Pilgrimage to Mongolia

with Tricycle: The Buddhist Review & Jakob Leschly

July 31–August 12, 2020

There are four spaces left on this journey!

Trip at a Glance

  • July 31–August 12, 2020
  • Daily practice with Jakob Leschly
  • Escorted by BJ & Lauren, owners of RetreaTours
  • Joined by Tricycle publisher James Shaheen
  • Enjoy the spiritual and cultural festival of Danshig Naadam
  • Witness the renaissance of Tibetan Buddhism in post-Communist Mongolia
  • Engage with local monks and experience puja ceremonies
  • Explore the vast grasslands of the Mongolian Steppe
  • Discover the beauty of Khogno Khan National Park & the Mongol Els Sand Dunes
  • Relax in remote Jalman Meadows in the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area
  • Limited to 12 guests
  • Early bird price of $5299 (USD) per person (based on double occupancy; please see Pricing & Inclusions tab below for details)

How to Register

  • Review this entire webpage for details
  • Complete Registration Questions and Contract
  • Submit deposit by check or credit card (via PayPal)

Itinerary at a Glance

 

July 31   Arrival into Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia; late afternoon visit to the Winter Palace of the Bodg Khan (overnight in UB)

August 1   Visit Gandan Monastery, the center of Mongolian Buddhism; experience quintessential Mongolian culture at a Danshig Naadam festival which includes horse racing, Bökh Mongolia wrestling, and archery (overnight in UB)

August 2–3   A Mongolian monk will accompany us for the next leg of our journey, until August 5th! After exploring the stunning Choijin Lama museum, then we’ll head west to Khögno Khan National Park and our hidden ecocamp. This is a perfect area for walking, exploring, and riding Bactrian camels in the Elsen Tasarkhai, part of the Mongol Els Sand Dunes. We’ll take a hike to the ruins of the 17th century Ovgon monastery, founded by Zanabazar. (3 nights in Khögno Khan) 

August 4   Today we’ll visit Kharkhorin, what was once the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire and home to Erdene Zuu Tibetan Buddhist monastery  (overnight in Kharkhorin)

August 5   We’ll visit Shankh Monastery, founded by Zanabazar. We’ll continue on Tovkhon Monastery, set high in the forested mountainsm, before retiring to our beautiful ger ecocamp on the steppe in the Orkhon Valley  (overnight in Orkhon Valley)

August 6   Today we head back to Ulaanbaatar, and on the way we’ll visit a nomadic family to get an insider look at this traditional style of Mongolian life (overnight in UB)

August 7–9   Visit the impressive Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue on the way to Jalman Meadows in the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area. Our peaceful ger camp at Jalman Meadows offers opportunities for rafting, hiking, horseback riding, sauna-building, birdwatching, or just relaxing in the beautiful scenery (3 nights in Jalman Meadows)

August 10   Return to Ulaanbaatar & enjoy a traditional music and dance performance this evening (overnight in UB)

August 11  Experience a chöd ritual at Dashcholin monastery; visit with a well-renowned Mongolian shaman (overnight in UB)

August 12  Today we’ll bid farewell to Mongolia & head home–or on to other adventures!

Ulaanbaatar

Khogno Khan National Park

Jalman Meadows

Kharkhorin

Orkhon Valley

Our Practice in Mongolia

We’ll remain blissfully flexible, taking into account special opportunities that may present themselves! However, there will be a rhythm to our practice as outlined below

 

Mornings

  • Sitting Meditation in the early morning, pre-breakfast  – creating a foundation of peace early in the morning. Mornings in Ulaanbaatar will provide opportunity for private practice (4 mornings), and we will hold space for morning group meditation in Kharkhorin and at our ecocamps (7 mornings).
  • Riwo Sangchö – Purifying Incense Offering – an outdoor offering practice common all across the Tibetan cultural sphere which usually involves offering clouds of fragrant smoke together with common chanting.

Daytime

  • Pilgrimage – Many days we’ll take day trips to tour sacred locations with an interactive component. In some locations we’ll be able to sit in on the daily morning puja in the monasteries. 

Evening

  • Teaching and Q&A  – We’ll present the perspectives relevant to what we are seeing and engage in lively discussions.
  • Tantric Sadhana – For those who wish, we will engage in a simple Vajrayana practice of connecting with the principle of compassion.

A Bit About Mongolia…

The Mongolian Empire was arguably one of the most influential, unifying forces that the world has ever seen. Born a child from hardscrabble nomadic beginnings, the great leader Genghis Khan set historic wheels in motion in 1206 CE when he unified all of the warring tribes of the Mongolian Steppe. The fruits of his future conquests resulted in the largest contiguous land empire in history (second only to the British Empire for total land mass), an empire about the size of the African continent and spread widely across Eurasia. By 1279, this 13,000,000 square-mile empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe. Within this Empire, Genghis Khan spread his astonishingly anachronistic progressive views, including laws establishing religious freedom and diplomatic immunity. He created the first international postal system and history’s largest free trade zone, he lowered taxes (even abolished them for certain professions), and he created a system for dividing the spoils of war fairly among the citizenry.

Although the Empire grew for a short time after Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, by the end of the century the amassed landholdings were split between disputing family members and became their own factions. What is now geographically considered ‘Mongolia’ was ruled by China’s Qing Dynasty from 1691 until 1911, when Mongolia declared its independence. China, however, did not accept this declaration of independence and invaded Mongolia in 1921. 

With the help of the Russian Red Army, Mongolia won its independence from China. However, Mongolia was dominated by the Soviet Communist regime from 1921 until 1990.  The late 1930’s saw a horrific purge of Mongolian society by the Communists, a purge that saw Tibetan Buddhism all but obliterated and over 18,000 monks summarily executed. Government and military leaders, academics, and anyone thought a threat to Communism in Mongolia was murdered. 

The Mongolian Revolution of 1990, inspired by similar revolutions happening in Eastern Europe, led to the peaceful renunciation of Communism, and Mongolia’s first free, multi-party elections were held in July 1990. Today, Tibetan Buddhism is again flourishing and monasteries are being rebuilt. There is also a resurgence of interest in the father of Mongolia, Genghis Khan–an interest that was actively quashed and persecuted for most of the 20th century. 

Mongolia’s modern population of 3.1 million is spread over 604,000 square miles; in other words, Mongolia is twice as big as Texas but with 1/8 the population. About a third of the population is still nomadic, tending to the the country’s some 66.5 million heads of livestock (sheep, goat, cattle, horses, and camels). Traditional sports, played during the time of Genghis Khan, still factor heavily into the culture; the annual Naadam games played every summer include horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Come with us and explore the country’s wide open spaces and find out why Mongolia is truly the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.”

 

Recommended Reading

Recommended reading for Mongolia: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

This is a phenomenal book about the Mongolian Empire and its lasting impact on the modern world! Click the image to go to Amazon.

 

About Buddhism in Mongolia…

Buddhism was originally introduced to Mongolia in the third century BCE during the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka. The second wave of Mongolian Buddhism developed under the reign of Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan in the late 13th century; Kublai Khan developed a close relationship with the head of the Sakya school of Buddhism, Drogön Chogyal Phagpa. The fall of the Mongolian Empire saw the decline of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, until the third wave of Buddhism reached the steppe in the 16th century.

Altan Khan was a distant descendent of Genghis Khan and leader of the Western tribes of the Mongols. Sonam Gyatso, the leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was invited to Mongolia in the 1570’s by Altan Khan. While in Mongolia, Sonam Gyatso was publicly pronounced the reincarnation of Drogön Chogyal Phagpa and given the title “Dalai Lama” (“Ocean Lama” in Mongolian) by Altan Khan. Altan Khan, then, was revealed as a reincarnation of Kublai Khan, thus refreshing the 13th century relationship between Kubali Khan and Phagpa. With this relationship, they formed an alliance that gave Altan Khan the legitimacy of “royalty” for his leadership role and the Gelug school was afforded protection and patronage from Mongolia. This alliance with the Mongols would later prove instrumental in establishing the Gelug order as the rulers of Tibet during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama.

Altan Khan awarded the title of Dalai Lama posthumously to Sonam Gyatso’s two previous reincarnations, making Sonam Gyatso the Third Dalai Lama. The Fourth Dalai Lama was born in Mongolia, none other than Altan Khan’s grandson who was enthroned in Tibet in 1601.

Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar, or simply “Zanabazar,” is recognized as the first Bogd Gegeen, or supreme spiritual authority of the Gelug school in Mongolia (also known as the Jetsundamba). Zanabazar (1635–1723) was a prolific sculptor, painter, architect, poet, costume designer, scholar, and linguist, who is credited with launching Mongolia’s seventeenth century cultural renaissance. To aid in the translation of sacred Tibetan texts, he created the Soyombo script, from which the Soyombo–Mongolia’s national symbol–arose.

With the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the Mongols declared their independence from China, choosing the 8th Bogd Gegeen as their “Bogd Khan,” or “holy ruler.” This period lasted until China invaded Mongolia in 1919; with Russian assistance, the Mongols defeated the Chinese forces in 1920. The Bogd Khan became the state leader until his death in 1924, then the Soviet occupation of Mongolia began.

During the nearly 70 years as a Soviet satellite state, Mongolian Buddhism was virtually wiped out. In 1937, the Soviet-allied Mongolian Communist Party banned Buddhism and the government executed nearly 20,000 monks; thousands more were sent to Siberian labor camps and most of the country’s 2,000 monasteries were destroyed.

Mongolia’s peaceful Democratic revolution in 1990 opened the doorway for a Buddhist revival. The 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche served as India’s ambassador to Mongolia from 1990 to 2000, and he helped reestablish monasteries and Buddhist learning centers all over the country. This Ladakh-born lama, a reincarnation of one of the 16 Arhats, played a large role in the comeback of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, it is said to have been prophesied that Bakula Arhat would one day come from India to revive Buddhism in Mongolia.

Modern Mongolia is currently experiencing a true Buddhist renaissance. The monastic population has grown from 110 monks in 1990 to over 3000 today, and reconstruction is underway at many historic monasteries that were decimated in the Communist purges. Freedom of religion has returned to Mongolia, a freedom that Genghis Khan first afforded all Mongols in the 13th century.

Detailed Daily Itinerary

Welcome to Mongolia, the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky! You’ll be picked up at the airport and driven to our centrally located hotel in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Most flights arrive in the morning, so after a late morning/early afternoon rest, we can start our adventure slowly with a late afternoon visit to the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. The Bogd Khan, or the 8th Bogd Gegeen, was the spiritual leader of Mongolia during its fight for independence from the Manchu Empire in the beginning of the 20th century. These magnificent artifacts will help lay the groundwork and build an understanding for the sites you will encounter during this journey!

On the morning of August 1st, we’ll visit Gandan Tegchenling Monastery, the Mahayana Buddhist Center of all of Mongolia. Gandan Monastery was one of the few monasteries to escape destruction by the Communists, and it was kept open as a ‘showpiece’ for visiting foreign dignitaries. With the fall of Communism in 1990, Gandan became a fully functional monastery once again. One of the highlights here is the 87′ (26.5m) statue of Avalokitesvara; this statue of the Buddha of Compassion is said to be the tallest indoor statue in the whole world. Contingent on his schedule, we may also have an opportunity for an audience with His Eminence Khamba Lama Gabju Choijamts Demberel, the Supreme Head of all Mongolian Buddhists.

After our visit at Gandan, we’ll drive an hour to the countryside to attend a Danshig Naadam. There’s nothing quite as quintessentially Mongolian as Naadam.  Naadam celebrates the traditional Mongolian games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The games of Naadam are listed by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” and they were described in 13th-century book The Secret History of the Mongols. The National Naadam is held on July 11, but the smaller, local naadams are typically much more enjoyable since you can comfortably get closer to the action. Naadam must be seen–and the energy must be felt–to be believed!

Naadam horses races are a cross-country event, with 6-year-old to 13-year-old jockeys (yes, you read that right!) racing 6 categories of horses for 15–30 km (10–18 miles).  And Mongolian wrestling is just mesmerizing to witness; the first wrestler to touch the ground with any body part other than his hands or feet loses. While the skills are remarkable, the pageantry around the wrestling matches is even more captivating. Mongolia takes its wrestling very seriously–the current Mongolian president was a wrestler!

However, Danshig Naadam in particular  is truly a spiritual and cultural event. The first Danshig Naadam was held in 1639 to celebrate the enthronement of Zanabazar as the first Bogd Jebtsundamba, the spiritual leader of the Mongolian people. It was one of Mongolia’s major religious and cultural events for hundreds of years, until the Soviet occupation. The tradition of Danshig Naadam was revived in 2015. The Danshig Naadam features Tibetan masked dance (cham, or tsam), as well as competitions among monks that include making torma (barley sculptures), chanting, and philosophical debates. 

On the morning of August 2nd, we’ll visit the Choijin Lama museum. We (Lauren and BJ) think this may be the very finest collection of Buddhist artifacts under one roof on the planet. This temple complex was originally occupied by the Mongolian State Oracle, the younger brother of the 8th Bogd Khan. The complex was cleverly converted to a museum in 1938, which saved it from destruction by the Communists.

After the Choijin Lama museum visit, we’ll drive west from Ulaanbaatar toward Khogno Tarna National Park (better known as Khogno Khan, a total of ~4.5 hour drive).  We’ll be joined by a Mongolian monk during out time in Khogno Khan, until the 7th. This is a perfect time to delve deeper into the details of local monasticism and life on the forefront of the Mongolian Buddhist renaissance. 

Our ger ecocamp for the next 2 nights is at the base of Khogno Khan mountain. This will be your first experience in a traditional Mongolian ger on this journey! Ger is the Mongolian equivalent of the Russian word “yurt.” Gers are portable felt tents, round in shape, and perfectly suited to nomadic life on the steppe and Mongolian climatic conditions. Mongolians have been living in gers for thousands of years, long before the Mongolian Empire was even formed. In fact, early on in Genghis Khan’s military career, he named his first large group of followers “People of the Felt Walls.”

The Khogno Khan area is on the border of three provinces and contains the beauty of the steppe, the forest, and also the desert. The landscape provides wonderful hiking opportunities, including a hike to nearby monastic ruins. The Ovgon monastery was originally built in the 10th century, with another temple built by Zanabazar’s father there in 1622. In its heyday it was home to over 1,000 monks. However, it wasn’t the Communists that razed this monastery–it was Mongolian rivals in the late 17th century.

We’ll also visit nearby Erdenekhamba Monastery; this monastery was also destroyed by Mongolian forces in the 17th century, and it was destroyed again during the Communist purges of 1937. However, there are a few small working temples that have been reconstructed on this sacred land.

During our time in Khogno Khan, we can ride the majestic Bactrian camels that are native to Mongolia. The Mongol Els Sand Dunes of Elsen Tasarkhai (also called the “Mini-Gobi” or Bayan Gobi, “Rich Desert”) are a perfect place to get a taste of the Gobi desert without spending an extra 25 hours (!) in a vehicle to get to the South Gobi. These two-humped camels are the largest camels on the planet, and in our opinion, they’re also the most beautiful!

On August 4th, we’ll drive 2 hours to the city of Kharkhorin. In the 13th century, this site was the home of Karakorum, the first capital of the Mongol Empire that was built strategically at an intersection of the Silk Road routes in the area. We’ll visit a fascinating museum here to learn more about this progressive city built by Genghis Khan’s son Ogodei. Home to Christian churches, Muslim mosques, pagan temples, and Buddhist temples, Karakorum was most likely the most religiously open and tolerant city in the world at the time. Across the nation, daily puja is held in the late morning in the monasteries, and we will be able to attend pujas whenever we are near a monastery, including here in Kharkhorin. 

We’ll also visit the nearby monastery complex of Erdene Zuu. The Tibetan Buddhist monastery Erdene Zuu was originally established in 1585, but has been rebuilt multiple times through the following centuries. The few temples here that survived the Communist purges of the 1930s were converted to a museum; today, it is both a functional monastery and a truly beautiful museum. The grounds, surrounded by 108 stupas along a protective wall, are home to a Chinese-style temple, a Tibetan-style temple, and a traditional Mongolian ger temple.  

We’ll depart from our hotel on the 5th and drive a short way to the very important Shankh monastery. Originally founded by Zanabazar in 1647, it is one of Mongolia’s oldest and most historically significant monasteries. It is said that the black sulde, or Spirit Banner, of Genghis Khan was housed at the monastery until it disappeared during the cultural purges of the 1930’s.

From Shankh monastery, we’ll head to Zanabazar’s mountaintop retreat at Tovkhon Monastery. Zanabazar used Tovkhon as a retreat center for 30 years, and it is where he created many of his most famous works, including the Soyombo script he used for translating Buddhist texts from Sanskrit or Tibetan. Once you see the view from the top of this mountain (accessible by walking or horseback), you can see why he was so inspired!

Next we’ll head to the breathtaking Orkhon Valley. UNESCO recognizes this valley as being inhabited continuously for the past 62,000 years; to borrow from UNESCO, “The Orkhon Valley clearly demonstrates how a strong and persistent nomadic culture led to the development of extensive trade networks and the creation of large administrative, commercial, military and religious centers. The empires that these urban centers supported undoubtedly influenced societies across Asia and into Europe and in turn absorbed influence from both east and west in a true interchange of human values.” Perched on a picturesque hill, our ecocamp is the perfect place to relax and watch the sun set over the steppe, over the nomads gers and the grazing livestock.

The next morning we’ll start back to Ulaanbaatar, visiting a nomadic family along the way. We’ll learn more about this traditional Mongolian lifestyle, still followed by more than a third of the population. We’ll learn about the rhythms of nomadic life, following grass and shelter along the steppe year round, and the endless preparations that must be made in the summer to survive the long, cold Mongolian winters. You’ll enjoy the overwhelming kindness of true nomad hospitality, and this may be a perfect opportunity to try some authentic Mongolian dairy products. Perhaps you’ll try the infamous Mongolian drink, airag–fermented horse milk.

You’ll have the late afternoon in Ulaanbaatar to rest or continue your exploration of this city. Out hotel is within walking distance to a few interesting monasteries, including Gandan, should you want to revisit. The hotel is also across the street from Pethub Stangey Choskor Ling Monastery, founded by the 19th Bakula Rinpoche from Ladakh. Sleep well tonight, because tomorrow we head back out to the country!

On our way to Jalman Meadows on August 7th, we’ll stop at the breathtaking statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, surveying the countryside. This 131’ (40m) statue, a silver giant rising out of the steppe, was erected in 2008 to honor the founding father of Mongolia. There is a small but interesting museum in the statue’s base. After a short visit there, we’ll make our way to our hidden gem of an ecocamp in Jalman Meadows.

Jalman Meadows is nestled within the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area, one of Mongolia’s true wilderness area that extends all the way up to the Russian-Siberian frontier. This area constitutes the transition zone of steppe and the southernmost reaches of the forests of Siberia. Hence, there are steppe valleys, lush meadows along the Tuul River and extensive larch forests with patches of birch. This will be our home for the next 3 nights and a perfect place to unplug and settle into the rhythms of nomadic life. In fact, there is a nomadic family nearby who can show you how they milk their cows (and horses!) and show you the delicious art of crafting Mongolian dairy products.

You’ll have plenty of opportunity for rest, exploration, and adventure in Jalman Meadows. Optional activities include hiking, horseback riding, and rafting along the river (half-day or full-day trips, wherein a yak pulls the raft upstream on a cart!) You can even build your own sauna ger at the river’s edge. We’ll come together for homemade meals, and we’ll have plenty of time for practice and discussions with Jakob Leschly.

On the morning of August 10th, we’ll retrace our steps back to the capital (3-hour drive). We’ll have the afternoon free and this evening we’ll attend a cultural performance of traditional music and dance at the Mongolian State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

Tomorrow we’ve arranged a special chöd ritual for you at Samiya, a traditional ger monastery. Chöd is a Tantric practice designed to cultivate emptiness and compassion. After our time at Samiya, we will visit a well-renowned Shaman (contingent upon his travel schedule). Shamanism, or Tengrism, has been practiced in Mongolia since the beginning of recorded history. Although Genghis Khan declared religious freedom within the Mongolian Empire, he himself was a devout believer of Tengrism. Shamanism, like Buddhism, has been making a strong comeback since the fall of communism in Mongolia.

This evening we’ll enjoy our final dinner together in Mongolia, reflecting on all we’ve experienced together in this fascinating country. The tour ends after breakfast tomorrow, but if you’d like to extend your time in Mongolia, we can help!

Welcome to Mongolia, the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky! You’ll be picked up at the airport and driven to our centrally located hotel in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Most flights arrive in the morning, so after a late morning/early afternoon rest, we can start our adventure slowly with a late afternoon visit to the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. The Bogd Khan, or the 8th Bogd Gegeen, was the spiritual leader of Mongolia during its fight for independence from the Manchu Empire in the beginning of the 20th century. These magnificent artifacts will help lay the groundwork and build an understanding for the sites you will encounter during this journey!

On the morning of August 1st, we’ll visit Gandan Tegchenling Monastery, the Mahayana Buddhist Center of all of Mongolia. Gandan Monastery was one of the few monasteries to escape destruction by the Communists, and it was kept open as a ‘showpiece’ for visiting foreign dignitaries. With the fall of Communism in 1990, Gandan became a fully functional monastery once again. One of the highlights here is the 87′ (26.5m) statue of Avalokitesvara; this statue of the Buddha of Compassion is said to be the tallest indoor statue in the whole world. Contingent on his schedule, we may also have an opportunity for an audience with His Eminence Khamba Lama Gabju Choijamts Demberel, the Supreme Head of all Mongolian Buddhists.

After our visit at Gandan, we’ll drive an hour to the countryside to attend a Danshig Naadam. There’s nothing quite as quintessentially Mongolian as Naadam! Naadam celebrates the traditional Mongolian games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The games of Naadam are listed by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” and they were described in 13th-century book The Secret History of the Mongols. The National Naadam is held on July 11, but the smaller, local naadams are typically much more enjoyable since you can comfortably get closer to the action. Naadam must be seen–and the energy must be felt–to be believed!

Naadam horses races are a cross-country event, with 6-year-old to 13-year-old jockeys (yes, you read that right!) racing 6 categories of horses for 15–30 km (10–18 miles).  And Mongolian wrestling is just mesmerizing to witness; the first wrestler to touch the ground with any body part other than his hands or feet loses. While the skills are remarkable, the pageantry around the wrestling matches is even more captivating. Mongolia takes its wrestling very seriously–the current Mongolian president was a wrestler!

However, Danshig Naadam, in particular, is truly a spiritual and cultural event. The first Danshig Naadam was held in 1639 to celebrate the enthronement of Zanabazar as the first Bogd Jebtsundamba, the spiritual leader of the Mongolian people. It was one of Mongolia’s major religious and cultural events for hundreds of years, until the Soviet occupation. The tradition of Danshig Naadam was revived in 2015. The Danshig Naadam features Tibetan masked dance (cham, or tsam), as well as competitions among monks that include making torma (barley sculptures), chanting, and philosophical debates.

On the morning of August 2nd, we’ll visit the Choijin Lama museum. We (Lauren and BJ) think this may be the very finest collection of Buddhist artifacts under one roof on the planet. This temple complex was originally occupied by the Mongolian State Oracle, the younger brother of the 8th Bogd Khan. The complex was cleverly converted to a museum in 1938, which saved it from destruction by the Communists.

After the Choijin Lama museum visit, we’ll drive west from Ulaanbaatar toward Khogno Tarna National Park (better known as Khogno Khan, a total of ~4.5 hour drive). We’ll be joined by a Mongolian monk during out time in Khogno Khan, until the 7th. This is a perfect time to delve deeper into the details of local monasticism and life on the forefront of the Mongolian Buddhist renaissance.

Our ger ecocamp for the next 2 nights is at the base of Khogno Khan mountain. This will be your first experience in a traditional Mongolian ger on this journey! Ger is the Mongolian equivalent of the Russian word “yurt.” Gers are portable felt tents, round in shape, and perfectly suited to nomadic life on the steppe and Mongolian climatic conditions. Mongolians have been living in gers for thousands of years, long before the Mongolian Empire was even formed. In fact, early on in Genghis Khan’s military career, he named his first large group of followers “People of the Felt Walls.”

The Khogno Khan area is on the border of three provinces and contains the beauty of the steppe, the forest, and also the desert. The landscape provides wonderful hiking opportunities, including a hike to nearby monastic ruins. The Ovgon monastery was originally built in the 10th century, with another temple built by Zanabazar’s father there in 1622. In its heyday it was home to over 1,000 monks. However, it wasn’t the Communists that razed this monastery–it was Mongolian rivals in the late 17th century.

We’ll also visit nearby Erdenekhamba Monastery; this monastery was also destroyed by Mongolian forces in the 17th century, and it was destroyed again during the Communist purges of 1937. However, there are a few small working temples that have been reconstructed on this sacred land.

During our time in Khogno Khan, we can ride the majestic Bactrian camels that are native to Mongolia. The Mongol Els Sand Dunes of Elsen Tasarkhai (also called the “Mini-Gobi” or Bayan Gobi, “Rich Desert”) are a perfect place to get a taste of the Gobi desert without spending an extra 25 hours (!) in a vehicle to get to the South Gobi. These two-humped camels are the largest camels on the planet, and in our opinion, they’re also the most beautiful!

On August 4th, we’ll drive 2 hours to the city of Kharkhorin. In the 13th century, this site was the home of Karakorum, the first capital of the Mongol Empire that was built strategically at an intersection of the Silk Road routes in the area. We’ll visit a fascinating museum here to learn more about this progressive city built by Genghis Khan’s son Ogodei. Home to Christian churches, Muslim mosques, pagan temples, and Buddhist temples, Karakorum was most likely the most religiously open and tolerant city in the world at the time.

We’ll also visit the nearby monastery complex of Erdene Zuu. The Tibetan Buddhist monastery Erdene Zuu was originally established in 1585, but has been rebuilt multiple times through the following centuries. The few temples here that survived the Communist purges of the 1930s were converted to a museum; today, it is both a functional monastery and a truly beautiful museum. The grounds, surrounded by 108 stupas along a protective wall, are home to a Chinese-style temple, a Tibetan-style temple, and a traditional Mongolian ger temple.

We’ll depart from our hotel on the 5th and drive a short way to the very important Shankh monastery. Originally founded by Zanabazar in 1647, it is one of Mongolia’s oldest and most historically significant monasteries. It is said that the black sulde, or Spirit Banner, of Genghis Khan was housed at the monastery until it disappeared during the cultural purges of the 1930’s.

From Shankh monastery, we’ll head to Zanabazar’s mountaintop retreat at Tovkhon Monastery. Zanabazar used Tovkhon as a retreat center for 30 years, and it is where he created many of his most famous works, including the Soyombo script he used for translating Buddhist texts from Sanskrit or Tibetan. Once you see the view from the top of this mountain (accessible by walking or horseback), you can see why he was so inspired!

Next we’ll head to the breathtaking Orkhon Valley. UNESCO recognizes this valley as being inhabited continuously for the past 62,000 years; to borrow from UNESCO, “The Orkhon Valley clearly demonstrates how a strong and persistent nomadic culture led to the development of extensive trade networks and the creation of large administrative, commercial, military and religious centers. The empires that these urban centers supported undoubtedly influenced societies across Asia and into Europe and in turn absorbed influence from both east and west in a true interchange of human values.” Perched on a picturesque hill, our ecocamp is the perfect place to relax and watch the sun set over the steppe, over the nomads gers and the grazing livestock.

The next morning we’ll start back to Ulaanbaatar, visiting a nomadic family along the way. We’ll learn more about this traditional Mongolian lifestyle, still followed by more than a third of the population. We’ll learn about the rhythms of nomadic life, following grass and shelter along the steppe year round, and the endless preparations that must be made in the summer to survive the long, cold Mongolian winters. You’ll enjoy the overwhelming kindness of true nomad hospitality, and this may be a perfect opportunity to try some authentic Mongolian dairy products. Perhaps you’ll try the infamous Mongolian drink, airag–fermented horse milk.

You’ll have the late afternoon in Ulaanbaatar to rest or continue your exploration of this city. Out hotel is within walking distance to a few interesting monasteries, including Gandan, should you want to revisit. The hotel is also across the street from Pethub Stangey Choskor Ling Monastery, founded by the 19th Bakula Rinpoche from Ladakh. Sleep well tonight, because tomorrow we head back out to the country!

On our way to Jalman Meadows on August 7th, we’ll stop at the breathtaking statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, surveying the countryside. This 131’ (40m) statue, a silver giant rising out of the steppe, was erected in 2008 to honor the founding father of Mongolia. There is a small but interesting museum in the statue’s base. After a short visit there, we’ll make our way to our hidden gem of an ecocamp in Jalman Meadows.

Jalman Meadows is nestled within the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area, one of Mongolia’s true wilderness area that extends all the way up to the Russian-Siberian frontier. This area constitutes the transition zone of steppe and the southernmost reaches of the forests of Siberia. Hence, there are steppe valleys, lush meadows along the Tuul River and extensive larch forests with patches of birch. This will be our home for the next 3 nights and a perfect place to unplug and settle into the rhythms of nomadic life. In fact, there is a nomadic family nearby who can show you how they milk their cows (and horses!) and show you the delicious art of crafting Mongolian dairy products.

You’ll have plenty of opportunity for rest, exploration, and adventure in Jalman Meadows. Optional activities include hiking, horseback riding, and rafting along the river (half-day or full-day trips, wherein a yak pulls the raft upstream on a cart!) You can even build your own sauna ger at the river’s edge. We’ll come together for homemade meals, and we’ll have plenty of time for practice and discussions with Jakob Leschly.

On the morning of August 10th, we’ll retrace our steps back to the capital (3-hour drive). We’ll have the afternoon free and this evening we’ll attend a cultural performance of traditional music and dance at the Mongolian State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

Tomorrow we’ve arranged a special chöd ritual for you at Samiya, a traditional ger monastery. Chöd is a Tantric practice designed to cultivate emptiness and compassion. After our time at Samiya, we will visit a well-renowned Shaman (contingent upon his travel schedule). Shamanism, or Tengrism, has been practiced in Mongolia since the beginning of recorded history. Although Genghis Khan declared religious freedom within the Mongolian Empire, he himself was a devout believer of Tengrism. Shamanism, like Buddhism, has been making a strong comeback since the fall of communism in Mongolia.

This evening we’ll enjoy our final dinner together in Mongolia, reflecting on all we’ve experienced together in this fascinating country. The tour ends after breakfast tomorrow, but if you’d like to extend your time in Mongolia, we can help!

Please click the title of the desired tab to open it.

Price & What is Included

The early bird price for this journey is $5299 USD per person (double occupancy).   After February 1, 2020, the price increases to $5499.

A non-refundable $1000 deposit holds your space.  The second installment of $2500 is due by March 1, 2020, and the balance is due by April 20, 2020.  Single supplement ($499) is due along with the last installment. We will email you an invoice (via PayPal) at least a week before each due date. 

If you prefer to have your own room, the single supplement is $499 USD and will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this single supplement is necessary). Please note that we cannot guarantee you a roommate for this trip, and if you room alone, you will be responsible for the single supplement.

Price Includes:

  • Daily practice with Jakob Leschly
  • All transportation within Mongolia in an air-conditioned vehicle, including airport pickup and drop off
  • All accommodation (a mix of hotels and ger eco-camps)
  • All meals
  • All site entrance fees
  • All tips at hotels and restaurants
  • Camel ride in the Mongol Els Sand Dunes
  • Mongolian cultural performance
  • A local naadam festival
  • A special chöd practice
  • A visit to a well-renowned shaman (his schedule permitting)

Price does not include:

  • International airfare (although will be more than happy to help you decide on arrangements)
  • Travel insurance (required)
  • Alcohol 
  • Additional activities at Jalman Meadows, such as rafting and horseback riding
  • Horseback riding at Tovkhon Monastery
  • Photography fees at sites
  • Tip to local guide and driver (for the driver we recommend between $40-$60 and for the guide we recommend between $50-$100). This is optional, but highly suggested and entirely based on how much you appreciated them and their service.

 

Trip Minimum

A minimum of 7 pilgrims need to register for this journey before we can move ahead and advise on international flights. Please do not buy any airfare until you hear from us. If the minimum number of guests does not register 3 months before the journey, your payments, including your deposit, will be refunded in full. 

Payments

Please refer to the Price tab for specific information about price & what is included on your journey.

We accept payments via check and credit or debit card (via PayPal). For our guests outside the U.S., please write [email protected] for the best transfer details, to save you from PayPal’s 2.5 to 4.5% currency conversion fee.

  • Paying by Check: Checks can be made out to RetreaTours and sent to 8821 NW 14 Street, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.
  • Paying by Credit Card, Debit Card, or PayPal balance: You can pay the balance with credit card, debit card, or PayPal balance through the button below. Note that you do not have to pay with your PayPal balance; please click here if you’d like further instruction.

We will email you an invoice (via PayPal) about a week before each due date.

Click here to pay the $1000 deposit by credit card (via PayPal)

Registration Questions & Contract

Please click here to go to complete this journey’s Registration. You will be asked for your passport expiration date; if you will need to renew your passport before this trip, simply fill in your old information and update us when you receive your new passport.

At the end of the form, please press “submit” to finalize your answers. Your spot is not considered reserved until you have completed these questions.

Please click here to download to view and download PDF of the contract for your records. 

FAQ: Visas, Vaccines, Food, Money & more.

 

PASSPORT/VISA

  • What do I need to know about the visa?    

First and foremost, your passport MUST be valid at least 6 months beyond the end date of the trip, and you’ll need two empty pages in the Visas section of your passport (make sure they are in the Visa section, not the Amendment or Endorsement section).  

You will receive a visa upon arrival; there’s nothing you need to do before you arrive to Mongolia. 

FOOD

  • Can my dietary needs be accommodated?

It is possible to request vegetarian food for at our ger camps and hotels; vegetarians, though, maybe wish to bring snacks to supplement their diet, in the way of nuts, protein bars, or veg “jerky.”

A typical meal at the camps typically consists of a meat-based protein (mostly chicken and beef, with occasional pork or turkey), a starch (rice or pasta) and vegetables, in addition to a salad and soup starter and usually a dessert. Breakfasts are typically buffet-style and include eggs, fruit, grains, and local dairy products. 

Make no mistake, though: Mongolians loves their meat. Within Mongolia’s traditional nomadic animal husbandry culture, meat and dairy are dietary staples. The growing season is about 100 days, and because of the harsh climate much of the year, it is unsuited to most cultivation. In fact, only 1% of the arable land in Mongolia is actually cultivated with crops!

Wine and beer and, of course, vodka, is available at all of our camps and hotels.

Please include any special dietary allergies or needs on your registration, or reach out to us with any questions you may have before registration. 

  • Can I drink the water?

In a word, No. Although many cities around the world are getting more advanced public water systems, we don’t recommend it.  Not only from a pathogen standpoint, but it’s a different set of bacteria than your body is used to. Why risk an upset stomach if you don’t have to? We recommend drinking only bottled water, and you will want to rinse your toothbrush off in bottled water. If you’d like to bring a reusable bottle and a means of sterilization to save on plastic water bottle consumption, you are more than welcome. Otherwise, we will have access to bottled water at all times. In addition, boiled water will be available at all camps, if you wish to bring a bottle appropriate for holding hot water. 

HEALTH

  • What vaccines do I need?

None are required to enter Mongolia, but we suggest you work with your physician or your area’s travel health expert to decide what options are best for you. You can read the American CDC’s recommendations here and the UK’s NHS recommendations here.

  • What about malaria? 

Malaria is not a risk in Mongolia, but again, we request that you work with your physician or travel doctor when making these choices. Please see our blog about this topic for more information.

  • What are the physical requirements for this trip?

Please see the separate section on this page titled “Suggested Fitness Requirements.”

  • Do I need travel insurance?

Travel insurance is required on this trip; please see the separate “Travel Insurance” toggle on this page.

MONEY

  • How much money should I bring?

All of your meals and transportation are covered, so you just have to gauge how much you want to spend on extras. After registration we’ll we’ll let you know how much some of the optional activities cost. You may also want to shop in Mongolia, famous for its cashmere! 

  • How do I get the local currency?

You can either exchange cash in Mongolia or use a local ATMs. Just make sure you call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’ll be traveling in Mongolia so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see it being used halfway across the world.

HOTELS

  • What kind of hotels will we be staying at?

Please see the separate “About our Accommodations” toggle on this page.

  • Will I be able to charge my electronics (phone, iPad, etc)?

Yes, just be sure to bring along a Universal Travel Adaptor that can go with you anywhere in the world! Some of ecocamps will not have electric outlets within the ger, and you will need to charge your devices in the restaurant ger or lounge ger. We highly recommend bringing a portable battery charger such as this one.

COMMUNICATION

  • How can my family get ahold of me in an emergency?

Before the trip begins we will give you the contact information for our guide and our partner travel office in Ulaanbaatar; in addition, we will give you an American number good for text messages and voicemails (when we have internet access). An international phone plan will work in the cities on major roads, but we will be out of cell signal reach at some of our remote camps.

  • About the Wifi

You will have wifi at our hotels in Ulaanbaatar and Kharkhorin. However, please understand that you will not be connected to the internet during periods of this trip, mostly during our stay at the ecocamps. 

About our Accommodations (Hotels & Gers)

During our time together in Mongolia, we’ll be staying at mix of modern hotels and ger ecocamps.

We’ll be staying in hotels in Ulaanbaatar (5 total nights) and Kharkorin (1 night), both complete with ensuite bathroom (with western toilet and hot water), air conditioning, and wifi. We have chosen these hotels based on their location and comfort. 

We are staying at 3 ecocamps composed of gers, which are traditional round, felt Mongolian tents.  These camps have been carefully chosen based on their location, their amenities, and their environmentally-sound practices, and BJ and Lauren have stayed at all of them before.

Please click here to learn more about gers!

None of the gers have an attached bathroom, and the toilet can sometimes be 100 to 200 feet from your tent. Two of the gers have shower options, but our ecocamp in Orkhon Valley offers hot towels but no shower facilities. (This is only one night between two hotel stays, though.)

It is rare that a ger has one big bed, so couples will mostly sleep in two twin beds within the gers.

The gers are simple but comfortable. However, as they are tents in an ecocamp, it is reasonable to expect a few insects in your ger; don’t worry, nothing dangerous, just a small beetle here or daddy long legs there.

Please see the shots below of the exterior and interior of a typical ger camp.

Suggested Fitness Requirements

We will be driving for several multi-hour stretches times on this trip, so guests should be able to sit in a vehicle for up to 5 hours at a time (although we can stop for bathroom breaks and leg-stretching along the way). However, this itinerary was specifically created to reduce the amount of time spent in vehicles.

This isn’t a very rigorous journey, although there are physical activities you can add on: horseback riding, rafting, and hiking, as well as camel riding. All physical activities are optional, and we’ll let you know what to expect before each activity!

Travel Insurance

If you are traveling with RetreaTours, we require that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and emergency evacuation and repatriation. 

We suggest trip cancellation insurance, as well, as you never know what obstacles life can toss at you leading up to a trip. However, we do not require this coverage, we only suggest it highly.

Below you will find some options to look into, if this is a new world to you. However, we ask that you carefully consider your choice in travel insurance. What works for some people may not work for others, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions. Please do take the time to consider the best policy for your individual needs.

World Nomads provides medical coverage for guests under 70 that includes trip cancellation, as well. You can use the box on this page to get a quote and see coverage.

InsureMyTrip.com is a good place to see and compare many policies at once, and you can refine the options by what coverage you would like.

It may also be a good idea to check with your credit card companies, especially American Express, to see if they offer any medical coverage for travel.

About your International Flights

We are more than happy to recommend international flights, but ultimately you will make the purchase yourself. Here is some important information if you would like to research flights yourself:

When must I arrive in Ulaanbaatar / where will I stay?

Flights typically arrive in the morning to Ulaanbaatar, so we’ve planned the first day (July 31) accordingly. We do recommend arriving the morning of the 31st at the latest. 

If you wish to arrive early, we can help you with hotel reservations. 

What time should I book my departing flight from Ulaanbaatar?

The trip is technically finished after breakfast on August 12th, although most flights will leave early in the morning before breakfast is served. 

If you wish to stay on and continue your independent exploration of Mongolia, we can connect you with our Mongolian travel partners! 

Temperature & Suggested Packing List

Coming soon!

Contact RetreaTours

Please write [email protected] for any questions you may have about this journey.  If you have not received a reply within 48 hours, please do check your spam folder.

About Jakob Leschly

Jakob at Thiksey Monastery during 2017’s Pilgrimage to Ladakh

 

Jakob Leschly has studied and practiced Buddhism for over 40 years, and has taught for the last 20 at the request of his teachers. Born in Denmark, he has lived all over, and is at home with a variety of cultures and languages. His Buddhist background is the Tibetan Nyingma tradition, primarily as a student of the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Buddhist teacher and film-maker Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. He is resident teacher for the latter’s Dharma organisation Siddhartha’s Intent in Australia, and before that for Siddhartha’s Intent on the US Westcoast.

Completing a three year retreat in 1984, his path has ever since been to integrate and present the Buddhist view and practice in the modern world. He has worked on numerous translations, including published works like Shabkar – the Autobiography of Tibetan Yogin (SUNY) and Wondrous Dance of Illusion (Shambhala). He has lead Dharma programs and retreats in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Bali, Nepal, and Bhutan. He has written for Tricycle, for the Rubin Museum’s Treasury of Lives biographical website, as well as blogs like the Chronicles ProjectGentle Voice, and Buddhist Door

Jakob enjoys making the Buddhist science of wisdom and compassion accessible and applicable. He is a practitioner of Vajrayana, but promotes the simplicity of sitting meditation as the universal ground for natural insight and compassionate action. His language is straightforward and inclusive. He encourages critical enquiry, and overall delights in the fruitful encounter between East and West.

About Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

Established in 1990 as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization, The Tricycle Foundation is dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available. In 1991 the Foundation launched Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the first magazine intended to present Buddhist perspectives to a Western readership. Tricycle soon became the leading independent journal of Buddhism in the West, where it continues to be the most inclusive and widely read vehicle for the dissemination of Buddhist views and values. Our readership includes longtime practitioners, those who are curious about Buddhism or meditation, and those who do not identify as Buddhist but value the teachings of wisdom and compassion that Buddhism has to offer.

By remaining unaffiliated with any particular teacher, sect or lineage, Tricycle provides a unique and independent public forum for exploring Buddhism, establishing a dialogue between Buddhism and the broader culture, and introducing Buddhist thinking to Western disciplines. This approach has enabled Tricycle to successfully attract readers from all walks of life, many of whom desire to enrich their lives through a deeper knowledge of Buddhist traditions.

Tricycle has been recognized with the prestigious Folio Award for Best Spiritual Magazine three times, and has twice garnered the Utne Media Award, most recently in 2013. As part of our commitment to our readers who are seeking to implement or sustain Buddhist values and practices, Tricycle accepts advertising only from teachers, programs, centers, and businesses whose offerings we believe will support those aims. Because of this selective policy, we depend on donations to support ever-rising printing and production costs, content updates to our website, and life-enriching programs. The Foundation also hosts occasional pilgrimages that provide opportunities for new and experienced practitioners to explore sites of importance to Buddhist history and practice.

Donations in support of Tricycle’s work may be made by mailing a check made payable to Tricycle at 89 5th Avenue, Suite 301, New York, NY 10003, or by visiting us at tricycle.org/donate.

Mission Statement

The mission of The Tricycle Foundation is to create forums for exploring contemporary and historic Buddhist activity, examine the impact of its new context in the democratic traditions of the West, and introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living to the culture at large. At the core of the Foundation’s mission is the alleviation of suffering that Buddhist teachings are meant to bring about.

Tricycle is an independent foundation unaffiliated with any one lineage or sect.

Why “Tricycle”?

A three-wheeled vehicle aptly evokes the fundamental components of Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism itself is often referred to as the “vehicle to enlightenment,” and the tricycle’s three wheels allude to the three treasures: The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, or the enlightened teacher, the teachings, and the community. The wheels also relate to the turning of the wheel of dharma, or skillfully using the teachings of the Buddha to face the challenges that the circle of life presents.

About BJ and Lauren of RetreaTours

You’ll be joined on this journey by BJ & Lauren, owners of RetreaTours–and we are so excited to show you the wonders of Mongolia and this amazing return to Buddhism!

BJ & Lauren created RetreaTours in 2010 with one goal in mind: to make world travel accessible, authentic, and astounding. In order to focus fully on this passion, they moved out of the U.S. in January 2013 to reside full-time overseas. Each day is spent exploring new destinations, strengthening local ties & relationships, and creating memorable, transformative, one-of-a-kind retreats and tours (aka, RetreaTours™!)

BJ & Lauren take great pride in the itineraries they plan, as they can personally vouch for every hotel, every restaurant, and every activity that you will experience. They craft each element of the trip with intention, and they understand that it is this careful attention to detail that sets them apart.  Fueled by their passion, armed with know-how, and supported by knowledgeable local professionals in all of their destinations, BJ & Lauren set the scene for the vacation of a lifetime. The dynamic duo are available to answer any and all questions before the trip begins. From giving advice on the best flights and travel insurance to providing a packing list, FAQ, and even a tiny “phrasebook,” BJ & Lauren pride themselves on these ‘nuts & bolts’ of personalized service.

In addition, as a guest, you receive free travel consulting services (normally a $300 value) should you choose to extend your travels. As one of their most ‘frequent fliers’ put it recently, BJ & Lauren make everything easy for you. Once you arrive in your destination city, your trip is all-inclusive—your meals, transportation, lodging, site fees, donations, and tips are all taken care of.  The research has been done, the itinerary carefully laid out, the reservations made, the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted. All you have to do is show up and take in all your destination has to show you!  So….let’s get going!

Photo Album

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Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move: On the road, we often live more simply…with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance.

~Pico Iyer

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