Why you should travel to Öndör Khairkhan Mountain
Öndör Khairkhan Mountain is an amazing mountain glacier located in Bayan-Ulgii right on the border with China. You literally can’t get any closer to the border with China. This destination is on most Mongolians’ bucket list to visit with Mongolians expecting to visit here at least once in their lifetime. It’s not hard to see why. You would visit it for the spectacular beauty that it offers and the rich scenery you will see along the way. If Mongolians want to visit here it is a no-brainer for foreigners to visit!
Öndör Khairkhan Mountain
Located around 160kms or about 3 hours from the province capital Ulgii in western Mongolia. The western part is a must-see part of Mongolia as it is so different from all the other parts of Mongolia. Part of the Altai Mountain range, Öndör Khairkhan Mountain holds some breathtaking glaciers to view, even in summer. This all-year-round snow-capped peak really is a sight to behold.
How to get there?
From Ulgii you are going to head to Ujim which we will talk about a little later. From Uljim you will head towards the mountains. From here you can go one of two ways. Either go towards Khushuut which is the least direct way or you can head directly there which will take you through several mountain passes which in itself can be a lot of fun.
Once traversing the mountainous landscape you will enter a valley which can have quite a rough road. As you come halfway up the valley you will move to towards the left side of the valley, crossing a small river. You will know you are on the right track as you will come to Khar lake, which you will drive along making for some relaxing driving regardless of the bumpy road.
Next, you will leave the lake and head to the river crossing which was a surprise to us. Here you will find a large bridge that you can cross welcoming you to the protected Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. You will also find two gas pumps here run by generators which were working at the time we crossed. So if you really are running on fumes it’s a nice relief to see. However, we would say have some cash on hand, no cards here. After the bridge crossing just head towards the mountain and then you can’t go wrong. You will need to cross a few smaller crossings and the road does get a bit rougher but as long as you have a 4WD you should be okay.
On your journey, you will see some of the best wildlife Mongolia has to offer! Watch for Mongolia’s legendary golden eagles as you are in Khazak eagle country. What also was so awesome to see was the massive Mongolian Vulture which can have a wing span of over 3 meters, something you won’t forget seeing for the first time. We saw both birds multiple times, especially the closer we got to the mountain.
You should also look out for other species including the Altai Marmot, which we were also able to see on multiple occasions, many posing for the camera several meters from us right next to their burrows. Of course, you will also see your large herds of horses, sheep and goats so there is plenty to see if keep your eyes open.
Uljim: Kazakh Eagle Hunters
As we were driving back to Ulgii I thought our day was over but there was still one last surprise in store for us. On our way to Öndör Khairkhan Mountain, we stopped in Uljim a small town which was having its Nadaam celebration. My friend asked around if there was anywhere we could see the eagles and got a few phone numbers. Fast forward to the end of the day, approaching Uljim we were able to easily arrange a meeting with a local Kazakh man and his family. After driving to his home he brought out several items, including a glove and traditional Kazakh clothing.
We followed him to a small shed behind his home and as he entered we could hear the high-pitched whistling start. Moments later we were presented with an awe-inspiring sight. A massive golden eagle with a hood covering its head. We were able to hold this incredible bird and have an experience that few have the chance to, an experience that is far different than paying to hold an eagle at a tourist location. It felt genuine and we felt feel privileged to be able to have such an experience and truly comprehend these powerful birds that have been roaming the Mongolian Steppe for thousands of years.
After this rush of excitement, we were welcomed into his home for milk tea and other local foods. Particularly the homemade shartos with salt, a kind of butter, which was the best I had ever tried, a very different delightful taste than what other areas offer. That’s when we got to learn that Uljim is known for its eagle hunters and that in fact our host was is a relative of Aisholpan Nurgaiv, the young woman from the 2016 movie; The Eagle Huntress. His family had been eagle hunters for generations and it was in fact his third eagle. We left only being able to have the utmost admiration for their way of life and the incredible warmness and hospitality that they had shown us. A day complete, we were able to head back to Ulgii well and truly feeling that this was an unforgettable day, one which we hope others will take inspiration from.
Things to remember:
Safe travels everyone!