In the westernmost part of Mongolia, on the border with China and Russia, is the remarkable province of Bayan Olgii (Bayan Ulgii). This land is known to be the land of the descendants of Kazakhstan, whose ancestors fled their homeland to prevent the expansion of the Russian empire and seek a better future. While the rest of Mongolia is homogeneous, Bayan-Olgii has its own culture and languages.
The city of Olgii (Ulgii) is the proud capital of the province, and this is usually the base of operations for travelers exploring Bayan Olgii province and western Mongolia in general. The city has approximately 30,000 inhabitants and is still undergoing change, although not too fast. You can get to Olgii by taking a plane, bus or jeep. If you choose to travel by land, it takes about three days to get there from Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. The two domestic airlines that fly to Olgii every week are AeroMongolia and Eznis.
Olgii has some of the basic tourist services such as supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, ATMs and Internet cafes. But it’s not just a place to stock up on some supplies; It is also a great starting point to learn about Kazakhstan’s unique nomadic herding culture, its lively music and art, as well as its close family ties. Even in the city itself, the traditional round white felt house called the ger is installed in people’s yards. But if you want to see the gers in a more traditional setting, all you need to do is get out of town. Whichever you choose, you will soon find Kazakh hospitality and be pleasantly surprised.
The city is small enough to get around on foot. Take the time to visit the open air market or bazaar and look at the famous Olgii handicrafts. There is a museum on the way to the bazaar, northeast of the main square. This three-story museum provides information on the history, culture and life of the various tribes that inhabit Bayan Ulgii. These tribes include the majority of the Kazakh population and minorities such as Dörvöd, Uriankhai, Khoshuud, and Tuva. Other points of interest in the city include the social space called Green Garden and the National Theater of Kazakhstan, which regularly hosts cultural performances and concerts.
Olgii has served as a starting point for visitors wanting to head to Tsambagarav National Park and Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Thus, hiking is one of the main activities to do in the area. If you want to conquer the Altai mountain peaks, you may want to enlist the services of an experienced local mountain guide. You can also sign up for a more organized tour. Despite increasing tourism, the road infrastructure around Bayan Olgii is still not well developed. The best way to explore natural attractions is to take organized tours, with established vendors providing transportation, food, camping equipment, and guides.
If you have an adventurous palate, don’t miss the chance to sample traditional Kazakh delicacies while in Bayan Olgii. Some of these delicacies include fermented mare’s milk called ‘koumiss’, horse sausage called ‘kaz’, and the steamed flour and root vegetable meat dish called ‘beshbarmak’, also regarded as the national dish.
Also in Bayan Olgii you can find the rare Kazakh eagle hunters locally called berkutchi. A berkutchi trains golden eagles and hunts with them. Horseback eagle hunters can be seen just outside the city.