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The Mongol Altai Nuruu is the backbone of Bayan-Olgii. The highest peaks , many over 4000m, are permanently covered with glaciers and snow, while the valleys have a few green pastures, which support about two million livestock, as well as bears, foxes and lynxes.

These valleys are dotted with small communities of nomadic families enjoying the short summer from mid-June to late August, as well as some beautiful alpine lakes. The ethnic groups who call Bayan-Olgii home are comprised of the Kazakh, Khalkh, Dorvod, Uriankhai, Tuva and Khoshuud. Unlike the rest of Mongolia, which is dominated by the Khalkh Mongols, about 90% of Bayan-Olgii’s population are Kazakh, almost all of them Muslim. The remaining 10% are mostly obscure minority groups. Many people in the aimag speak Kazakh, so if you have spent time perfecting some conversational Mongolian, you may be devastated because many Kazakh’s won’t be able to understand you. There is bound to be someone nearby, however, who speaks Mongolian and possibly Russian, but certainly nothing else. The aimag has a reach collection of archaeological sites, with many balbal (Turkic stone figures believed to be grave makers ), deer stones, khurgans (burial mounds) and a remarkable collection of 10,000 petroglyphs near the Russian border atTsagaan Sala (also khown as Baga Oigor). If you are particularly interested in these remote and obscure sites contact the Mongol Altai Nuruu Special Protected Area office in Olgii.

Protected Areas

Most of the parks come under the jurisdiction of the Mongol Altai Nuruu Special Protected Area. Environmentalists hope that further sections of Bayan-Olgii will become national parks to preserve the argali sheep, ibex and snow leopard, as well as the important sources of lakes and rivers in the Great Lakes Depression in the Uvs and Khovd aimags.

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Takes in Tavanbogd Uul, Mongolia’s highest mountain, and the stunning lakes of Khoton, Khurgan and Dayan. All three lakes are the source of the Khovd Gol, which eventually flows into Khar Us Nuur in Khovd aimag. Fauna includes argali sheep, ibex, maral (Asiatic red deer), stone marten, deer, elk, Altai snowcock and eagles. There are many archeological sites in the region.


Kazakh nomads have lived in Central Asia for 400 years, but first started to come to the Bayan-Olgii area in the 1840s to graze their sheep on the high mountain pastures during summer. Kazakh culture is quite different from Mongolian; even Kazakh saddles are a different shape. Music is commonly sung by bards who accompany their singing a dombra, a two-stringed lute. Kazakh gers are taller, wider and more richly decorated than the Mongolia version. Kazakhs speak a Turkic language with 42 Cyrillic letters, similar to Russian, and a little different to Mongolians.

Tsagaan Nuur

Yet another place called Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake); the town is less famous for it’s like (there are several bigger and nicer ones nearby ) than as the starting point for travel by road into Russia.