#1 – Burhan Khaldun (God Mountain)
Located in the Khentii mountains of North Eastern Mongolia, local legend tells how the blue-grey wolf Borte Chono camped in sight of Burhan Khaldun mountain with his wife. Here they welcomed their first born son Bat Tsagaan whose descendants included Genghis Khaan.
Genghis Khan himself attached great attachment to the mountain and its spirits; when as a young man he lost a battle against the great Merkit tribe, he escaped death by seeking refuge in the mountain. When he left the mountain he embarked on his campaign to unify the land and people of Mongolia.
Legend tells that Genghis Khan is buried somewhere on Burhan Khaldun, however his burial site remains unknown. The story of Genghis Khan’s burial is that of massacre. Those that were responsible for the burial were all killed in order to keep the location a secret and the great Khan undisturbed.
#2- Bogd Khan Mountain (Saint Khan Mountain)
A sacred mountain that overlooks the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar. The mountain is the oldest legally protected natural area in the world, after the local Mongolian government of the Qing dynasty declared it a protected site, for its beauty, way back in 1783.
Due to its historical labelling as a sacred mountain and the Mongolian customs attached to the spirits of nature, the killing of animals and felling of trees have always been strictly prohibited. If one were to do so, it would be an act of angering the spirits with potential terrible consequences. Today, the mountain overlooks the ever growing metropolis of Ulaanbaatar (UB). Any visitors will likely see the face of the man of the millennium etched into the mountain as befits the Mongolian people’s respect for their founder and Genghis’ respect for the spirit of the mountains.
#3 - Asralt Khairkhan (Solicitous holy mountain)
Mongolia has three main mountain ranges: The Altai mountains, the Khangai mountains and the Khenti mountains. Asralt Hairhan is the highest mountain of the Khentii mountains reaching an elevation of 2800m. It is not a technically difficult mountain and is so scalable for the adventure enthusiast and non-mountaineer. Situated close to Ulaanbaatar, it is also possible for tourists to tackle this mountain.
Whilst Mongolia is a Buddhist country, the vast majority of local people still practice shamanism and have a very strong belief in the spirits of nature. Thus when climbing a mountain, one should be respectful to the spirits. If a rock is picked up it must be put back in place, shrubbery or plants must not be pulled or trampled on purpose and most importantly, if beginning to ascend a mountain you must make it to the top. Turning back before reaching the top is a disrespectful act to the spirits of the mountain.
#4 - Suvraga Hairhan (stupa holy mountain)
Suraga Hairhan lies at the source of the Orkhon river, a culturally significant river in Mongolia which has watered the foundations of two major capitals; Khar Balgas the ancient capital of the Uyghur Kingdom and Karakorum the ancient capital of the Mongol empire. Today only the foundations remain of both capitals but such was the wealth of Karakorum that the palace courtyard housed a tree made entirely of silver.
Suraga Hairhan is not the largest mountain in the khangai mountain range, it has over a millennium gained great cultural significance due to its sourcing of the Orkhon river and overlooking of the Orkhon valley. For the ancient Turkic tribes, their deep belief in Tengerism led them to believe that their divine right to rule was granted by the mountains and so whoever controlled the Orkhon valley had the right to rally all tribes to their cause.
#5 - Monkh Saridag (Eternal Aiguille)
Reaching 3,491m and straddling the border between Mongolia and Russia, Monkh Saridag overlooks the stunning Hovsgol lake, one of the seventeen ancient lakes of the world (a lake estimated to be over 2 million years old).
The whole area around Monkh Saridag and lake Hovsgol is surrounded by pristine taiga forest, giving it the label of the Switzerland of the east. Furthermore, wildlife enthusiasts have the chance to spot ibex, elk, wolves, brown bears, moose and sable.
Cultural enthusiasts also have the opportunity to meet the Tsaatan ethnic group who herd domesticated reindeer. A fascinating people who practice their shaman religion and reindeer herding today as they have done for centuries.
The mountain and lake area has to be one of Asia’s best kept secrets; indeed, the whole area is a national park (Lake Hovsgol National Park) bigger than that of the famous Yellowstone National Park.
#6 – Gurvan Saikhan (Three Beauties)
‘Gurvan Saikhan National Park’ is located in Omnogobi province of Southern Mongolia. The national park is named after the three mountainous beauties of the area, named Baruun Saikhany Nuruu (Western beauty) Dund Saikhany Nuruu (Middle beauty) and Zuun Saikhany Nuruu (Eastern beauty). The three beauties tower above a landscape of sand dunes, dry drainage basins, cold springs and even a semi-permanent ice field.
Trekking through the area there is the chance of spotting a host of interesting wildlife including the Gobi bear, long eared hedgehogs, viper, wild goat-ibex and even the elusive snow leopard. If walking is too much of a chore however, there is always the option of sitting atop the domesticated Bactrian camel. An interesting note on camel riding. In Mongolia they say their right side is their left side, but their right side is their wrong side; both camels and horses are trained to be approached from their left side, so always approach camels from the left side. Good luck!
#7 – Otgontenger (Youngest Sky)
Otgontenger reaches a height of 4,008 metres and is the highest mountain in the Khangai mountain region of Mongolia. It is also the only peak in the region to be topped with a permanent glacier.
The mountain has been the scene of two recent accidents. In 1963 an aircraft crashed into the side of the mountain and in 2017, 17 hikers were discovered dead after attempting to ascend the mountain.
Otgontenger is believed to be inhabited by the wrathful deity Ochirvaani, as such, deep respect is served this mountain as one of Mongolia’s ‘sacred mountains’. When in view of a scared mountain such as Otgontenger it is forbidden to say the name of the mountain, instead the phrase ‘khairkhan’ is to be used which translates to ‘loving king’.
#8 – Sutai (Milky Mountain)
Sutai is the highest mountain in the Gobi-Altai range and is a favorite herding area for yaks, therefore the mountain is called ‘Milky Mountain’ for it is the home of yaks copious in milk.
The mountain is worshipped every two years in a ceremony that is afforded to every sacred mountain of Mongolia. The ceremony takes place at an ‘ovoo’ on the mountain. (An ‘ovoo’ is a sacred stone heap used as an open air altar). The Mongolian President arrives at the ‘ovoo’ and receives a blessing from the great Hanjuur chronicles while four state guards place the Mongolian flag, the war-time black banner, local provincial flag, Chinggis Khaan’s portrait and the seven treasures of the state beside the ceremonial ‘ovoo’.
#9 – Tsambagarav
Tsambagarav is a mountain of the Altai mountain range and is the highest stand-alone Mongolia mountain, reaching a height of 4,193metres.
The mountain is located in Mongolia’s far west and is home to two minority ethnic groups of Mongolia, the Kazakhs and the Uriankhai. Thus a trip to Tsambagarav is not complete without a visit to a Kazakh or Uriankhai home.
The high Kazakh population in western Mongolia is derived from the expanse of the Russian empire during the 19th Century, which pushed Kazakh communities into neighboring countries. The Kazakh community remained in the Altai region and now make up 88.7% of the population of the area.
The Kazakhs of this region are especially famous for their practice of hunting with trained eagles. The annual golden eagle festival is an amazing opportunity to observe this ancient tradition. Some of you may be familiar with the festival after a 2016 documentary was released called “the eagle huntress”. The documentary tells the story of a 13 year-old Kazakh girl named Aisholpan who became the first ever female to win the competition.
#10 – Tavan Bogd (Five Saints)
The highest point in Mongolia is found at the Khuiten peak (literally cold peak) of the Tavan Bogd mountain massif, at 4,374metres. This mountain range forms a three-way border between Mongolia, China and Russia and interestingly due to the inaccessibility of the tripoint border; being located on a mountain covered in perpetual snow, the three states agreed not to install a physical border marker.
The Tavan Bogd mountain massif consists of a large area of glaciation the largest of which is located within Mongolia’s ‘Altai Tavan Bogd National Park’. One such glacier called the Potanin glacier is 14km long but is sadly decreasing at a rate of 15metres per year. The national park also contains the culturally precious Tsagaan Salaa rock paintings, approximately 10,000 pictorials depicting livestock and big game dating from the Neolithic to the Bronze age.