• Mongolia
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  • Mongolia
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Mongolia

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

The last nomadic state, Mongolia shows the world's lowest population density: 2.4 million inhabitants for 600,000 mile². Half living in town, essentially in Ulan Bator, the capital city. The rest live out in the steppe, leading a nomadic way of life.
Bordered by Russia and China, Mongolia was often invaded by its neighbours. Most of the territory is over 3,280 feet high in altitude. In the west, the highest peaks of the Altai chain culminate at 14,100 feet. In the centre, lush grazing lands and conifer forests contrast with the rest. In the east, the steppe is immense. The Gobi desert covers one third of the country. Travel to Mongolia for a completely different perspective.

Our Editorial team's advice

Even though you can obtain a visa once you are there, choose the safe option and apply for it from the UK, before leaving. Domestic transport still being quite chaotic, if you don't want to waste time, we recommend you go with a tour operator from the UK. They will suggest group tours or personalized itineraries, for those in need of freedom.

pros

  • +The geography of the country gives the opportunity to explore very varied desert landscapes.
  • +Share the traditions of the Mongolian nomads around the yurt or on horseback.

cons

  • -The extreme climate leaves only two months favourable to travelling to Mongolia: July and August.
  • -The local installations make it difficult to travel individually.

Traditions

The Mongols have the solid reputation of being very welcoming people, but they are extremely shy, sometimes trying to conceal their embarrassment with a smile. As soon as you leave the main towns, you will need basic information on how to behave in a yurt (called ger by the Mongols). Otherwise you would probably infringe unsuspected interdictions who would make your hosts feel uneasy. You don't just walk right into a ger as in your home, because the Mongols' traditional housing is regulated by innumerable rules, often due to superstition. What seems insignificant to us may be felt as a threat to the Mongols' family harmony and happiness. Here are some examples: remember to roll your sleeves down, your right foot always touches the floor first, and make sure not to trample on the threshold. Once inside, do not stay standing up, sit down where the head of the family showed you to. Special worship is dedicated to fire, avoid, then, stretching your legs out to it and do not throw anything into it. And actually, even after the nomads have broken camp, the Mongols accompanying you would be upset to see you trampling on the ashes. During your adventure, at the height of passes or on some crossroads, remember to stop at the oboos, the cone-shaped mounds made of stone or branches, considered spirit dwellings. The Mongols perform some rituals there, by depositing horse hair or a piece of cloth. Do not show any impatience, as it is necessary to go round them three times before walking on. Finally, you need to know that urinating in water is a sacrilege.

Food

The contents of a meal depend on the region where you are, but also on the time of the year. Although in Ulan Bator you will find a fairly wide range of different foods and even restaurants serving a western type of food, you will have to comply with local customs in the rest of the country. You should also know that breakfast and lunch are the two main meals of the day. In the south, mutton and camel meat are the basis of the local food. All winter long, the food supplies are kept frozen, and during that time, milk is extremely rare. A meal is often limited to a meat and pasta soup. The need in calories being greater in order to endure the extreme cold, it is a time when boiled meat fat is served. Cooked meals are more specific to summer time. In the morning and afternoon, tea is served with boortsogs - biscuits fried in oil, and boiled meat. With the arrival of spring, along come the dairy products. Made with mare or camel's milk, kumis is an integral part of the food in the steppes. Milk is never drank on its own and always boiled. For example it is added to tea, with some salt. Women also make urum out of it, a sort of white butter, served alone or with some cheese. Aruul, or sun-dried curdled milk, is so hard you have to suck on it instead of chewing it. Milk is also the basic ingredient for some alcoholic drinks all bearing different names depending on the region. Arkhi (10 to 12%), which is actually often put into the same category as vodka, does not have the same devastating effect. That being said, some of the Mongols tend to opt for the latter option, much more expeditious.

Souvenirs

Rugs, leather and wool clothing, cashmere cloth and paintings are some of the objects you can easily find in the shops of the capital town. You may be tempted to pay a visit to the Ulan Bator flea market, a little out of town. Beware of the numerous pickpockets! There is no rule, but most shops in Ulan Bator open normally from 10 AM to 8 PM on week days and in the morning during the week end.

What to see

The Altai chain , The Altai mountain range, Mongolia , Mongolia
The Altai chain
The Uvs province , The Uvs region, Mongolia , Mongolia
The Uvs province
The Kanghai plateau , The Kanghai Plateau, Mongolia , Mongolia
The Kanghai plateau
The Arkhangai province , The Arkhangai region, Mongolia , Mongolia
The Arkhangai province
The Bulgan province , The Mongolian horse, region of Bulgan , Mongolia
The Bulgan province
The Ovörkhangai province , The Ovörkhangai region, Mongolia , Mongolia
The Ovörkhangai province
The Khövsgöl province , Mongolia
The Khövsgöl province
The steppes , Mongolia
The steppes
The Gobi desert , Yurts in the Gobi desert , Mongolia
The Gobi desert
The Bayankhongor and Gobi-Altai provinces. , The provinces of Bayankhongor and Gobi-Altai , Mongolia
The Bayankhongor and Gobi-Altai provinces.
Mountains wildlife , Mongolian yak , Mongolia
Mountains wildlife
Steppes wildlife , The steppes of Dornod , Mongolia
Steppes wildlife
Wildlife in the Gobi desert , The Great Gobi Reserve , Mongolia
Wildlife in the Gobi desert
Breeding , Mongolian goat farming , Mongolia
Breeding
Arkhangai's archaeological remains , Arkhangai, Mongolia , Mongolia
Arkhangai's archaeological remains