Steppe Nomads Tourist Camp; Gun-Galuut: Fun In The Countryside
I went to the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve in July of 2009 because I had gotten a grant to study and gather painting reference (I'm a oil painter who specializes in Mongolian subjects) of argali (wild sheep) and this was one of the three places I went. It was my fourth trip to Mongolia. I’ve stayed in a number of ger camps. This was one of the two more "touristy" camps I've stayed at. The others have been "eco-ger" camps in pretty remote locations with minimal amenities; not for everyone, but I like being out deep in the countryside.
Steppe Nomads Tourist Camp is an easy 2-3 hour drive, mostly on a tarmac road, from Ulaanbaatar, the capital. It is set with a wonderful view over the valley of the Kherlen River. Besides wildlife, the camp offers an impressive range of activities that are very reasonably priced, so you can afford to try a little of everything from a ride on a horse or in a yak-drawn cart to archery, mountain biking, fishing or just floating down the river in a small boat. One can also hike the mountain, Baits Uul, which is home to around 100 argali. As is always true with wildlife, your best chance to see them is in the early morning or early evening. You'll need good binoculars for viewing and a long, at least 400mm, lens to photograph them.
There is also a wetland area which is home to (at the time of writing) three pairs of endangered white-napped cranes, along with demoiselle cranes and other birds. Up on the mountain are cinereous vultures, the world's largest. The reserve is a good, accessible bird-watching destination.
Gun-Galuut is operated by the Mongolian equivalent of a county. An association has been formed so the community can work together to protect and promote this special place. One of its goals is to provide income opportunities for the local herder families. They provide the horses, yak carts, archery lessons, etc. for visitors.
The herders and their livestock are easily seen as you travel around the reserve, living and working as they have for centuries. Visits to a local family can probably be arranged, which will allow you to experience the ancient traditions of Mongolian hospitality.
The price includes lodging in an authentic Mongol ger (no electricity or private bath) and three good meals a day. There is a bar with a decent selection of beer and other beverages. The main building has hot showers, toilets and a gift shop on the first floor. There is a dining hall on the second floor which has a balcony overlooking the valley. Try to have at least a couple of meals out there. It's a lovely place to sit on a warm summer evening.
It's also a short walk down to the river, where you may see a tern out fishing for a meal.
The staff was marvelous. There were a couple of English speakers, so if you are there without a guide you be able to get what you need. Everyone was cheerful and helpful. Some are students majoring in a lodging/tourism industry program at the university in Ulaanbaatar, so they are getting practical experience working there. The camp also offers a laundry and sewing service, the only camp I've stayed at that did so. I had them do a load of clothes and everything came back clean and nicely folded.
If you have never stayed in a ger, I recommend that you search out some images on the internet so you can see what the interiors look like. This is not a standard-type "room". There are beds, a table, stools and the stove. Beds in Mongolia are hard. I always take my Thermarest pad with me. Gers don't have windows, but there is natural light that comes through the top, which is open in nice weather. I suppose they could be considered "rustic accommodation". But I find them very comfortable and, really, kind of comforting.