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backpacking in mongolia

Backpacking in Mongolia: Top 5 Must Do’s in the Altai Mountains

Mongolia is a massive country and finding information on the best “tourist destinations” can be difficult. Most travellers will either book a tour starting and finishing in the capital city of Ulanbataar, or do as we did and try and make our way across Mongolia independently.

Going independent is not without its fare share of difficulties, but regardless of what local tour guides in UB may tell you, it is possible. If you have time up your sleeve we recommend heading as far West as you can go, until your practically knocking on Russia and China’s door, this area is known as the Altai region and is especially known for its impressive mountain ranges.

backpacking in altai mountains

To reach the Altai mountains you’ll want to head towards the city of Olgii. This city is a concrete wasteland and honestly is a depressing place with nothing to offer so get in, find a driver, and get out!

We were lucky enough to run into our driver, Japaar, at the hotel we were staying at but you can also head towards the local market, or just approach anyone who owns a Russian ex-military van and see if they are a guide/driver. Finding someone who speaks English may be difficult but most older drivers will know some Russian so knowing a few words in Ruski helps!

The Altai Mountain region is a Unesco World Heritage Site that offers something for every kind of traveller. If you love hiking there are treks that will take you past lakes, through amazing countryside, and also to the Potanin glacier.

backpacking in mongolia

For those who love to see how locals live, there are numerous nomadic families who are more than happy to invite you in for a cup of tea and some biscuits. Many of these families are also famed eagle hunters.

The scenery is breathtaking for all the avid photographers out there with the countryside constantly changing before your eyes. We even spotted some keen cyclists along the way but that maybe only for the hardcore, the roads are rough the days are long and the nights are cold!

Five Things Not To Miss:

1. Nomadic Stay in A “Ger” (Mongolian tent)
There are many local families tending to their flocks of sheep and goats that you will find scattered all through the countryside, many of which are happy to open their homes to visitors needing a place to sleep. The general fee is about 10,000 Tugriks or $6 USD per person, this will get you a meal (usually lamb noodle soup) a mat to sleep on and as much tea as you can consume!

people in mongolia ger

2. Visit the Potanin Glacier
This glacier is inside the national park so there is an entrance fee or two that need to be paid along the way. Upon reaching the rangers ger you will have to leave your driver behind and hike on foot the remainder of the way to the glacier, this is about a 9 hour round trip on foot.

Along the way you can witness yaks grazing, crazy mountain goats scaling steep mountainsides, enjoy the beautiful wild flowers in the fields and also experience the coldest river crossing ever! The river isn’t deep and it’s not far across, but there is no way to cross without getting you toes wet and the possibility of squealing like a little girl from the shock of the cold!

The glacier itself is a stunning site but make sure you pack for the elements we had everything from warm sunshine, to bitterly cold winds and finally a total soaking from a rain storm: be prepared!

3. Visit an Eagle Hunters
The eagle hunters in this region are famed in Mongolia. This type of hunting is called “Berkutchy” and is a lifelong practice that is handed down through generations of Kazakh families.

The hunting season generally begins in October but the birds are displayed proudly near the owners Ger at all times of the year, some will allow you to hold the eagle at a cost of 5,000 tugriks (this is what we paid as a couple but they could charge your this as a solo traveller)

eagle hunters in mongolia

4. Go on a Horse Trek
There are a couple of companies that offer horse trekking in this region and it is a great way to see the countryside.
Note: most of the treks take a couple of days so be prepared for a sore butt!

5. Camp in the Wilderness
As explained earlier, Mongolia is a countryside of spectacular scenery and wildlife and there is nothing better than packing up a tent, some essential camping supplies and heading out into the wilderness.

There are a few treks around that range in distance so it all depends on how long you want to spend exploring the Mongolian countryside. Make sure you do some research in advance about where you are allowed to travel and also what the weather will be like. There is not much food available so stock up well in advance or you may be hunting and eating marmots!

Mongolia is a country of incredible, almost untouched beauty. Heading there may be for the more adventurous of travellers but regardless of your level of backpacking expertise it will most definitely be a experience you’ll never forget!

megs-google-profile-picMeagen Collins is chief editor of the Five Dollar Traveller website & author of Budget Burma: A comprehensive budget travel guide for Myanmar. While digesting her frequent food babies, Megsy blogs about tasty bites, booze, travel and whatever random topics pop into her head along the way!

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everest view

Trekking to the Skies on a Himalayan Adventure: Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp is a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true opportunity. But if you go, don’t be surprised if after your Himalayan adventure you find yourself yearning to go back. Once is never enough.

Your journey will likely begin in Kathmandu and in Thamel, the city’s popular tourist district. Thamel’s streets are crammed with gear shops, merchants, money changers, guest houses, restaurants and bars, making this neighborhood the traditional starting point for trekkers. Spend a few days getting your bearings, buy that last minute item you’ll need on the trail, or take in some of the local landmarks such as Durbar Square or Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. Or if a little sliver of quiet is what you desire, check out the Garden of Dreams, a serene oasis amid Kathmandu’s turbulent streets. And though a little pricey compared to the low budget guest houses, you can be assured of a quiet night and hot shower at the Nepalaya Hotel.

lukla airportYou’ll leave Kathmandu on a thrilling plane ride that will whisk you over the Nepal countryside and through mountain valleys until you land at one of the most extreme airports in the world, the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Situated on the side of a mountain in the village of Lukla, you’ll pick up the trail to Everest Base Camp here. But before you speed off, stop in at a tea house, grab a quick bite to eat and a cup of tea because your next stop is three hours away.

downtown luklaThe trail to Mount Everest winds through breathtaking subtropical forests, meanders alongside raging glacial waters, through magical rhododendron forests, and carries you above the tree line where you’ll hike through a world of ancient boulders surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Himalaya.

Your first real test will come on day two when you climb a two thousand foot ascent that will lift you into the trading outpost Namche Bazaar which sits at 12,000 feet above sea level. Your second test will come later when you climb the mountain that is home to the Tengboche Monastery. From there, your journey takes you to the high altitudes of your trek where you’ll have a choice between stopping at Pheriche or Dingboche. Pheriche is often windy and cold, but the valley it’s nestled in is beyond stunning which makes this village a popular way point. Alternatively, head for Dingboche and take an extra day to hike to the summit of Nangkartshang where you’ll sit at 16,000 feet with Ama Dablam, Taboche, Cho La Tse and other peaks. Then it’s on to Dugla and Lobuche after that.

namche trekking

mani prayer wheel

Your last stop before reaching Everest Base Camp will be Gorak Shep. There, the powerful and serrated Nuptse will be looking on as will Pumo Ri as it rises over the dark shaded Kala Pattar. The following day begin the final leg to Base Camp early enough (you’ll want to give yourself two hours to reach Base Camp and two hours to get back) so you’ll have plenty of time for basking in the glow of your accomplishment.

And if you’re feeling a little winded at the high point of your trek, don’t fret, retracing your steps from Everest Base Camp back to Lukla comes much easier and faster so make sure you enjoy your remaining time with the mountains because you’ll leave them behind far too soon.

5 things to pack

  • 4 pairs Smartwool socks plus 3 inner sock liners. A pair of socks can be made to last two days by slipping on a pair of inners on alternate days. You’ll be assured of clean, dry socks this way even when the ones you washed are taking three days to dry out.
  • Sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, and polarized sunglasses.
  • 3000 Rupees for each day on the trail. Sure you can do it for cheaper, but why would you want to deprive yourself of the occasional can of soda, candy bar, or extra entrée.
  • A regimen of zithromycin and diamox.
  • A down sleeping bag from home. The kind you pick up in Kathmandu or Namche Bazaar will most likely be a Northface or Marmot knock-off.

everest peak

7 things not to miss while on the trail.

  • ama dablamWhen flying to Lukla sit on the left side of the plane. You’ll get the best views of the snow covered Himalaya this way. You’ll swear that you’re looking directly into heaven as the sun outlines the peaks in shades of pink and gold.
  • Downtown Namche Bazaar.
  • The Everest View Hotel in Syangboche. The hotel is a modest day hike when you reach Namche Bazaar. Wander around to the back of the hotel, sit with the pine trees, and enjoy the stunning views of Everest, Lohtse, and Ama Dablam.
  • The Dugla Memorials.
  • Spend some time underneath a canopy of stars when everyone else is sleeping.
  • Sit with the mountains on top of Kala Pattar and commune with the mountains in the sacred valley Mount Everest calls home.
  • When you arrive back in Lukla be sure to visit the Illy coffee shop. It serves the best cup of masala tea in all of Asia.

everest view

Scott Bishop is the author of A Soul’s Calling, a memoir about a man who listened to his heart rather than reason. The book chronicles the author’s October 2011 trek to Everest Base Camp and brings the Himalaya to life in rich and vivid detail. The novel is part travelogue, part hiking adventure, and has shamanism and magic woven throughout. It’s available for purchase on Amazon.com or you can read an excerpt from it at www.scott-bishop.com.

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Zanskar River near Chilling

A Trip to Rugged Ladakh, Pride of Kashmir: Ladakh, India

This is a guest post from Divij at Thrillophilia

You know what they say about Kashmir- if there is a heaven on earth, it has got be Kashmir. If you have been to Ladakh, which is a part of Kashmir, you cannot agree more with that statement. I, along with three of my friends, recently visited the region, and it was sheer beauty.

There is something magical about Ladakh which draws you to it in the very first instant. It is almost like falling in love at first sight.

It all started with a visit of the monasteries

Our Ladakh trip started with a visit to the most important monasteries of Ladakh. We visited the Shey Palace, the Hemis monastery, Thiksey and Alchi monasteries on the second day of our arrival in Ladakh.

I had read about the beauty of the monasteries of Ladakh, but they were even better than what I had read in books and online. Some of the monasteries of Ladakh date as far back as 11th century. I could not help but marvel at the amount of hard work which must have gone in to make such beautiful monasteries back then. There were no machines to work with in that era and the terrain of Ladakh was as rugged as it is now.

Lamayuru Monastery

A visit to Pangong Lake followed

After a day of visit to the monasteries, it was time to visit the magnificent Pangong Lake. It is a remote lake with captivating beauty. When we reached there, all of us were almost stupefied, looking at the marvelous turquoise blue color of the lake. And as much as the lake was beautiful, equally exciting was the journey to it.

We crossed Changla Pass on the way, which is one of the highest motorable roads in the world. We stopped for a while on the pass to take in the breathtaking views. It was simply stunning.

Pangong Lake

We even had a fun camel safari

After Pangong Lake, we were driven to Nubra Valley, also called the valley of flowers in Ladakh. We could see different varieties of flowers, and with the sun shining bright, they looked even more beautiful.

But what was more mesmerizing was the diverse terrain of the valley. The lush meadows of the valley transformed into sand dunes almost seamlessly. There are sand dunes in Nubra Valley between the villages of Deskit and Hunder, and that’s where we had a fun camel safari.

Ladakh is home to the rare double hump backed camel. The camel safari was relaxing and fun. Honestly speaking, I had always thought of a camel safari in the heat of Rajasthan, but this was something completely different.

We ended the tour with a relaxing rafting experience

We ended our trip to Ladakh with a relaxing rafting ride in Zanskar River from Phey to Nimo. The region has Grade II and Grade III rapids. It was far removed from the exhilarating rafting of Rishikesh, but it was fun nevertheless.

Zanskar River near Chilling

And although we intended to do much more, we were short on time and had to bid adieu to the destination. However, we have vowed to come back to the destination sometime soon, and this time, we are definitely going to try hiking in Ladakh.

I have heard trekking in Ladakh is a beautiful experience, and I surely want to experience it at least since before I die. Honestly speaking though, I am a little afraid of heights, and trekking here is going to be more than challenging for me.

Discover more great destinations in India and Asia on Top Backpacking Destinations here….

Aspen Mountain View

Christmas Backpacking Adventures in the Snowy Hills: Aspen, USA

Two Skiers AspenAspen is the kind of place that intrepid travellers aspire to visit by any means necessary. Whether you’re a huge fan of skiing or snowboarding, a person who simply wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities, or simply an individual looking to recreate the epic journey of Lloyd and Harry from Dumb and Dumber, Aspen could be the perfect place for you to start or finish a holiday as a backpacker in 2012.

The Colorado-based city is described by its Teletext Holidays guide as the company’s “favourite American resort”, though it goes on to claim that “it has everything we look for – except, obviously, convenience”. For this reason, it serves as the perfect place for people to make their own way to. While it is still an option to transfer to Denver on a flight from one of the main airports of the US, the chance to backpack from somewhere like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago or New Orleans could be one of the most life-affirming experiences you may ever have.

While the chance to join in on festivities has passed for 2011, the Christmas period for Aspen is one of the busiest and most exciting periods. There are a bunch of free holiday activities that will undoubtedly keep visitors happy in the “12 Days of Aspen”, an event held in a large number of venues across the city for skiers and snowboarders alike.

After making your own way to Aspen, you will find it to be the best place to relax and unwind. Due to its 6,000 or so residents, the town-like atmosphere of the area gives peace and tranquillity – something even reflected on its world-class slopes. These boast perfect snow conditions for sportsmen and women of all abilities, while partnering resorts at Snowmass and the Aspen Highlands spoil you for choice if you want to go slightly further afield.

Aspen Mountain View

While Aspen boasts the most expensive property prices in the US, it still remains to be an attractive old-style mining town that drew investment from the silver boom in the late 1800s. For this reason, it is packed with restaurants, bars and shops – both general and specialist – that can cater to the needs of anyone who wants to spend their final few dollars after a long backpacking trip across the States.

Skiing in Aspen5 Things Not to Miss in Aspen:

  • The Aspen Art Museum is free every day.
  • Ambassador Program – Ambassadors offer free mountain tours daily at 10.30am.
  • Free sing-a-long and Kids crafts occur weekly by the campfire at Snowmass base.
  • Hallam Lake – walk the half mile nature trail loop.
  • The Red Brick centre for the arts – rotating exhibitions, watch the artists at work and browse the shop.

Of course, it may be perfect for Aspen to be a penultimate stop-off. Given its isolation from the rest of Colorado, it may be worth finishing your adventure in Grand Junction, Denver or Colorado Springs. Just ensure you plan well – Aspen’s not the easiest place to get to!

This is a featured post from Teletext Holidays.

Soller Cathedral and Roof Tops

Puerto Pollensa, Soller & the Serra de Tramutano: North Coast Majorca

Serra de Tramutano Mountain RangeFor our final day in Majorca we planned to explore the north coast, travelling along from Puerto Pollensa to the more upmarket towns of Soller and Deia in the hills. Along this route is the Serra de Tramutano, a huge mountain range which looms large over the many towns on the north coast.

Puerto Pollensa is another town which caters heavily for tourists, with a pleasant seafront lined with shops and restaurants not unlike the other towns scattered along the east coast. It is a charming place with smaller sections of beach than the likes of Alcudia and Palma Nova. However, it is slightly less ‘in your face’ than those places and amongst the many small sections of beach you’ll find sand sculptors creating huge castles and beasts in the sand.

Road through Serra de TramutanoFrom Puerto Pollensa it is worth renting a car to take to the road into the Serra de Tramutano, a winding back and forth which affords top class views and some great driving challenges if you like a bit of time on the circuit! The road curves through pretty towns like Lluc and Fornalutx along the way and has numerous stopping areas to enjoy the views. Eventually it will lead you to Soller, a fantastic little town tucked away in the mountains. With a great town square, a large Gothic church and the occasional sound of the tram tooting through on its way from the port to Palma, it’s an easy place to sit with a coffee and watch the world go by. If you fancy some time by the sea then it’s only a short way to the port where glamorous boats and restaurants provide the foreground for the towering mountains.

Soller Cathedral and Roof TopsThe road from Soller then leads you up towards the towns of Deia and Valdemossa which are hidden away up in the hills. If possible the road gets even tighter and windier at this stage, and you need to concentrate hard to not be sucked in by the marvellous views around every turn. Deia is home to a hotel formally owned by Richard Branson, La Residencia, which might prove a step too far for those on a backpacking budget, but there are plenty of other bars and cafes to stop off at and enjoy the surroundings.

Along this route you can really take your pick of the towns you stop in and spend your time. The enjoyment is really in the journey and fantastic scenery which surrounds you. And whilst they cater to the higher end of the market, there are still budget accommodation options where you can stay for a night. And, if all else fails, it is only a short ride (by tram if you like!) back to Palma where there are even more options available. One thing’s for sure, whatever your budget, this isn’t a part of Majorca you want to miss out on.

This post is part of the blog trip with lowcostholidays.com

Cusco, Peru – Backpacking Photo of the Week: Llama Time!

The trek to Machu Picchu is a long and beautiful one, so i could have picked any one from a million photos for this week’s Backpacking Photo of the Week. However, it was on the way to Machu Picchu that i established the identity of my new must-have pet – the Llama! You can’t walk anywhere in the Andes without tripping over one and they captured my heart. Now i’m not interested in getting a dog or a cat or a hamster for the garden – it’s gotta be a Llama!

We weren’t far from Cusco when i got my first sighting of a gaggle of Llamas. You can hear them coming from a mile off with the bells attached to their necks and it quickly became the signal to get cameras at the ready. This time the woman brought them right past us. It was just a sample of what was to come over the next few days, there was no escaping them, much to my happiness!

See more photos from the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here

backpacking in imlil, morocco

Imlil, Morocco – Backpacking Photo of the Week

Imlil is a small village tucked away in the Atlas Mountains and provides the entry point for many fantastic treks across the mountains. It is the doorway into remote Berber villages, stunning mountain scenery and some truly unique people. Situated a couple of hours drive from Marrakech, it is a popular place for many backpackers who are travelling through Morocco and is certainly worthy of a visit for those wanting a look into the less travelled, off the beaten track area of the country.

This photo of a thoughtful local man was taken in the middle of Imlil as the locals strolled around in the late afternoon. We were watching the world go by before departing on a trek the following day:

backpacking in imlil, morocco

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lares trek

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, A Photo Diary – Machu Picchu, Peru

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 9/10

Machu Picchu is one of the world’s must see icons. It’s like no other place on earth and needs to be seen to be believed. Hidden amongst the mountains of eastern Peru it stands tall and mighty, overlooking the rolling mountains for miles around. You can do various treks to get there, i was lucky enough to do the Lares Trek which included stops at some fantastic mountain villages along the way that were full of beautiful people. They say a picture tells a thousand words,so here’s a few of them to try and do this magical place some justice:

Backpacking in Peru - Machu Picchu

Llamas on the way to Machu Picchu

Lady with dog in Peru mountains

Llama in Machu Picchu

child in Machu Picchu

child in Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Celebrations

Machu Picchu view from Waynapicchu

Inside Machu Picchu

Machi Picchu Classic View
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grand canyon

Grand Canyon, USA – Backpacking Photo of the Week

The Grand Canyon is pretty high on most backpackers list of must sees and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. You could spend days and weeks wandering around the area without getting tired of it and if you’re a bit of a flashpacker you might even consider a little helicopter ride over the top!

grand canyon

Peruse some more photos from the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here.

huaraz peru

Backpacking Photo of the Week – Huaraz, Peru

Peru offers backpackers stunning views around every corner as you move between different environments from day to day. Take in the sand dunes of Huacachina, the iconic Machu Picchu or the glaciers of Huaraz. This photo was taken in the hills surrounding Huaraz after a day long hike up into the mountains. Ice capped mountains, bright blue water and views for miles around, it doesn’t get much better!

huaraz peru

Click here to check out more of the beautiful destinations around the world in the Backpacking Photo of the Week series.