Uvs Nuur Basin
Uvs Nuur is the northernmost of the enclosed basins of Central Asia. It is enclosed on the north (Tuva) by the Tannu Ola Range and the Sangilen Mountains in the north-east. The main feeder to Uvs Nuur is the Tes-Khem River, which has its source in a fresh-water lake, Sangyn Dalai Nuur, in the alpine meadows and larch forests of the Sangilen uplands at the eastern extremity of the basin (in Mongolia). The Tes-Khem then flows 500 km westwards, through steppe and desert, into southern Tuva, and then back into Mongolia, before emptying into Uvs Nuur. For its last 100 km, the river meanders through an extensive wetland complex, a green swathe in an otherwise semi-desert landscape; its delta is some 40 km wide and is an important wildlife habitat. Uvs is relatively shallow (10-20 m depth) and very saline and alkaline. In all, the lakes display a range of hydrological characteristics, water quality and biomass productivity. Uvs is the 'sea' of western Mongolia; it is frequented by a range of seabirds, even though the nearest ocean is 3,000 km away.
The Uvs Nuur basin has an extraordinary temperature range; the lowest winter temperature in western Mongolia (-58 °C) has been recorded here but summer temperatures can rise to 40 °C. Within the site there are nine strictly protected areas, representing the main ecosystems. Two of the Mongolian protected areas, Turgen Uul and Tsagaan Shuvuut, also lie in the western mountains, which have shown the presence of 173 bird and 41 mammal species within their boundaries. Both are important habitats for the endangered snow leopard and there is active research into the conservation of this species. Other important mammals are large herbivores such as the Asiatic ibex, argali mountain sheep, wild boar, red deer and musk deer and the Mongolian and black-tailed gazelle; predators include wolf, red fox, lynx, polecat and weasel, and many different kites, falcons, eagles and vultures. Within the ecologically-diverse Uvs Nuur site, some 359 bird species have been recorded.
The Uvs Nuur basin has a rich historical and cultural heritage. The site has also important for cultural heritage status; largely on the basis of 2,900 sites containing burial mounds (kurgans) and stone tablets (steles), many of late Palaeolithic age. Historically, a large proportion of the Eurasian steppe would have undergone a vegetation succession to forest as the post-glacial climate became warmer had wild herbivores and humans not worked to maintain the grassland environment.
Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape
Orkhon Valley clearly demonstrates how a strong and persistent nomadic culture led to the development of extensive trade networks and the creation of large administrative, commercial, military and religious centres. The empires undoubtedly influenced societies across Asia and into Europe and in turn absorbed influence from both east and west in a true interchange of human values. This culture is still a revered and indeed central part of Mongolian society and is highly respected as a 'noble' way to live in harmony with the landscape. The valley itself is an exceptional illustration of several significant stages in human history, reflecting its role as the centre of the Mongolian Empire, a special Mongolian variation of Turkish power, the Tuvkhun hermitage monastery as the setting for the development of a Mongolian form of Buddhism, and Khar Balgas as the capital of the Uighur Empire.
This cultural landscape is in central Mongolia, some 360 km south-west of Ulan Bator, the capital, along the Orkhon River, which flows north, draining into Lake Baikal across the border in Russia. Over 90% of Mongolia's huge land area is high-level pasture or desert wasteland, at an average altitude of around 1,500 m. Water is at a premium and the river valleys have therefore assumed great importance, becoming the focus for settlements of various kinds. In Mongolia, nomadic pastoralism, the grazing of horses, sheep, goats, cows and camels, is perceived as much more than the objective technical demands of pastoral life: it is revered and glorified as the heart of Mongolian culture. In turn Mongolian nomadic culture is part of a much wider distinctive nomadic pastoral culture, embracing many other people besides the Mongols and extending across central Asia. Over at least the past two millennia these nomadic cultures, through economic, political and cultural links, have made an immense impact on the sedentary cultures with which they interacted across Asia and into Europe. Nomadic pastoralists spent their lives moving their herds from one pasture to another, sometimes covering vast distances each year. They operated and moved across their territory within strictly regulated and controlled ways, linked to the specific designation and use of grazing grounds and to territorial rights and social units. Underpinning this movement were fixed points, which could be cities, providing centres of government, crafts, trade and commerce, or religious sites, such as temples and funerary areas. The density of such fixed points varied enormously across the vast Eurasian steppes.
It is one of the key areas in Mongolia where the links between nomadic pastoralism and the associated settlements can be see most clearly, where there is a high density of remains, and where above all these remains are of national and international importance. Orkhon Valley was at the centre of traffic across the Asian steppes and became the capital of first the Uighur Empire and then the Mongol Empire, which described itself as 'the greatest empire the world has ever known'.
The broad, shallow river valley provides water and shelter, key requisites for its role as a staging post on the ancient trade routes across the steppes, such as those now known as the Silk Road, and for its development as the centre of two of the vast Central Asian empires. The main monuments are open to the public. They include the Turkish Memorials of Khosho Tsaidam; the ruins of Khar Balgas City and Karakorum City; Erdene Zuu Monastery; Tuvkhun Hermitage Monastery; Shankh Western Monastery; the Palace at Doit Hill; the ancient towns of Talyn Dorvoljin, Har Bondgor and Bayangol Am; many deer stones and ancient graves; the sacred mountains of Hangai Ovoo and Undor Sant; and the long tradition of nomadic pastoralism.