Two Mongolian Wild Ass (Khulan) in Mongolia's southern Gobi
Mongolian Conservation And Research Expedition
June 16, 2018
Mongolian wrestlers doing their famous 'eagle dance' prior to competing at the Mongolian wrestling competition
Your guide to Mongolian Wrestling
July 12, 2018
Mongolian gers in the wide open steppe landscape of Mongolia. This is the real Mongolia.

 The Real Mongolia

Here at EL, my team are Mongolian. From east, west, north and south. From the Gobi Desert, from the flat eastern grasslands, from the snow-capped Altai, from alpine Khovsgol, from Kharkhorin – the ancient capital of Ogodei Khan and from Mongolia’s capital city – Ulaanbaatar. They cover between them the immensity that is Mongolia.  We were recently discussing what we consider the real Mongolia. These are our thoughts. All of the following can be found as part of the Mongolia tours that we offer.

A typical Mongolian ger out on the Mongolian steppe. In this image you can see the families working horses waiting to be ridden as well as the hand-made dairy products drying in the sun. This is the real Mongolia.

Don’t Rush

Mongolian’s have a relaxed attitude to time and are famous for their relaxed timekeeping.  They are typically laid back and don’t let their lives be constrained by deadlines. Why would you when you’re surround by all that rolling steppe?

Why wear a watch when you can tell the time by the sun?

View out over Gorkhi Terelj National Park, Mongolia. This is the real Mongolia.

 

As a visitor, consider slowing down and not rushing to try and fit in what are termed the highlights. Consider the middle places – those not listed or celebrated by idealistic images . The power of any of Mongolia’s landscapes (and the horizons that are so expansive that they also become part of the landscape) is an integral part of any journey. The people of Mongolia are well-matched to the land they inhabit and by travelling through the diversity of Mongolia’s landscapes, you can start to understand how the landscapes have helped to form the Mongolian personality  – the sturdy individualism, their hardiness, endurance, self-sufficiency, tolerance and definitely their spirit of freedom.

You can’t do that from inside a domestic airport, waiting for your flight down to the southern Gobi for a quick tour of the iconic sights.

Don’t be scared off by the thought of mutton

Mongolia might be more famous for people’s negative reaction towards the local cuisine, but try to put it into context. Why do they eat what they eat?  Simple base materials are processed with a surprising variety of methods and combined with vegetables and handmade noodles and other flour products such as dumplings and pancakes.

Mongolian dumplings being made by hand. This is the real Mongolia.

 

Don’t be scared off by the reputation of  Mongolian cuisine and just choose a tour that promises a fusion of modern Asian-Western cuisine cooked up by a private chef.  We love drinking suutei tsai (Mongolian milk tea) with our host families. We also love homemade clotted cream (orom) with jam on fresh bread, wild forest berries on homemade yoghurt, or freshly fried mutton pancakes (khuurshuur) at a road side guanz (a cafe – sometimes in a ger). The local smoked fish and ‘hot rock’ goat (khorkhog) are also delicious.

Be brave. Give it a go!

* It is possible to visit Mongolia as a vegetarian and vegan. And for all, when the Mongolian cuisine gets too much, head to UB with its fantastic array of restaurants serving everything from locally-sourced vegetarian meals to Indian, Korean and even Peruvian.

Embrace the rain

Mongolia does actually receive little rain compared to elsewhere in the world. Mongolia is called the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky because of … well, the blue sky. Roughly 250-260 days per year are without cloud. However, if you want to experience those blue sky days it’s best to come in the … winter. Yep, then you only have to contend with the freezing temperatures instead.

Basically, the high central Asian mountain ranges of the Himalayas and the Altai protect Mongolia against the humid air masses. A big block of cold dry air sits on top of the country and prevents the low-pressure rain filled air getting through – keeping things dry – especially in winter.

Rainfall is a fragile commodity. And that’s important in a country with roughly 67  million head of livestock and where 30-40% are still herders.

It’s not all grey depressing skies. The weather systems do (typically) move through quite quickly. When it does rain adjust your thinking and see it from the perspective of a Mongolian herder – rain is a blessing as it helps to rejuvenate the grasslands and bring fresh rich pasture.

A beautiful view of the summer grasslands of Mongolia - taken on a blue sky day in the central Khangai Mountains. This is the real Mongolia.

So. When you visit Mongolia this summer, don’t get grumpy when it rains. Bring the waterproofs as well as your sunglasses and accept that it might rain. Embrace it when it does.

Spend time in Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar (or UB as it is known to locals) is the capital city of Mongolia. It divides visitors into two strong categories of take it or leave it.  It has its origins as a nomadic city and is now home to approximately 45% of Mongolia’s population. Yes, UB can be a difficult city to get to know and sometimes even like.  But, don’t dismiss it too quickly, it’s a city worth spending time in.

Yes, it has it’s issues. To name a few…planning, traffic congestion, pollution, issues with garbage disposal, sewage, and other waste management infrastructure. Social inequality. Lack of investment in public transportation. It is also said to be the coldest capital in the world.

Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city. This is the real Mongolia

 

The colourful roofs of a ger district area of Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city. This is the real Mongolia

 

It is a tough, modern and cosmopolitan city full of contrasts and extremes.  It is also the cultural and business centre of Mongolia and a thriving urban hub. It maintains a strong Mongolian identity of its own. It is strongly keeping time with the beat of the 21st century. But commerce and technology rub shoulders with tradition.

There are cocktails to be drunk, live concerts  (opera, ballet, Sate Philharmonic Orchestra, rap) to listen to, wrestling matches to watch, art galleries to visit, workshops of a traditional bow-maker to experience, local cafes to sit in, local food markets to explore … you get the idea.

That’s our short guide to experiencing what we term the ‘real’ Mongolia. You can explore further about why you can travel with us on this link.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
Sign up to our Newsletter

Written by Jess - the founder of Eternal Landscapes - there's no spam, no sharing your details and no random offers. It goes out once or twice a month. Hopefully enough to be of interest but not too much to annoy.

We respect your privacy.