We recently asked our tour leaders and staff which was their favourite country to travel - whether leading a tour or from a more personal point of view. One country consistently came out on top - Mongolia.
Our Commercial Director Liddy Pleasantsdescribed it as "one of the few places where you can really get a feel for the nomadic way of life and because the immensity of both the Mongolian steppe and the Gobi desert have to be seen to be believed. And because there are not many other destinations where you can sit around the fire at night and hear the wolves baying from the other side of the mountain!".
Jessica Brooks, one of our tour leaders, has written a detailed description of this amazing country. On reading it, we certainly wanted to book on the next flight to Ulaan Bataar!
Mongolia is a wide-open space comprising of 1.5 million square kilometres of unfenced and unowned land. There is a traditional Mongolian saying 'Man's joy is in wide open and empty spaces' and nowhere illustrates this better. A population of 2.4 million in a land the size of Western Europe leads to a population density of 1.4 people per square kilometre. It’s a land that stretches from horizon to horizon in bands of colour and constantly shifting and changing light and shadows. From south to north it is a land of extreme climate and extraordinary natural environment.
The Gobi simply means desert. The coldest and northernmost in the world! 500,000 square miles of shrub, scrub, salt and soda lakes, and gravel plains. Not barren but a land waiting to be watered - at the slightest precipitation it blooms. The Steppe is a sea of grass spanning Eurasia. The grasslands represent the heartland of Mongolia geographically and economically. From the pasture stems wealth starting with the '5 Snouts' - camels, yak/cattle, sheep, goats and horses - equalling roughly 34 million head of livestock. It is here you will find the ancient capital city of Ogodei Khan - Karakorum. From here the Mongol Empire was ruled, an empire where from 'the borders of Poland to the shores of the Yellow Sea hardly a dog could bark without leave'.
The northern regions are part of the vast forested regions of southern Siberia, the largest continuous forest system on earth. It is between the Steppe and this forested Steppe region that tribes, the forefathers of the Mongols, since the earliest times moved across the great Central Asian plains in their primitive clan structures.
All roads lead back to Ulaan Bataar....Red Hero, a name given in the name of a revolution that brought independence and triumph. From a nomadic encampment to a centre of Buddhist pilgrimage and religious teaching. To a place of trade with streets filled with camel caravans filled with tea, wool and fur. To a city curtailed by 69 years of Russian imperialism and then liberated by pro-democracy demonstrations and hunger strikes. Where now a horse-drawn nomad’s cart pulls up alongside a top-range Landcruiser. A mixture of modern and tradition, of nomads and urbanites, of soviet apartments and ger districts.
The attitude of Mongolians is profoundly connected with the great open spaces, with nature and the elements. It’s a way of life that has bred a reverence for the natural world, with the eternal blue sky the most powerful and mighty of all forces. Chinngis Khan believed he conquered with the Rule of Heaven - the supreme sky god Tenger. It’s a combination of shamanistic and Buddhist belief that to this day remains an easy and unselfconscious part of Mongolia.
Mongolians are well matched to the land they inhabit. The ger, the felt dwelling that graces the Mongolian countryside from the hillsides of UB to the desert south and the frozen north, has evolved since ancient times to suit the needs of the Mongolian people when following their herds to new pastures. The confines of ger life tighten family strength and unity and help to overcome poverty. Nomads follow rhythms dictated by established practice and unexpected extremes. Hardiness, endurance, self-suffiency, tolerance, self-assuredness, pride, spirit of freedom and a sense of hospitality. This hospitality leads to a Mongolian proverb 'Happy is he with whom guests frequent. Joyful is he whose dear guests’ horses are always present'.
A land where the State Emblem dates back to the Spirit Banner constructed by the nomadic warriors tying strands of hair from the best stallion horses to the shaft of their spears - Chinngis Khan had one white Spirit Banner used in peace and one black used for guidance in war. Where families still gather at the Chinngis Khan International Airport to throw milk to departing relatives - an ancient custom meaning ‘we will wait to see you again with happiness’. A land where the capital city comes to a standstill and grown men cry in celebration when Mongolia wins its first ever Olympic gold. A land of herdsmen and horses - the symbol of free spirit and independence.
A mesmerising mix. Come and feel small and insignificant. Feel the strength and do battle with the elements. Listen to songs of mother, horses and love. Drink from impromptu bowls of airag and arihk. Listen to a land filled with silence and the sweep of an eagle’s wings. It will restore your sense of the earth’s immensity. Mongolia.
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