Mongolia travel guide
Mongolia is a landlocked country located between China and Russia. It is a vast emptiness that links land and sky, and is one of the last few places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition. The Republic of Mongolia consists of historic Outer Mongolia. The province of Inner Mongolia is geographically separate and located to the south in China. [by wikitravel]
Mix up the vast landscapes of the Gobi, the snowcapped mountains of Bayan-Ölgi and the dramatic gorges and sparkling lakes of Khövsgöl. Sprinkle in the felt homes of the nomad and the cry of an eagle. Add Buddhist temples, mysterious ruins, abundant wildlife and legendary hospitality. Then top it all off with a conqueror who started with nothing and ended up changing history.
Since the fall of communism, Mongolia has done just about everything in its power to open itself up to the world. While the old traditions survive and the wild nature is still mostly intact, Mongolia has also reached out to the West for economic and cultural ties. It’s not uncommon to meet Mongolians with degrees from universities in the USA, Europe or Australia.
Along with Japan and South Korea, Mongolia is one of the only legitimate democracies in the whole of Asia. Elections have proven to be free and fair. A constant parade of street protests have forced policy change on everything from mining laws to bus fares.
Democracy has given foreign investors enough confidence to stick with Mongolia during hard times. Attractive investment laws have lured some of the big boys of the mining world – the major target of Mongolia’s economic reformers. Despite their progression, Mongolia still faces enormous economic and social challenges; it remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with typical salaries at less than US$100 a month.
Tourism, along with mining and cashmere, has become a key feature of the economy. The poor infrastructure and short travel season have kept receipts small, but a growing network of ger camps cater to travellers seeking ecotourism adventures. Without fences or private property to restrict a traveller’s movement, Mongolia is a perfect destination for horse trekking, long-distance cycling or hiking, or more leisurely activities such as fly-fishing, yak carting or camping out under a sprawling mass of stars.
Most travellers come for Naadam, the two-day summer sports festival that brings Ulaanbaatar to a standstill. But Mongolia’s unique charm will always lie in the countryside where, rather than being a spectator to the wrestling, you may find yourself making up the numbers! Outside the villages it’s easy to meet nomad families whose relentless sense of hospitality can at times be nothing short of overwhelming.
With only 1.7 people per square kilometre, Mongolia has the lowest population density of any independent country, and it is this vast and majestic emptiness that is the country’s enduring appeal, bringing the traveler, as it does, into a close communion with nature and its nomadic inhabitants. Mongolia is entirely landlocked, between China and Russia. The country is nicknamed the “Land of Blue Skies,” and with good reason. There is said to be about 250 sunny days throughout each year. The weather is bitterly cold during the winter, dropping down to -40º in some parts. With many types of terrain–from desert to verdant mountains–the weather during the summer varies from region to region, but is generally hot. Outside of the Gobi desert, this time of year is marked with many rains in some areas, and it can become quite cool at night.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia is situated in the valley of Tuul river surrounded by Bogd, Bayanzurkh, Songino and Chingeltei mountains. The altitude of Ulaanbaatar is 1351 meters. Ulaanbaatar occupies 135.800 hectares and has almost half of the country’s population. There are 8 districts in the city such as: Bayangol, Bayanzurkh, Songinokhairkhan, Chingeltei, Sukhbaatar, Khan-Uul, Nalaikh and Baganuur.
Two of them, Nalaikh and Baganuur, are located 35km and 150km away respectively from Ulaanbaatar. The capital city is the country’s scientific, industrial, educational, cultural, political and economic center. It has the State Circus, Drama theater, Opera and ballet theater, many kinds of museums and universities. Ulaanbaatar is called a student’s city because there are about 100 state and private universities and institutes. The state’s biggest universities are the National University of Mongolia, the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, and the Finance and Economic institute. The center of Ulaanbaatar is Sukhbaatar square which is surrounded by the Government Palace, Bodi tower and World Trade Tower.
The name of the city has changed many times. It has been Orgoo, Nomiin Khuree, Ikh Khuree, Da Khuree, Niislel Khuree and finally Ulaanbaatar. After the people’s revolution, it was named Ulaanbaatar. The history of Mongolian capital city is related to Khar Khorin which is located in Uvurkhangai province. According to some records, Khar khorin was built in 1220. It was the capital city of Mongolia for 32 years in the Mongolian empire. During that time, many travelers, including Marco polo, visited the city. The city was moved from one place to another more than 20 times.
Mongolia is more than twice as big as Texas and nearly the same size as Alaska. Its area is 1.6 million square kilometers (603,000 square miles), four times the size of Japan and almost double that of Eastern Europe.
This makes Mongolia the sixth-largest country in Asia and 19th in the world, but the population is only 2,727,966 (as of 09 November 2009), which makes Mongolia one of the least densely populated areas in Asia.
If you consider that 40% of the population lives in the capital city of Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar that leaves lots of room for you to travel in the outback. Of course, Gobi is even less dense.
Almost another 40% of population are scattered all over Mongolia with their 56 million head of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels. There are 21 provinces, called aimag. Each aimag has a central city or town and about 15-22 sub-provinces called soum, so you will know which aimag and which soum you are in.
70% of Mongolia is under the age of 35. The gender ratio is close to 1:1. Ethnicity: 84% Khalkha Mongols, 6% Kazakhs and 10% other groups.
More than 50% will say they are Buddhists which is very much mixed with Shamanism, close to 10% will claim to be Christians of all forms and 4% follow Islam, the remainders will say that they are atheists.
Holidays and festivals in Mongolia
Mongolia is home to the “three manly sports”: wrestling, horse racing, and archery, and these are same three sporting events that take place every year at the Naadam festival.
Naadam is the National Holiday of Mongolia celebrated on July 11-13. During these days all of Mongolia watch or listen to the whole event which takes place in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar through Mongolia’s National Television and Radio. Many other smaller Naadam festivals take place in different aimags (provinces) around the country throughout the month of July, and it is at these Naadam festivals that you are able to get a much closer look at the action.
It is believed that Naadam celebrations started with the rise of the Great Mongolian Empire as Chinggis (a.k.a. Genghis) Khan’s strategy to keep his warriors strictly fit. After the fall of the empire, the contests were held during religious festivals, and since the communist revolution it was celebrated on its anniversary.
The legend says that in old times a woman dressed like man won wrestling competition once. That is why open chest and long sleeve wrestling costumes, called “zodog”, meant to show that every participant is male. Wrestlers wear short trunks, “shuudag”, and Mongolian boots, “gutal”. The yellow stripes on tales of wrestlers’ hats will indicate the number of times the wrestler became a champion in Naadam.
Only Naadam gives official titles to the wrestlers. Mongolia wrestling tournaments have 9 or 10 rounds depending on the number of 512 or 1024 wrestlers registered for the competition that year. If the wrestler wins 5 rounds, he will be awarded title “Nachin” (bird), 6 rounds – Hartsaga (hawk), 7 rounds – Zaan (elephant), 8 rounds – Garuda (Eagle), 9 rounds – Arslan (lion) and 10 – Avarga (Titan).
In 2006, Zaan (Elephant) Sumyabazar won 9 rounds that made him Garuda but that year 1024 wrestlers had 10 rounds which he won all. This entitled him to Avarga. Or Arslan (Lion) must win 2 in a row to become Avarga (Titan). The titles are for life. If Avarga (Titan) keeps winning at Naadam more and more attributes will be added to his title.
There is no weight categories in Mongolian Wrestling tournaments but there is a time limit of 30 minutes, if the wrestlers can not overthrow each other, referees use lots for better position which often settles the match. One who falls or his body touches the ground loses the match.
Mongolia Wrestling matches are attended by seconds whose role is to assist their wrestlers in all matters and to encourage them to win by spanking on their butts. They also sing praise songs and titles to the leading wrestlers of both wings, west and east, after 5 and 7 rounds. The referees monitor the rules but the people and the fans are the final judges. They will speak and spread the word of mouth about who is who till the next year.
Climate of Mongolia
The ideal Mongolia travel season starts in May and hits its highest peak in July, during the Naadam holiday, and in August when the weather is most favorable for traveling. This is the best time if you like the culture and can bear the crowds of other tourists. It is not a good time if you want to get away from your busy lifestyle because you will experience traffic, busy schedules, waiting in lines, etc.
September is also a very good time to visit, and October is not too late to travel to Mongolia. It is still warm during the days but a bit chilly during the nights. In the autumn, Mongolia is not very crowded, and this is time for late-comers and last-minute, unplanned trips. You will get to sightsee, enjoy the culture, and taste mare’s milk, a bitter and at first somewhat unpleasant drink, throughout the country.
For visitors not afraid of cold or fermented mare’s milk, traveling to Mongolia from November till the Lunar New Year is still an option. Winter tourism is a developing area of the Mongolian tourism industry.
The most rewarding experience will be visiting the nomads, as this is the time when you will experience their culture first-hand during “Tsagaan Sar” or the traditional (Lunar) New Year celebration.
Travellers will have the opportunity to watch lots of cultural activities: singing, dancing, wrestling, and winter horse racing.
Mongolia is known to have 250-260 sunny days throughout the year, so you will need good UV protection. During winter, protect your eyes, and during summer, protect your skin.
Some facts about Mongolia:
Population: 2, 576, 000 (2007)
Capital city: Ulanbaatar
Annual economic aid received: approximately US$203 million
Literacy rate: 98%
Average life expectancy: 64 years
Voter turnout: often over 80%
GDP: US$2100 per capita, ranking Mongolia 125 out of 182 listed countries
Proportion of people living below the poverty line: 36%
Head of livestock: 34 million
Leading 2007 exports: copper, wool, gold, cashmere, leather
Horse-to-human ratio: 13 to 1
Telephone usage: 156, 000 landlines; over 800, 000 mobile phones