Travelling is all about exploring new cultures, food, history and the people that reside there. Along with that it can be about the nature and physical terrains which can be starkly different from our own countries. Mongolia is an appealing place to visit due to it remoteness and it’s classed as a more off the beaten track experience.
Where is Mongolia?
Mongolia is a landlocked country that is situated between Russia and China and it falls in East Asia. Mongolia has a population of approx 3 million people living in it. It has a terrain which is known for the Gobi Desert in the South and mountains lie in the North and West. Mongolia is the 18th largest country of the world. The whole country falls in the Mongolian Plateau. The country shares the Uvs Lake with Russia, which is a world heritage site. It is basically divided into 5 distinct regions: Central Mongolia, Eastern Mongolia, Gobi, Northern Mongolia and Western Mongolia.
How to get to Mongolia?
If you are visiting Mongolia, then the best way to do so is by a plane. Some countries get a free visa to enter, please check online to see if your country is included, or else you will require a proper visa to get inside Mongolia. When you are flying from another country, you will seldom get a direct flight into the country. You will often have to take a first flight to Seoul and Beijing to reach Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. They do increase their flight frequencies in the peak tourist seasons.
Mongolia is known for its fresh climate. The country is known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky” or “Country of Blue Sky” because it has over 250 sunny days a year. The country tends to get too hot in the summer and it does get too cold in the winter. Sometimes it drops as much as low as -30 degree Centigrade. The cold generally tends to get through Serbia which tends to have very harsh weather. So, it isn’t favourable for tourists to tour the country in such condition’s. Sometimes even the locals have to leave their places because of its harshness. Most people tend to visit the country between the months of May and September. July is the month that sees the most people especially during the Naadam holiday. People do enjoy the country during the November month as well. The Lunar New Celebrations are also an important tourist visiting time in Mongolia. The country is also focusing on their Winter tourism as visitors may want to see the country during these months.
The currency of Mongolia is Mongolian tögrög and its symbol is MNT. The togrog stands for circle or circular object like a coin. The currency started circulating in 1925. Currently, the bank notes that are in circulation 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and the coins are 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 tögrög. You can use them throughout the country to avail different services and to buy products. You can change currency in the airport or inn various exchanges.
Mongolia is a country with a lot of history. Homo erectus inhabited Mongolia and modern humans reached the country around 40,000 years ago during the Upper Palaeolithic age. The inhabitation of Nomads started right from the pre-historic times. Genghis Khan is a popular icon in the history of Mongolia. He not only unified the nation but also enhanced the trade between the country and other countries. Altan Khan and his chance meeting with Dalai Lama in 1578 made the way to introduce Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolia. There was an influence of the Qing Dynasty in the early 1900’s but soon it failed due to several reasons. There were recurring problems with China and the Soviet Union. In 1945, the Outer Mongolia changed into the independent Mongolia and the inner Mongolia was included inside China. The Secret History of the Mongols is an important text to every Mongolian and they read it several times. Along, with the usual Mongolian language, several other non-Mongolian languages are also prevalent in the country.
One of the most important public festivals of the country is Nadaam which is a festival of games. The largest one is held during 11th and 13th July in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The main sport events are horse racing, wrestling and archery. The Lunar New Year or the Tsagaan Sar is an important festival for the family, people visit each other and they give presents. The clothing and dressing style has remained quite similar to that of the earlier days. They generally consist of a deel or kaftan. Eminent married women often wear elaborate headdresses. The design and colour of deel may change depending on the class and belonging of a person. People love to play games like chess and checkers. Dominoes is widely played as well. Mongolians are quite hospitable to their guests as it is an important part of their culture. .
Mongolia as a country is very warm to their tourists. In Mongolia you can have a very different experience as you can experience the foods of Nomads who are a huge part of the country. The main food ingredients utilised in their food are milk, meat and animal fats. The food is often simple but the experience is quite amazing when you are having it in the country of its origin. So, here are some of the dishes that you need to have in Mongolia:
- Airag: fermented mare’s milk: This dish is a favourite among people in Mongolia and it is said to have cleansing properties. It is slightly alcoholic but it does taste a little bitter and sour. The milk is generally collected during mid-June and early October which is the milking season for horses. You get fermented camel milk at some places as well.
- Buuz and Khuushuur: If you visit Mongolia during the Lunar New Year you will definitely get to eat a lot of Buuz. It is a kind of steamed dumpling filled with minced meat, onion, garlic and sometimes it may also include mashed potato, rice or cabbage. The most common meat used for the filling is mutton but sometimes people use beef as an alternative. Khuushuur is another similar dish that is fried dumplings and it is mostly associated with the festival of Naadam. It is friend in mutton grease which does add another layer of taste to it.
- Mutton Kebabs: You cannot leave Mongolia without tasting their quintessential mutton dishes. As their main source of meat is mutton they do like to use it in different dishes. In all types of festivals, especially during Naadam they have mutton kebabs. Most restaurants have them and the unique taste comes from the layer of mutton fat added on the kebabs. They may also add a piece of potato between each kebab.
- Milk Tea: Milk is yet another ingredient that is important in the Mongolian culture. It is a speciality of the Mongolian household and they add salt to it. Every household prepares it for their guests as a token of their love. You can find this tea across Mongolia and you will be lucky to have it at someone’s house.
- Ul Boov: In Mongolia this is known as the shoe sole cake as it looks like one and it is quite important as an offering in the Lunar New Year. It is used as a centrepiece in the houses at that time. It forms like a cake tower with several shoe sole patterned pieces, sugar and sweet hard cheese, aarul. The print that is made on the individual cakes is different from house to house because the wooden block is different for all and it is an heirloom for them. The stack symbolises Mount Sumeru which is important in Buddhism. The sweet is soft and often has a filling which is quite tasty.
You can find different interesting accommodation options when you are in Mongolia. You can even avail homestays where the local people provide a place to the tourists.
- Yurts or the traditional Mongolian huts has to the one of a time experience that every tourist should have. Locally Mongolians refer to them as Ger. They are made by using wood and bamboo. It is mostly self-supporting but modern big yurts may have support on the inside. These days they may add modern things to make them more sturdy. You can book yurts at different places in Mongolia and stay there to have the time of your life. Often homestays have their own set of Gers which they provide to the tourists.
- Hotels and resorts are always an option when you are in an international country. In the major cities and also in famous tourist spots there are hotels that you will find very comfortable. The internet will be the best place to book these hotels as you will get a whole assortment. It is best to check the amenities before you finally book a hotel.
Top Places to Visit in Mongolia:
While you are visiting a new country you need to know some key places where you should visit. There can be some places of historical importance and some which are made just for the tourists. In Mongolia you can visit the natural places and also some which are important to the religion of the country.
- Ulaanbaatar: This is the capital city of the country and also the one that has the most population. It is quite modern and has both the old and new combined into a unique beauty. There are enticing skyscrapers in the city and you will get a nightlife that will be worthy of seeing.
- Chinggis Square: This place is situated in the heart of Ulaanbaatar. It is a commemoration to Damdin Sükhbaatar who declared Mongolia’s independence from China in 1921. So, it does play an important in the modern history of Mongolia. Its former name was Sükhbaatar square but it got renamed in 2013 and again in 2016 it was restored to the original.
- Gandantegchinlen Monastery: The green roofs and the white walls of the monastery sets it apart from the rest of the environment present at the place. Right now it is a practicing monastery and it was built during the 19th century. One of the main attraction of the place is the statute of Migjid Janraisig who was a Buddhist deity.
- Altai Tavan Bogd National Park: You need to visit this place which falls in the borders of Russia and China in western Mongolia. The place has some of the loftiest peaks of the country including important glaciers. The Petroglyph Complexes of the Mongolian Altai are also present here is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lake Khovsgol: Another natural beauty of the country and it is the second largest water body of it. It is situated in the foothills of the Sayan Mountains. The deep blue colour of the lake looks quite beautiful. The lake now falls in a national park and they try to protect the water of the lake. The colour also gives it the name of dark blue pearl of Mongolia.
- Khustai National Park: The steppes are an important part of the natural beauty of the country. This place is named after a birch tree which grows in the area. You can see different types of animals like the red deer, white tailed gazelles, roe deer etc. At the place you can also see the Ongot’s man monuments, Hunnu’s rectangular tombs and temple ruins.
- Gobi Desert: When in Mongolia, no one can miss the Gobi Desert. It has the Khongoryn Els which are the singing dunes. You can see the two-humped camel which is only surviving at this place. Some of the important spots in the desert are the Eagle valley and Bayazang. The desert was also the place where important pre-historic evidences were found.
- Amarbayasgalant Monastery: This monastery has 28 temples inside of it and the place is quite spectacular. It is situated in the Ivon Gol River Valley. The scenic beauty of the place is spectacular and the sculptures present at the place are really eye catching.
- Gun Galuut Natural Reserve: Natural reserves are important locations for a country as it holds several important fauna and flora. The unique thing about this natural reserve is its preserved ecosystems. The area contains steppes, lakes, river, mountains etc. which add to the beauty of it. It is also the home for many endangered animals.
- Gurvan Tsenkher Cave: History is a subject that interests many people. Those will definitely like this place because of its significance to the evolution of human life. It is present in the Khovd provide of the country. There are cave paintings that go back to 20,000 years hailing from the Palaeolithic age. This is a one of kind site present in Mongolia.
- Khogno Khan Natural Reserve: The 181 square mile of the park is surrounded by a sacred chain of marble mountains known as Khogno Khan. The contrast of the rocky mountains with the desert grasslands look extensively beautiful and there are special Ger where people can spend their night.
- Uvs Lake and the Uvs Nuur Basin: This place is one of the two UNESCO world heritage sites present in Mongolia. It is a highly saline lake that the country shares with Russia. It is the largest lake present in the country in terms of surface area. Tes-Khem River is the main river that drains into the lake. Tourists will like to see several mammals like the red deer, musk deer etc. which are important to the place. Along with that the basin is also a place where they can know about the evidenced of the late Palaeolithic age.
- Orkhon valley monument: Orkhon valley is not only an UNESCO world heritage site of Mongolia but it also has a significant cultural history for it. It is situated along the banks of the Orkhon river and represent the evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions encompassing over two millennia. Everyone should visit the monuments as they are historically very crucial for the country.
- Ongi River and Temple: Ongi is a river that is spread over four hundred kilometres in India. There are two important monasteries that are present in the banks of the river. They have ruins of temples which were constructed during the 17th century. Visitors can enjoy the scenic beauty of the place along with the historically and culturally important temples.
- The Mother Tree: Culture and beliefs are important part of a country. There is a part of Mongolia that till believes in the Shaman religion. For them the Mother Tree or Eej Mod holds special importance. The real tree got destroyed by lightening in 2015. But now the stump of the tree is a dedicated shrine to the people. Tourists can visit northern Mongolia to see the distinct culture and beauty of the place.
- Erdene Zuu: The name of this monastery means the “100 Treasures” signifying the several temples and stupas that surrounded it. It may date back to the 16th century and it is thought to be the oldest in the country which stands till date. The monastery faced a blow in the 1930’s and currently it is both a monastery and a museum. Visitors should definitely visit this site.
When you are at a new place you need to know about the ways in which you can get around. In Mongolia you get several options when it comes to transportation:
- Plane: If you are used to planes then you can book the several domestic flights that go to and fro between the important cities. It is best to book the domestic flights in advance.
- Car: You can also travel by cars but the terrain is not always favourable to do so. It is popular to go by jeeps as they are quite adjustable with the different places. People can also book a chartered jeep for private use.
- Bus: Local buses are one of the best ways to get around the country. There are different buses to go at the various places. You will often get to know about the destination through the card kept in front of the bus. The buses often start from the bus stations and you need to book the bus tickets on time.
- In Mongolia there are 13% more horses than humans in Mongolia.
- The Gobi Desert which is situated in Mongolia is the fifth largest desert in the world and the largest in Asia.
- Dinosaur bones were first discovered in 1922 by Roy Chapman Andrews.
- The two-humped Bactrian camel is native to Mongolia and an annual festival called the Thousand Camel Festival is held in the country. The main aim of the festival is to make people aware of the camels. Even the snow leopard is native to the country.
- The national sport of the county is wrestling and it was introduced 7000 years ago.
- The Golden Eagle Festival is an eagle hunting festival which is held in the country.
- Outside Ulaanbaatar there is a 131-foot statue of Genghis Khan.
- More than one quarter of the country consist of nomad population.
- Mongolian is the official language of the country and around 90% of the population uses it. But Russian is the second-most used language in the country.
In conclusion, we can say that Mongolia is a really great place to visit if you want to see a place that still has intact natural beauty. It is an extensive country and you can see different place with a variety. So, definitely give it a though to visit it as soon as possible.