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The Oriental Caravan's 

Postcard from Mongolia...

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Summer 2003


Dear All,

Landlocked between its two giant neighbours China and Russia, but culturally far, far removed from both, Mongolia is one of Asia's remotest travel destinations. It is also, as The Oriental Caravan has recently discovered, one of its most rewarding. The countryside is vast, unspoiled and utterly beautiful and the nomadic people who inhabit it, unforgettably welcoming to travellers.


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Horseman crossing the Ikh Tamir River 

Walking around the crater rim of Khorgo Uul volcano 

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The Oriental Caravan's campsite in the Orkhon valley

Arkhangai nomad with horse


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Migjid Janraisig Sum at Gandan Khiid monastery, Ulaan Bataar

Family turning prayer wheels

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Horseman meets Caravaneer

Prayer wheels, Gandan Khiid

Mongolia's history has certainly not been an easy one but today, after long periods of subjugation, first by the Manchu Chinese Empire and then by Soviet Russia, the country is once again truly independent. The effect of this newfound  freedom is easy to find on the streets and in the monasteries of its delightful capital, Ulaan Bataar. Everywhere there seems to be a genuine enthusiasm and exuberance among the people that once again they are the masters of their own destiny. For the visitor this is without doubt a joy to behold not least because it would have seemed highly unlikely even a decade ago.


In a country three times the size of France it is amazing that  Ulaan Bataar is the only city of any real size. There are other smaller towns but generally the rest of the country is made up of lush rolling grassland, Alpine mountains and meadows and in the south the arid Gobi desert.  Once the traveller has left behind Ulaan Bataar's suburbs of gers (felt tents) he enters a nomadic world where the horse is still the preferred mode of transport and the rhythms of nature still direct much about everyday life.

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Bareback rider 

Wooden bridge near Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur

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TOC support vehicle fording the Ikh Tamir

Roadside camels


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Arkhangai nomad taking a break

Nomad children come to say hello

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Caravaneers carrying kids at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur lake

TOC vehicle 'off road' negotiating Mongolia's wild landscape

For the adventure traveller the freedom provided by such a landscape is a rare thing in the modern world. With so few roads and so much open country the driver merely turned the jeep in the direction we wanted to be heading and just started driving. The opportunities for wilderness camping in idyllic settings must rank as some of the best in the world. 


For our journey we used a solid, reliable and surprisingly comfortable Russian 4x4 jeep and 'forgon' campervan which for most Mongolian drivers are preferable to the harder-to-fix Japanese vehicles. Our drivers were amazing - in 12 days only one minor mechanical problem (fixed in 10 minutes) and only stuck in the mud once - we were out in no time!

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Gers reflected in the Orkhon River

Breakfast watching a herd of goats pass by

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Two-tier camping


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Soviet and Mongolian national symbols

Stupas at Erdene Zuu, Karakorum

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In the 1930's over 30,000 Mongolian Buddhist monks were massacred by the communists. This communist propaganda poster, now removed from public view, unashamedly records the act

Retouching a statue of the Four Harmonious Friends - more info.

After leaving Ulaan Bataar we first visited the ruins of the ancient capital of Karakorum. Hard to believe that  from this remote location  the world's largest empire was built and  administered by the mighty Genghis Khan and his descendants. From Karakorum we continued via Tsetserleg and the classic Mongolian countryside of Arkhangai to the volcanic region around Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur lake.


Mongolian architecture comes in all shapes and sizes and says much about Mongolia's past and its hopes for the future.

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The largest ger in the world - the bar/restaurant at our ger camp in Karakorum 

Entrance to Erdene Zuu monastery, Karakorum

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Part of the Bogd Khaan's Winter Palace in Ulaan Baatar - the third holiest leader in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama

Map shop, Ulaan Bataar


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Sacred souslik, surrounded by blue kata offering scarves

Desert mushrooms, Bayangobi

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 Flying Mongolian trout

Goat with a high opinion of itself...

Mongolia is still blessed with a near pristine environment, and it's abundant animal life enjoys the freedom of the Steppes as much as its people -  in particular Mongolia is a paradise for birdwatchers and 'flora-philes'.


As was once the case in Tibet, Mongolia's flora and fauna has been protected to a large extent as a result of a respect for the environment engendered by the Mongolian people's  practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Despite the brutal repression of the communist era, and not withstanding the recent arrival  of Christian missionaries, the Mongolian people are now rediscovering their spiritual heritage. There is a renewed and growing interest in Mongolia's traditional religion and associated ways of life.

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Photos of the Dalai Lama prominently displayed on this altar rebuilt on the ruins of Uvgun Khiid monastery, near Khogno Khaan

Chandelier inside the largest ger  in the world at Karakorum

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Typical ger accommodation

Russian-built mosaic at the Zaisan memorial near Ulaan Bataar


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White horse at sunset

Mongol horseman in traditional hat

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Caravaneer and cameleer ruminating in the afternoon sun

Roadside lunch in Arkhangai 


The Oriental Caravan's verdict on Mongolia? Fantastic! 

The researching and planning of  next year's trip is already underway. We will be returning to some of the best loved destinations that we visited this year while also including a little more exploration by foot - as Mongolia's lakes, forests and mountains  offer some great places to go trekking. If you'd like more information about the new itinerary and next year's group dates (or small group tailor-made departures) please get in touch either by email or by phone.

In 3-4 weeks time the next e-postcard will bring you a 'snapshot'  of  The Oriental Caravan's  two week trek through the Siberian Altai mountains - just 3 days north and west from Ulaan Baatar on the legendary Trans-Siberian Express.

In the meantime, where ever you are, have a great summer.


With best wishes from,

Phil and all aboard The Oriental Caravan 



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             Revised and last updated: November 20th 2013. Links