Pancake-flat Sükhbaatar is wedged between the Gobi Desert and the pure steppes of Dornod. It contains elements of both – shifting sand dunes and barren rock feature prominently in the southwest, while the knee-high grass in the east provides important habitat for huge herds of gazelle. The southern sum of Dariganga contains some 20 extinct volcanoes.
Lying on the banks of the Kherlen Gol, 324km downstream from Chinggis Khot, is Choibalsan, Mongolia’s easternmost capital and a most welcome sight if you're craving a hot shower, a decent bed, and an opportunity to dine out that doesn't involve camping food after days in the steppe.
A centre of relative sophistication in the middle of barren plains, the aimag capital of Chinggis Khot (Chinggis City), previously known as Öndörkhaan (Supreme Emperor), was renamed in 2013 in honour of Chinggis Khan. It is a welcome sight, with its tree-lined streets, scattered Chinggis Khaan monuments and a small collection of well-preserved 18th-century buildings.
He united the many nomadic tribes of northeast Asia, subjugated huge chunks of Central Asia, Rus, Europe, the Middle East and China, and created the Mongol empire which became the largest contiguous empire in history. Yet the fearsome Chinggis Khaan's origins are surprisingly humble.
The vast grasslands of Dariganga are speckled with volcanic craters, small lakes and sand dunes, the sum of which makes the area one of the most scenic in eastern Mongolia. Before communism this area was a haven of aristocracy and its grasslands were the royal grazing grounds of horses belonging to the emperor in Bĕijīng.
In 1939, the Khalkhiin Gol (Khalkhiin River) in the far eastern part of Dornod ran red with blood as Japan tried to realise its ambition of adding Siberia to its territory. Unfortunately for Japan, Mongolia got in the way, and it's on these river banks that the decisive battles between the Japanese and the joint Soviet and Mongolia forces took place.
Locals, and some historians, claim that Avarga, not Karakorum, was the first capital of the Mongol empire. The ancient tent-city was located in the modern-day Delgerkhan sum (district), on a 20km-wide plain, Khödöö Aral (Countryside Island), so named because it is encircled by the Kherlen and Tsenkheriin Gols.
Remote Burkhan Khalduun, elevation 2350m, is one of the sites mooted as the burial place of Chinggis Khaan, and also Mongolia's holiest mountain. Whether or not Chinggis was buried at God's Hill, The Secret History of the Mongols does describe how the khaan hid here as a young man and later returned to give praise to the mountain and give thanks for his successes.
According to The Secret History of the Mongols, it was at Khökh Nuur that Temujin first proclaimed himself a khaan (emperor) of the Mongol tribe. It's a great place for a coronation site; the imaginatively-named Blue Lake nestles at the foot of what is called Heart-Shaped Mountain. The lake is about 35km northwest of Tsenkhermandal, off the Ulaanbaatar–Chinggis Khot road.
At the confluence of the Khurkh and Onon Gols, the village of Binder is a good place to rustle up some horses for an expedition to Burkhan Khalduun or to dine at one of the tsainii gazar (teahouses) on your way to or from Dadal. An excellent place to stay is the luxurious Ichon Khurkh Urguu ger camp, 7km from the village.
Baldan Bereeven Khiid
This monastery in Ömnödelger sum was first built in 1700. At its peak it was one of the three largest monasteries in Mongolia and home to 5000 lamas. Communist forces destroyed it in the 1930s. It has now been mostly restored, the main temple with splendid dragon motifs on the ceiling was renovated in 2010.