When it comes to remote travel destinations it is tough to top Mongolia. Located in Central Asia, the country is surrounded by Russia to the north, and China to the south and its rich culture and history is as much of a draw as its many breathtaking vistas.
There are a few adventure travel companies that offer organized itineraries to Mongolia, but few have anything the compares to what Tusker Trail has put together. For the past ten years, the company has been leading a Mongolia Trek that is so good that it was once named one of Outside magazine's trips of the year. I'll be making this journey myself in July of this year, but before heading out to Asia I had the chance to talk to Tusker boss Eddie Frank to learn more about this amazing experience.
What the Trip Is Like
The trip begins in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, which serves as the arrival and departure point for most international flights to the country. The stay there is short, however, and it won't be long before Tusker's clients are catching another flight to Bayan Ulgii, a remote town found near the Chinese border in western Mongolia. From there, it's on to Altai Tavn Bogd National Park, an outdoor wonderland with epic landscapes that include pristine mountain lakes, snowcapped peaks, and five mountains that are considered sacred by Mongolians.
Eddie Frank says that those amazing views are seen throughout the trip, but particularly as the team makes camp each night. He tells me that the campsites are some of the highlights of the trip, with each more spectacular than the last. Travelers stay in cozy mountain tents and even traditional Mongolian gers as they relax after a day on the trail while taking in views of glacier-fed lakes and the wide open steppe the country is so famous for.
Home to perhaps the finest horsemen that have ever lived, Mongolia is a vast sea of open plains and grasslands. What better way to explore that expanse than by horseback? Franks says that most of the clients have limited experience riding over longer distance when they sign up for the trip, but they soon get more comfortable in the saddle. He has imported Australian riding saddles that provide added stability when compared to the those traditionally employed by the Mongolians, but the sturdy, sure-footed mounts are born and bred for crossing the remote terrain of the Altai Mountains.
Hiking Instead of Horseback Riding
For those who prefer not to ride, there is always the option to hike the 8-10 miles that are covered on a daily basis. Whether on foot or horseback, the travelers cover the same route and share the same experience. They not only depart from the same camp but generally break for lunch at the same point and arrive at the nightly campsite at about the same time as well.
Eddie has been making this journey for more than a decade and he says that while the landscapes are indeed beautiful, and the adventure authentic, it is the nomadic people that he encounters that helps to truly set this trip apart from other travel experiences. "The hospitality of the nomads is unmatched," he says, noting that it is tradition on the steppe for them to take in anyone who arrives on their doorstep, providing them with shelter and food for the evening.
Tusker's clients won't have to worry about either of those concerns, however. In addition to staying in very comfortable camps, they'll be well fed too. While the means will be simple, the food is plentiful and prepared by chefs who are trained by the Culinary Institute of America, something I experienced first hand when I climbed Kilimanjaro with Tusker last year. The food on that trip was exceptionally good, even when we were camped on a glacier at over 18,000 feet.
The Altai Tavn Bogd National Park region is reportedly a popular one with backpackers, although most Tusker groups encounter very few other foreigners while out on the trail. And since there are almost no other travel companies operating within the area, seclusion and solitude are part of the experience, making this a trip well suited for those who are looking to truly get away from it all.
So just how good is this trip? Eddie Frank, a very experienced adventurer and guide, says "If I could only take one trip each year, this would be the one." That should give you an indication of just how wonderful an experience this Tusker expedition truly is. It is quite literally a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a part of the world that remains remote, wild, and largely unchanged from the way it was centuries ago.