In the westernmost portion of Mongolia, on the border with China and Russia lies the remarkable province of Bayan Olgii (Bayan Ulgii). This land is known to be the land of Kazakh descendants, whose ancestors fled their motherland to avoid the expanding Russian empire and to search for a better future. While the rest of Mongolia is homogeneous, Bayan-Olgii has its own culture and languages.
Olgii City (Ulgii) is the proud capital of the province, and this is usually the home base for travelers exploring Bayan Olgii province and western Mongolia in general. The city has approximately 30,000 people, and is still experiencing changes, albeit, not too rapidly. You can reach Olgii by taking a plane, bus or jeep. If you choose to travel by land, it takes about three days to get here from the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar. The two domestic airlines that fly to Olgii every week are AeroMongolia and Eznis.
Olgii has some of the basic tourist amenities like supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, ATMs and internet cafes. But it is not only a place to stock up some supplies; it’s also a great starting place to get to know the Kazakh’s unique culture of nomadic herding, their lively music and art, as well as their close family ties. Even in the city itself, the traditional white-felt round house called ger is set up in people’s yards. But if you want to see the gers in a more traditional setting, all you need to do is go outside town. Whichever you choose, you will soon encounter Kazakh’s hospitality and it will pleasantly astonish you.
The city is small enough to get around on foot. Take the time to visit the outdoor market or bazaar and check out the famous Olgii crafts. There is a museum on the way to the bazaar, just northeast of the main square. This three-story museum provides insights to the history, culture and lives of the various tribes inhabiting Bayan Ulgii. These tribes include the majority Kazakh population and the minorities like Dörvöd, Uriankhai, Khoshuud and Tuva. Other points of interest in the city include the social space called Green Garden, and the Kazakh National Theater, which regularly hosts cultural shows and concerts.
Olgii has served as jumping off point for visitors who wish to head to Tsambagarav National Park and Altai Tavan Bogd National Park.The Altai Mountains surround the city of Olgii stretching to the south and west. Thus, hiking is one of the main activities to do in the area. If you wish to conquer the peaks of the Altai Mountains, you may want to engagethe services of an experienced local mountain guide. You can also sign up for a more organized tour. Despite the growing tourism, the road infrastructure around Bayan Olgii is still not well-developed. The best way to explore the natural attractions is to go for organized tours, with established outfitters who provide transportation, food, camping equipment and guides.
If you have an adventurous palate, don’t miss the chance to try sampling the traditional Kazakh delicacies while in Bayan Olgii. Some of these delicacies include fermented mare’s milk called ‘koumiss’, horse sausage named ‘kaz’, and the meat plate with root vegetable and steamed flour 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. Eagle hunters on horseback can be spotted just outside the city.