Mongolia is a country where “Nothing” becomes “All”: never-ending landscapes, wild animals, nomadic families, desert, high mountains, Tibetan Buddhism, tradition, places untouched by consumerism … A place where nature and life without a schedule takes place.
The sun will be your watch.
We travelled there on August 2011, when night temperatures did not drop lower than 6 °C (take into account that in the months of January and February night temperatures in Mongolia can drop lower than – 40 ° C) and during the day did not rise to more than 24 º C.
90% of the population are from the ethnic mongol (a mix of siberian and chinese), and also there are a some Turkic ethnic minority as the Kazak. Their culture and way of life depends on where they live but nomads are unique: open to meet you, to stay in their “Gers” -as far as you bring them a bottle of vodka and some confectionery-, “the man of the house” with his cowboy boots, his traditional clothes, his hat that seems stolen from a Hollywood movie, and with (always) a glass of vodka in the hand (I don’t know where they always get their vodka from!), arriving with his horse as master of his field. They know the landscapes better than we know our apartments: no maps, no GPS and no street signs (actually most of the time, there aren’t even streets) The fact that they have grown up in full freedom in the middle of the nature has given them the ability of listening to the weather, they can tell you when it will rain and also know how long it will last, and recognize roads where a European can’t even imagine that there’s a path. Impressive.
Outside the capital, you’ll find landscapes that you’ll be able to explore in complete freedom without traffic lights or contamination, car exhaust gases, or buildings spoiling their beauty. Only the pure air, the nature, the gifts of Mother Earth, and life in its purest form. In fact, population density of Mongolia is one of the lowest in the Planet: 1.73 hab/km². Amazing!
If you want to travel around Mongolia you’ll need to rent a car (from Ulan Bataar) with its driver: he will know where to go and how (outside Ulan Bataar there are no streets or paved roads, either traffic signals…) and he will brings you the opportunity to sleep with a nomadic family if you ask him for it. He will chat with the families and let you know if you can or not (for sure he will do all for you so that you can stay with some nomadic family) and will be your translator (unless your speak mongolian!
Nomadic life is still a reality. Also there are “semi-nomads” (people that stay for instance 6 months in Ulan Bataar and then 6 months as nomads with its nomadic family). Both ways of life represents still a high percentage of the population. As for the rest, in Ulan Bataar there are lots of “new fashion”: people wearing the last premium fashion brands, showing their last iphone, etc. A combination of ways of life that will surprise you.
Eagles, camels, horses, cows, goats, sheep: a multitude of animals with no fear live with them. Each nomadic family usually owns horses, cows, goats and sheeps. They drink fermented horse milk, they left to ferment in the sun and whoever passes their ger can taste. They also get milk from their cows every morning and evening. They make cheese from their sheeps and let the cheese “cook” at the top of the ger with the sun. And get tasty meat from their goats.
I think if Genghis Khan would come back form his tomb and see now, thousands of years later, his treasured Mongolia, he would see that, except for the growing capital Ulaan Bataar, nothing has changed: families still live in their gers, about 10 km away from each other, the population remains largely nomadic and lives from its own agriculture, Tibetan Buddhism is practiced every day… And what I like the most is that tourism has adapted 100% to this local culture: you’ll sleep in gers, live with them, help them with the cow, eat their (delicious) food, and play with their children with one of their many games using goat’s ankle bones. Divine treasure the cultural exchange!
For me Mongolia is Peace, Immensity, Beautiful nature, Diversity, Ancient tradition, Tibetan Buddhism, Unexplored land… An amazing place to discover.