17Aug2013

12 Reasons I Love Mongolia

Clouds reflected in Khovsgol Nuur, Mongolia.

Isolation

In the least densely populated country on earth, expect big, empty, silent landscapes, huge skies and a sense of incredible space. Off the beaten track in Mongolia, you can travel for days without seeing a single soul – not (necessarily) because the landscape is uninhabitable, but just because it’s empty.

Herd of horses against mountains - Mongolia.

Horses

Mongolians descend from the cavalry with which Chinggis Khan conquered most of the known world, and riding is deep within Mongolian DNA. Presidential candidates pose on galloping horses, young children herd flocks bareback, and herds of horses gallop free across the plains, manes flowing.

7-year-old Mongolian boy photographed in his ger.

Hospitality

Mongolians trace their heritage proudly back to Chinggis Khan, and the state was Soviet until relatively recently, so customer service in Mongolia is, to put it kindly, not a strength. But the warmth and kindness of rural Mongolians, who welcome strangers into their gers and feed and water them, is astonishing, and you can expect to make friends on buses, trains and more.

Sunset over Khovsgol Nuur, Mongolia.

Lakes

Most people think of Mongolia as a land of desert — and the Gobi has some of the world’s tallest dunes. But the serene beauty of the lakes that cluster in the north during summer, their splendid isolation, takes some beating. This is Khövsgöl Nuur.

Wildflowers in Mongolia in June.

Nature

From wildflowers and larches in the north through to herds of gazelles in the east and hunting eagles in the west, not to mention the odd bear or wolf, Mongolia is full of wildlife, despite its savage climate.

Ger on a lakeside in Mongolia

Gers

Gers, the tents the Chinese call ‘Mongolian buns’ and the Turks call ‘yurts’, have been part of Mongolian life since long before Chinggis Khan. Toasty warm in winter, surprisingly cool in summer, they are masterpieces of minimal engineering – the framework even functions as storage.

Mongolian train in the middle of nowhere.

Trains

The Trans-Mongolian train forms one end of probably the world’s greatest train journey, the Trans-Siberian. Yet even local trains are a splendid way to travel Mongolia, as they trundle slowly across the empty plains.

Two boys wrestling in traditional dels...

Tradition

Mongolian society is transitioning rapidly, from Soviet state through to a democratic economy super-charged by mineral exploitation. And yet people cling to their old ways. In the countryside, young men still wrestle as they have since time immemorial, often wearing traditional dels. Even sophisticated, US-educated Ulaanbatrites will retreat to the country often to recharge.

Clotted cream image by Kai Hendry.

Dairy

One reason to visit Mongolia in summer, apart from the weather? Dairy! Rural Mongolians eat, mainly, meat and fat in winter, and dairy in summer. Some dairy, from ricotta-style fresh yak’s cheese to clotted yak cream served on fresh bread, is just amazing.

Contortionists at a circus in Mongolia.

Contortionists

Cirque de Soleil come to Mongolia to recruit contortionists, because, despite its population of only a couple of million or so, the country produces some of the best contortionists in the world.

Throat-singer backed by traditional instrumentalists at Tumen Ekh, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Throat-singing

Even if your only encounter with throat-singing is that Simpson’s episode where Homer meets the Inuit, traditional throatsinging is eerie, magical and awe-inspiring. It’s one person singing two tunes at the same time.

Bear in minidress dancing with bear tamer at the circus in Mongolia.

The Crazy

From drunken shamans to reindeer herders, from eagle hunters in the mountains to mini-skirted bears at the circus, from Ulaanbaatar’s strip bars through to ice fishing competitions, Mongolia is somewhere where you’ll always find the unexpected, and nothing ever quite goes to plan. And out of everything, it’s probably for the crazy that I love Mongolia…


Clotted cream image by Kai Hendry.

15 Comments

  1. Britany says:

    I just completed the Mongol Rally and absolutely loved driving through the Mongolian countryside. Now I want to come back someday for the trans-Siberian!

  2. Vanessa says:

    Throat singing?? Wtf?? I’m totally looking this up now. Any recommendation for how to find awesome rural places/families to stay with in Mongolia? I’m in Korea now and would love to visit!

    • Theodora says:

      Yes. We stayed with families some of the time on a horseback trip we went on, which we arranged locally. http://www.gertoger.org/ comes recommended by some, as they arrange beneficial home stays with a cultural element to them. On many treks and horse trips that you do you’ll end up with local families.

  3. Mongolia sure looks quaint and gorgeous, I hope the animals at the circus were treated properly!

    • Theodora says:

      I very much doubt they were, to be honest. They weren’t underweight, and they seemed glossy, but there’s not a lot of sensitivity to animal rights in that neck of the woods.

  4. Alex says:

    I love your blog. Wouldyou like to perhaps write some for our website http://www.littletravellers.com?

    Alex

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Alex, Thanks for your interest, and glad you like the site. Because I earn my living as a writer, I don’t like writing for free — it takes up time I could spend on my own site, or on paying work, or developing new opportunities. Where a site has higher traffic, visibility and page rank than mine, or where it belongs to a friend, I might consider a quick guest post, but that currently doesn’t seem to be the case here. So in this instance, I’ll need to pass. Cheers, Theodora

  5. decy lina says:

    was that beer dancing…i never hear about magnolia before but it looks quite an enchanting place to visit thank a lot for sharing about such a beautiful place.

  6. Nonplussed says:

    A mini-skirted bear! A mini-skirted bear! I am almost squeaking with excitement… as well as a profound concern for animal welfare. Of course. Natch. Obv.

    • Theodora says:

      Zac has a fine line in animal rights double-think. “Hmmm…. it’s not like dolphins, because the bear would win.” Or, more recently, “I think it’s OK to eat veal provided it’s battery-farmed, because they had rubbish lives anyway…”

  7. dariimaa says:

    sain bainuu? im mongolian.i liked it :)

Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>