Population 23,000. Elevation 1859m. This sprawling capital was established in 1942. Located close to the border with Ovorkhangai and Arkhangai aimags, Bayankhongor city is where the Khangai Nuruu, with several peaks of 3000m or more, meets the northern Gobi. It's a good place to stop during the long haul to or from the West, to stand explorations to more remote regions to the South, or to go on a day trip to the nearby springs at Shargaljuut.
Lamyn Gegeenii Dedlen Khiid.
There was no ancient monastery on this particular site, but 20km to the East of Bayankhongor city, a monastery existed with the same name. This monastery complex once housed up to 10.000 monks, making it one of the largest in the country. As elsewhere in Mongolia, the communist police descended on the place in 1937 and carted off the monks, who were never seen again. The temple was leveled and today nothing remains. Sadly, the present-day monks seem to have little knowledge of the old temple's history.
The current monastery, built in 1991, is home to only 40 monks. The main temple is built in the shape of a ger, although it's actually made of brick. The main hall features a statue of Sakyamuni flanked by a green and white Tara.
The Aimag Museum,
The Aimag Museum located inside the sports stadium in the park, is well laid-out and worth a visit. There is a good display on Buddhist art, featuring two lovely statues of Tara, some fine old scroll paintings, tsam (lama dance) masks and costumes.
Head across the street to the Natural History Museum. The highlights here are some dinosaur fossils and a replica Tarbosaurus skeleton.
The major attraction in Bayankhongor aimag is the 300 or so hot and cold water springs at Shargaljuut. About 60km north-east of Bayankhongor city, the springs are one of the few natural attractions in the Gobi region that are easily accessible from an aimag capital.
The springs and bath houses cover the banks of the river between the peaks of Myangan Ugalzat Uul (3483m) and Shargaljuut Uul (3137m). The hot water, which can reach 50°C, is supposed to cure a wide range of complaints and many Mongolians come for treatment at the neighbouring sanatorium.
The 25m-deep Galuut canyon is worth a visit if, for some bizarre reason, you are in the region. The canyon is only about 1m wide in places. It is 20km south-west of Galuut sum centre, which is about 85km north-west of Bayankhongor town. Mandal Khiid is said to be nearby.
Boon Tsagaan Nuur.
This large salt water lake, at the end of Baidrag Gol, is popular with birdlife, especially the relic gull, whooper swan and geese. The region also boasts extraordinary volcanic formations, canyons of cascading streams and ancient cave paintings. The lake is about 90km south-west of Bayankhongor city, in Buutsagaan sum.
The salt water Orog Nuur is at the end of the Tuin Gol, which passes through Bayankhongor city. Also referred to as Shar Burd Nuur, the lake is a good place to watch birdlife. It is nestled in the foothills of Ikh Bogd Uul (3957m) in Bogd sum, a four hour, 110km drive South of Bayankhongor city. With a jeep and local guide it is possible to drive to the top of Ikh Bogd for stupendous views. You can use the lake as a base to visit sights further South.
The small town of Bayangovi is about 100 km South of Orog Nuur in a beautiful valley dominated by the Ikh Bogd range. While there is nothing of special interest in Bayangovi itself, the surrounding countryside offers a number of intriguing desert sites, which can be visited on a one-day or two-day excursion with the aid of a jeep and a local guide.
About 90km East of Bayangovi lies Tsagaan Agui. Situated in a narrow gorge, the cave once housed Stone Age human beings 700,000 years ago. It features a crystallined inner chamber.
Also near Bayangovi are several intriguing rock inscription sites. At Tsagaan Bulag, 18km South, a white rock outcrop has the faint imprint of a strange helmeted figure, which locals believe was created by aliens. The area is also home to many herds of camel, attracted to the springs at the base of the outcrop.
Those interested in fossils should visit the petrified forest at Ulaan Shand, an area littered with stone logs and stumps, 66km south-west of Bayangovi.
Other noteworthy sites which you could add on to make a full daytrip include the vertical walls of the 4km-long Gunii Khondii gorge, south-east of Ulaan Shand, and the beautiful Bituut rock, North of Bayangovi on the southern flank of Ikh Bogd, formed after an earthquake in 1957.
Further afield at Bayangiin Nuruu, 90km South of Bayangovi, is a canyon with well-preserved rock engravings and petroglyphs, dating from 3000 ВС. The engravings depict hunting and agricultural scenes in a surprisingly futuristic style.
Travelling further South the landscape slowly descends into the Gobi Desert proper, along the border with Omnogov aimag. In this area are numerous oases, amongst them Jartiin Khuv, Daltin Khuv, Burkhant and Zuunmod. Hook out for the wild horses and camels, black tailed gazelle, antelope and zam lizards, which inhabit the area.
This region is rich in fossil sites. Bugiin Khondii is a large series of rift valleys running parallel to the Altan Uul mountain range. A number of dinosaur fossils have been found here, which are now housed in the Museum of Natural History in Ulaanbaator. The other fossil site is at Yasnee Tsav, an eroded hilly region with some impressive buttes.
Continuing South will lead to the other famous fossil site of Khermen Tsav. From here one could continue East into the Gobi towards Gurvantes, Noyon and Bayandalai, but be warned that this section of road is notoriously treacherous. Don't go without plenty of water and well-equipped four-wheel drive vehicles.