bus ride back to Ulaanbataar
Day 14: Breakfast followed by farewells!
Nowhere are horses more central to daily life than in Mongolia. Mongolia is known as the land of the horse, and Mongols have a reputation for being the best horsemen on Earth. Even in the 21st century, Mongolia remains a horse-based culture and retains its pastoral traditions. Many of its 2.4 million people are semi-nomadic and primarily support themselves by breeding five domestic species: horses, cattle (including yaks), camels, sheep, and goats. The horse, which is used for travel, herding, hunting, and sport, is the most prized. In the words of a herder who lives outside the capital city Ulaanbaatar, “We Mongols respect horse as our companion of night and day. The horse is the source of joy and pride of a Mongolian herder. And we are nothing without our horses”.
Most Mongolian horses are ponies by European standards (less than 1.5m shoulder height), but these animals are really tough. They have tremendous reserves of energy and can carry heavy loads for long periods. Accordingly, Genghis Khan’s cavalry was the most powerful in the world at one time. During the winter, Mongolian horses are not given any supplementary food and must therefore rely solely on their summer reserves and forage for what they can find under the snow. Nomadic horses are semi-wild; they are allowed to roam freely.