When people think of Mongolia the first images that comes to mind are usually Chinggis Khaan, freezing winters, dry deserts and horses. All of these can be found in Mongolia but there is so much more. Why then should I go there, you might well ask? The majority of people go to Mongolia for the untouched nature but go away with having had an intimate and life changing experience with one of the worlds most unique nomadic cultures and peoples. It is true there is nothing quite like the feeling of standing in the great outdoors where there are no buildings, fences or signs of human habitation in sight. It gives you the feeling of freedom and space, not quite like anything else. However, it is the people of Mongolia that make us reassess our lives and think about what is really important. They provide us with a refreshing approach to life with their enthusiasm, their hospitality and their hope in the face of the most extreme circumstances.
Following is just a taste of the immense diversity of this great land and special people
The Gobi is a desert like none other. Flat arid plains stretch for thousands of miles interrupted by the occasional lone ger or herd of goats, camel or sheep. Kites circle overhead in the cloudless blue sky and the sun beats down relentlessly on all. The Gobi Desert is the least populated area of Mongolia and despite its arid climate it supports a diverse array of bird and animal life including the legendary snow leopard, the Gobi bear and the wild mountain sheep. The harsh environment has produced a most resilient and remarkable people.
The world’s last true wilderness grasslands. Thousands of hectares of wide open grassland, stretch completely flat with almost no sign of human habitation. These are the great grasslands of Eastern Mongolia. The area is completely flat with large herds of grazing white-tailed gazelles. Mongolians say that when the herds are on the move the whole ground looks like it is slowly moving as these graceful animals dart their way across the steppe. In the east you will also find pockets of small lakes with an abundance of birdlife. It is a perfect area for the avid birdwatcher.
The rolling plains of Mongolia combined with a fascinating mixture of ancient tribal history and buddhist traditions. The Buddhist traditions, which for so many decades, were forbidden in Mongolia, are now being practiced freely and the impressive and ornate monasteries are again being used as houses of worship by chanting monks. The Erdenzuu Monastery is the largest functioning Monastery in Mongolia and is slowly and lovingly being restored to its former glory. The Monastery is situated at Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia and from where Chinggis Khaan launched his cavalry which eventually conquered half the European world and created the biggest empire the world has ever seen. The landscape here is equally fascinating with extinct volcanic craters producing amazing rock formations and huge gorges with fast flowing rivers and waterfalls.
The towering granduer of the Altai Mountains dominate every vista in western Mongolia. Here you can see the highest and most revered peaks of Mongolia, the basin of the great lakes, intricate rock paintings and ancient Turkish burial grounds. The variety in the landscape is matched by the number of different ethnic minority groups that reside in the area including the Kazakh people and their ancient tradition of hunting with golden eagles.
The far north of Mongolia is an area renowned for its high mountains covered in thick taiga forest, crystal clear lakes, rivers teaming with taimen and lennock and lush green open valleys. Right at the tip of northern Mongolia is Lake Khuvsgul which lies within the bounds of Khuvsgul National Park. This lake is sacred to all Mongolians and is known as the ‘mother’ or the ‘sea’. To the north-west of the lake live the Khuvsgul-Tuvan minority group, more commonly known as the Tsaatan people or Reindeer people. These people use reindeer for transporting supplies, riding and milking and have done so for centuries.
Chinggis Khaan, the man who created one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen had his humble beginnings as a small boy called Temuujiin on the banks of the Onon River in the area of Mongolia known as Khentii. The homeland of Temuujiin is in the present day Khan Khentii National Park with its unique wilderness area. The Park covers 1.2 million hectares of rugged mountain scenery, forests, wetlands and alpine tundra in the north-east of Mongolia. The Onon and Kherlen Rivers flow through its borders and there are therapeutic hot springs which have been used for centuries for their healing qualities. Rare mammals including the endangered musk deer and moose, brown bear, wolf, fox, roe and elk roam in the forests. Historians come to study the ancient burial grounds and Turkish stone engravings.
The capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, or Red Hero, was named after the establishment of the capital earlier last century by Communist zealots. Ulaanbaatar has existed long before then, however, as a spiritual center for the Buddhists. The capital is a unique mix of Russian inspired architecture; incredibly slim girls with huge platform shoes, bright lights, discos and internet cafes, all hurried attempts to rush into the 21st century. The older generation, however, with the wisdom that comes from longevity take life more slowly, sitting with their grandchildren and chess sets in the sun wearing their time faded dels. Whether you like Ulaanbaatar or not you will have to arrive and depart there on your trip to Mongolia. Take your time to look at this unique city from all its many and varied aspects