Trans Mongolian Express Rail Cruising from Mongolia to Moscow
July 9 – 22, 2017
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Early Reservation Bonus expires January 31, 2017
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Traditionally, new journeys sell very quickly as our returning guests are anxious for new adventures. Additionally, every year more and more guests bring their friends!
We expect this new journey to sell very quickly.
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YOUR 14-DAY JOURNEY
|Day 1||DEPART FOR MONGOLIA |
ENJOY your private car to the airport, meet your Journey Manager and fellow guests and fly to Europe.
|Day 2||ULAANBAATAR, MONGOLIAOUR |
Our westbound Trans-Mongolian adventure begins in Mongolia and an extended stay in its capital, Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia, once the very centre of an enormous empire led by Genghis Khan, is a country of beautiful landscapes and nomadic people, rich in culture and history. Mongolia is famous for its endless green Steppes, grazing livestock and white, nomadic Gers (Yurts) dotted all across the countryside.Upon arrive at Ulaanbaatar Airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel, which is centrally located for a three night stay. We will enjoy a welcome reception dinner at our hotel, whilst you meet your fellow travellers.
A land of undisturbed nature and culture where one can experience mysterious deserts, tundra forests, endless steppes, majestic snow capped mountains and crystal clear lakes. Mongolia is a land full of rich and ancient nomadic cultural heritage dating to the time of Genghis Khan.
Like nearly one half of the Mongolian population, the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is herself a nomad. The city has changed locations more than twenty times over the past 350 years before taking root in her current location in a sweeping valley bounded by four sacred peaks, including Bogd Khan mountain to the south. Along with her location, the capital has changed names over the years, having been called Urguu, Ih Huree, Niislel Huree, and finally
Ulaanbaatar since 1924. But despite her many transformations, Mongolia’s capital has remained constant as the political, economic, and cultural centre of the nation, and as a city rich in both character and contrast. Indeed, there aren’t many world capitals in which you can ride a horse, visit a nomadic family, and enjoy fine dining and luxurious spa treatments all in the same day. The city reflects a close and sometimes amusing juxtaposition of nomadic traditions and modern society, perhaps best summarized by her skyline dotted with both gers (felt tents) and towering skyscrapers. Or perhaps found among those who call it home, from traditional-clothing-clad herders, to Armani-suit-wearing business men and women, to a growing number of ex-patriots hailing from nearly every corner of the globe. Besides serving as the jumping off point for all travel throughout the country, Ulaanbaatar has much to offer visitors. The city’s eight museums are bursting at the seams with treasures such as 3,000 year old Hunnu artefacts, prehistoric dinosaur bones, and Chinggis Khaan-era armour and weapons. Dozens of cultural venues throughout the city present daily performances of dance, theatre, music, and contortionism. The city is also home to one of the world’s largest open air markets, Narantuul, with more than 2500 vendors selling everything under the sun.
|Day 3||NAADAM FESTIVAL|
This is a unique opportunity to be among the few non-Mongolians to experience the spectacular, but little known, Naadam Festival and soak up the exciting atmosphere of this national holiday. Once a religious ceremony, the festival now formally commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country.
On the first day of the festival, we observe the elaborate opening ceremony which consists of local dancers, athletes, horse riders and musicians, before travelling outside Ulaanbaatar to watch the national horse race. The competitors in the riding events are all children between five and twelve, many of whom have been in the saddle since the age of one. As they race along the plains for 20 kilometres, thousands of spectators line the remote track to watch up to 1,000 horses with children sitting confidently astride their small but sturdy Mongolian steed. It is claimed such equestrian skills won Genghis Khan an empire that stretched from the Sea of Japan all the way to Europe.
The Naadam festival, or eriyn gurvan naadam, is the biggest festival of the year for Mongolians. Usually occurring in July, it runs for three days in all parts of the country and highlights the greatest athletes in horse racing, archery, and wrestling: Mongolia's most popular sports. Women participate in all but the wrestling category. The word Naadam means game or competition in Mongolian. Competitions take place on the first two days and merry-making is reserved for the third.
This festival has been held for centuries as a form of memorial celebration, as an annual sacrificial ritual honouring various mountain gods or to celebrate a community endeavour.
The festivities kick off with a colourful parade of athletes, monks, soldiers marching in perfect uniformity, musicians performing powerful military tunes, and Mongolians dressed in Chinggis-style warrior uniforms.
Naadam festival's horse race opens with a parade of all participants, and young jockeys sing Tumnii Ekh or Leader of Ten Thousand Horses. The number of horses to race is not limited, and some two thousand horses race for 30 km in five age groups. Though young, two-year-old colts run for shorter, only 15km distance. As for riders, only children aged 4-12 are allowed to be jockeys. The racing takes place not on a special track but across a rugged terrain. The first five winning horses are called ‘airag ones’ according to old tradition. A young jockey is given a cup of airag, some of which is poured over the horse's head and back.
Mongolians have a high regard for horses since, for centuries, they have relied on them for transport, sustenance, and companionship. During the races, up to 1,000 horses can be chosen to compete. The horse races are broken down into six categories based on the age of the horses. For example, two-year-old horses race for 10 miles (16 kilometres) and seven-year-olds for 17 miles (30 kilometres). The race is conducted on the open grasslands with no set track or course. Children from the ages of 5 to 13 are chosen as jockeys since this guarantees that the race tests the horse’s skill and not the riders.
The small size of the jockeys also increases the horses' endurance. Even still, jockeys train for months before Naadam and the horses are given a special diet. The winning jockey is praised with the title tumny ekh or "leader of ten thousand" and the five winning horses are talked about and revered in poetry and music. The losing two-year-old horse is also allotted special attention by being serenaded with a song. Music is very important before the race too, as the audience sings traditional songs and the jockeys sing a pre-race song called a gingo.
THE MONGOLIAN HORSE
The Mongolian horse (Mongolian ‘aduu’) is the native horse breed of Mongolia and is purported to be largely unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan. Nomads living in the traditional Mongol fashion still hold more than 3 million animals, which outnumber the country's human population. Despite their small size, they are horses, not ponies.
In Mongolia, the horses live outdoors all year (at 30°C in summer down to -40°C in winter) and search for food on their own. The mare's milk is processed into the national beverage Airag, and some animals are slaughtered for meat. Other than that, they serve as riding animals, both for the daily work of the nomads and in horse racing.
The sport of archery originated around the 11th century, during the time of Khanate warfare. Contestants dress in traditional costumes and use a bent bow constructed of horn, bark, and wood. The arrows, made from willow branches and vulture feathers are shot at round, leather targets with grey, yellow or red rings. Men must stand 75 meters and women 60 meters from the target. Judges, standing near the targets, assess each shot with a cry, called a uukhai, and a raised hand. The winning archer, or mergen, is the one who hits the targets the most times.
Archery was an inseparable part of Mongolian history. Mongolian bows are very tight ones, so that it requires a pure strength to stretch. The team of 5-7 archers should hit 33 leather fist-sized basket targets from a distance of 75 meters. During the game, judges stand in two sides next to the target. Each time an archer prepares for a shot, they would slowly start the Uukhai song. As soon as the arrow hits the target, the song's melody changes and an experienced archer immediately learns how many targets were hit. The winning archer is titled mergen, meaning sharpshooter, the one who hits the targets the most times.
Mongolian archery is unique for having not only one target, but hundreds of beads or surs on a huge wall. In this competition both men and women participate. It is played by ten men/women teams who are given four arrows each; the team has to hit 33 "surs". Men fire their arrows from 75 meters away while women fire theirs from 65 meters away. When the archer hits the target the judge says uuhai which means "bulls eye". The winners of the contest are granted the titles of "national marksman" and "national markswoman."
|Day 4||NADAAM FESTIVAL |
On the second day of the festival we will attend the archery, wrestling and ankle-bone shooting events.
|Day 5||ULAANBAATAR |
This morning we start our tour of Ulaanbaatar at Gandan Monastery, one of Mongolia’s most important Buddhist Monasteries housing a community of over 500 monks. The full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates as ‘the great place of complete joy’. At Chinggis Square (formerly Sukhbaatar Square) we can see the central monument to Genghis Khan; undoubtedly the most feared and revered Mongol.
Alternatively, there is an option to drive out of the city to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and enjoy the beautiful scenery of wild Mongolia as part of our Freedom of Choice tour, having the opportunity to visit a traditional Ger and meet a nomadic family or try your hand at horse- riding, an intrinsic part of Mongolian life. (B,L,D)
Overnight Golden Eagle Express, 8 nights
|Day 6||ULAN UDE, RUSSIA|
The ethnic and cultural diversity of Ulan Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic, offers a unique insight into its heritage. As we tour the area you will notice the different faces of these welcoming Buryat people. During our exploration of the Old Believers’ Village we have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of these religious people as we are treated to a concert featuring local traditions and folk singing.
|Day 7||LAKE BAIKAL|
Few natural sights can surpass the beauty and grandeur of Lake Baikal and is a major highlight on our Trans-Mongolian journey. Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and holds 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater. Also known as the ‘Pearl of Siberia’ it is home to a unique breed of freshwater seal and over 50 species of fish including omul. For five hours we wind our way through tunnels along cliff hugging tracks above the lake with a vista of snow capped peaks along the far shore forming a picture-perfect backdrop.
To add to the grandeur of the day our Golden Eagle train will be hauled by a Soviet era steam locomotive on this beautiful section of the line. There will be plenty of opportunities to take photographs as the train winds its way along the lake's edge. This will be an unforgettable part of the journey.
Weather permitting, we stop in an very picturesque location by the lake for photographic opportunities and for the brave hearted there is time for a refreshing swim in the crystal clear and ice-cold waters of Baikal. Travelling onwards to the end of the Baikal branch line, we leave the train and travel by boat on the lake to Listvyanka, a small Baikal settlement nestled at the base of the surrounding hills and visit the Lake Baikal Museum and Aquarium where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the lake.
To complete a memorable day, we will enjoy a delicious barbecue, including freshly smoked omul fish, prepared by our own chefs on the shore of Lake Baikal. As part of our Freedom of Choice excursion programme you can choose a hiking opportunity that offers some spectacular and panoramic hillside views of the lake below.
|Day 8||IRKUTSK, RUSSIA|
Our visit to Irkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’, takes in the most significant sites and museums in this fascinating city, including an exploration of the classic wooden architecture with its intricately carved lace-like decorations that has given many of this region’s buildings such a distinctive and unique appearance.
We also visit the Volkonsky House Museum, which is dedicated to the memory of the aristocrats who were exiled to this remote outpost after the failed Decembrists uprising of 1825, and we recreate the atmosphere of that time with a champagne reception and private concert.
You could learn to cook some traditional Russian dishes with a local chef and prepare your own lunch with our Freedom of Choice option. Or you might also wish to visit a traditional Russian Dacha (summer house) or an urban apartment to get an insight into the everyday life of an average Russian family.
|Day 9||ONBOARD GOLDEN EAGLE|
A day to unwind and reflect on the many sights and sounds we have experienced on our journey so far. Chat to your fellow passengers, perhaps learn a few more words of Russian or simply enjoy the ever changing landscape outside your window.
|Day 10||NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA|
A modern ‘Soviet’ city, we experience the life and character of Novosibirsk’s rich culture where the arts and science predominate. The city is located in the heart of Russia and is situated on both banks of the River Ob. Our city tour takes us to Lenin Square where the imposing Opera House is located. An architectural marvel, it houses two permanent ballet and opera companies and is one of the largest opera houses in the world. In front of the Opera House, we visit an impressive statue of Lenin – a marvellous opportunity to have your photograph taken with this iconic political leader.
Alternatively, south of the city you could visit Novosibirsk’s excellent Railway Museum on our Freedom of Choice tour. The museum displays locomotives and rolling stock from the late 1800s, including carriages of the Tsars, through to the Soviet era. Or choose to go to the Mineralogical Centre with its fine display of Siberian minerals.
For those interested in art there is also the Freedom of Choice option to visit the State Art Museum with an extensive collection including icons, Siberian art and numerous distinctive mountainscapes by celebrated spiritual Russian painter Nicholas Roerich. It also displays temporary art and photography exhibitions by local and international artists.
|Day 11||YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA |
Founded in 1723 by Peter the Great, Yekaterinburg, is the capital of the Urals. Known as the Great Divide, the Ural Mountains create the natural border between Europe and Asia so that the cultural and architectural influences of European and Asian civilisations come together in this fascinating and cosmopolitan landscape. Our city tour takes us to the poignant site where the Romanov, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, was executed with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918 following 78 days of imprisonment. Now a church dedicated to their memory, this site provides us with a powerful insight into the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.
Our Freedom of Choice programme features a visit to the recently opened Museum of Military Machinery. The museum houses an amazing collection of different types of military hardware including tanks, aircraft, boats and even armoured trains. You will also see a wide range of civilian vehicles (particularly Russian models). The museum is a real treat for anyone with an interest in the Soviet past, unparalleled by anything else along the route.
|Day 12||KAZAN, RUSSIA|
Situated on the River Volga, the picturesque and historic city of Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan. Here we have the opportunity to see for ourselves its rich tapestry of history and culture. One of the highlights of this city tour is our exploration of the Kremlin Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the walls of this ancient citadel we will explore its stunning mosque and picture-perfect onion-domed cathedral.
As Kazan is the birthplace of one of Russia’s most famous opera singers, Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), we honour his memory with a private concert of his music. You will also have time to wander through the main pedestrian area of Kazan and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the city.
|Day 13||MOSCOW, RUSSIA|
After travelling nearly 4,000 miles (6,400kms) along this iconic railway, today we reach Moscow, our final destination.
Our touring programme of Moscow principally takes us to the grandeur of the Kremlin – the spiritual, historical and political heart of Moscow – and to see the treasures of the Tsars in the Armoury Chamber. We also visit Red Square, an iconic symbol of Russia’s former military and political might with its eclectic mix of fascinating architecture, such as the ornate St Basil’s Cathedral’s magnificent onion-domed spires, the beautiful facade of the world famous GUM department store, constructed in Tsarist times, and the sombre and evocative site of Lenin’s tomb.
If you have been to Moscow before we offer included Freedom of Choice touring where we show you other sights of Moscow such as the famous State Tretyakov Gallery (National Museum of Fine Art) or the Space Museum. This evening we will enjoy a Farewell Dinner.
Included in our time spent in Moscow is one night at the luxury five-star Ritz-Carlton, featured in 2016 as part of our commemoration of the 100th anniversary since the opening of the final section of the Trans-Siberian line.
Superbly located in Moscow city centre, and within easy walking distance of Red Square, the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre, this historic hotel offers spacious and luxurious accommodation. The O2 Lounge, a stylish rooftop terrace, features panoramic views over the Red Square and the Kremlin.
The spacious ESPA spa centre includes a hot tub, indoor pool, and 14 treatment rooms. Crystal lighting, candles and beautiful facilities create the perfect atmosphere, and a wide variety of spa treatments, as well as the sauna, are available. There is also a fitness centre, and a beauty salon.
Today, we say farewell and make our way to the airport for our flights home. Our staff will greet you on arrival at Toronto Pearson and will be happy to assist you to your private car home.
|CANADIAN DOLLARS PER GUEST||TWIN||SINGLE|
All features listed above
Ulaanbaatar, Capital of Mongolia · Naadam Festival · Ulan Ude · Lake Baikal Irkutsk · Novosibirsk · Yekaterinburg · Kazan · Moscow
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