If you are into caves and you are planning a trip around Mongolia then North Tsenkher cave is a must-visit destination for you! On the major tourist route in Western Mongolia, Tsenkher (meaning blue) cave allows you to experience all Mongolian caves have to offer and why you should visit them. By visiting Tsenkher you will see one of Mongolia’s greatest caves which has some of the most easily accessible Paleolithic Age paintings and carvings available to the public.
How to get there?
Located about 90kms from Khovd, Tsenkher cave is very close to the main road at the junction to turn off to Altai soum or to Altai central town. Yes, two signs that are really easy to mistake, which I will come back to later. From this junction, you will see a sign saying Tsenkher cave which is about 26kms from the main road. Unlike many other attractions, as this one is so close to the main road, they have signposted it a lot more clearly. As you drive there will be several signs telling you how many kilometres you are away from the cave. It would be hard to get lost as the rocky road is pretty clear. Once you are closer to the mountains you will come to a ger camp, where you will cross a small stream which even a Prius will have little difficulty in crossing. Go past the ger camp parking area and follow the road another 500 metres where on your left you will see the cave and a large parking space.
Tsenkher (blue) cave:
Once at the parking lot you will need to walk up a small path (about 300 metres) to the cave. Follow the path directly up until you come to what looks like the path breaks into two directions. From here just follow the path up the stepper part, the path to the left is a dead end.
Then you will be at the cave entrance and it is a massive cave. Made of marble it is 15 meters high with an area of 12 meters by 18 meters, so there is plenty of room to move around in there. Straight away you will notice the temperature drop, a welcomed relief on a hot day after a steep climb.
Make sure as you are in the cave that you have a good look around as you will be pleasantly surprised with some rock paintings on the four walls, thought to between 20,000-40,000 years old! These are definitely worth a look and are some of the most easily accessible from the Paleolithic Age. Painted in red ink you will be able to see a number of animals including gazelle and antelope. They are thought to be painted with some form of brush like tools and fingers and are well regarded for their realism. It’s also a great place to get some amazing photos and there is also a small rock table seating area. While at the entrance we were also able to see several Mongolian Pika, quite a unique rodent if you haven’t seen one before.
Altai City turn-off:
You might be wondering why this is included in this post? It’s not about the cave right? Well yes, it isn’t. However, if you are coming back from the cave it is really really easy to make the wrong turn (or not turn in this case). At this junction there are two signs, one says to Altai Soum and the other to Altai central town. You want to make sure you take the turn to Altai central town. If you get back on the main road from the junction and continue straight without making a left turn at the police station/building then you will have gone the wrong way.
I am saying this because I did this very exact thing and it wasn’t just because I am an ex-pat, several Mongolian vehicles also made the same mistake! Thinking I was going the right way as the sign said ‘Altai’ (and my navigator being asleep) I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until needing to get fuel in a small town and talking to the gas station attendant that I realised my mistake and so did the other drivers. We were told that it is a common mistake and one that many travellers make. The nearest town to stay is Bulgan (another town which is along both routes) where there are several hotels, which travellers stay at when they make the wrong turn.
In order to avoid this mistake and a day’s detour, check the signs carefully. Also if you make the wrong turn and you don’t come to a town within an hour you should definitely turn back. There are several towns before the Altai central town which you will come to including the town of Bulgan (yes it is a different Bulgan).
While it was an unexpected detour the scenery through the mountains really was something special, especially the valley pass with its winding enclosed cliff roads. However, that being said I would have rather not missed the turn-off and I hope this helps you to make sure you don’t either.
Safe travels everyone!