Ölgii city is a windblown frontier town that will appeal to anyone who dreams of the Wild West. It’s a squat, concrete affair, meandering along the Khovd Gol and surrounded by ger districts and rocky escarpments. Thunderclouds brew in the mountains above town, making for some dramatic climatic changes throughout the day and brilliant light shows in the late afternoon.
The town is predominantly Kazakh, and you’ll soon start feeling it has more in common with Muslim-influenced Central Asia than Buddhist Mongolia: there are signs in Arabic and Kazakh Cyrillic, and the market, which is called a bazaar rather than the Mongolian zakh, sells the odd shashlik (kebab) and is stocked with goods from Kazakhstan.
A friendly local population makes the place a welcome break on a long road journey and the logical place to launch an expedition into the Altai mountains. It’s not the most beautiful city around, but give it a day or two and Ölgii really starts to grow on you. There are reliable tour operators based here, surprisingly good restaurants and some excellent handicraft cooperatives selling high-quality carpets and wall hangings.
Last updated: Mar 24, 2009
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