Mongolia is the land of endless sky, of vast horizons of steppe and desert bordered by remote, pristine mountain ranges. Famous for its scenery, Mongolia is a dream for the outdoor adventurer and a warm, welcoming destination for all travelers. The land of Genghis and Kublai Khan, the Mongolian Empire extended as far as east as Korea, south to Vietnam and west to Hungary. Rarely accessible to the outside world until recently, travelers are discovering the gifts of this amazing country; unparalleled star gazing, horseback and camel riding, fossil hunting and overnights in traditional gers in a land of rosy-cheeked smiles!
Even Marco Polo was at a loss for words to describe all he'd seen there. Karakorum was the ancient capitol of the empire and is famous for relics of its glorious past. Its name literally means "capital of the world". The oldest surviving monastery there Erdene Zuu dates from 1586 with 102 stupas and nearby a large stone turtle remains as one of the original cornerstones of the old city. Now an oasis between China and Russia, Mongolia has one of the sparsest population densities in the world and a culture dominated by Tibetan Buddhism and the life of the nomad.
All visits to Mongolia start in the capital city of Ulaan Baatar. In the valley of the Tuul River it houses a third of the nation's population and tradition thrives amongst Soviet-era architecture and suburbs of gers (yurts). Tuts –small independently owned street kiosks line the streets, milk is sold out of old-fashioned farm cans and devotees spin Buddhist prayer wheels in the temples. Visit imposing Sukhbaatar Square, the gold-plated Buddha of Gandan Monastery and the panoramic views from Zaisan Hill Memorial. Bogd Khan Palace Museum was the winter residence of the last monarch while the Museum of Natural History boasts dinosaur skeletons from the Gobi Desert. Shop for luxury cashmere, silk and wool clothing, rugs and handmade felt boots in the shops, stalls and State Department Store of the city
Ulaan Baatar is surrounded by lush green pastures where it feels as if you've stepped into another century – the slower pace of the nomadic lifestyle. Mongolian culture is closely tied to livestock; meat and dairy being the predominant staples, while felt, wool and fabulous cashmere are produced everywhere. Meat filled dumplings or soups and stews with rice and noodles fill the air with inviting fragrance.
The door is always open and a cup of suutei tsai (salty tea with milk) is always waiting! In a country of no fences or locked doors, it is impolite to knock and the rigorous climate and nomadic lifestyle has engendered long-standing traditions of friendliness and hospitality. Part of the charm of this country is its customs and traditions. There are wonderful festivals all year round and if you are lucky enough to be in Mongolia in July, the Naadaam is a definite must-see. This festival is the biggest of the year, running for three days and highlighting the greatest athletes in horse racing, archery and wrestling; the most popular sports.
Outlawed during Communism, old religious and cultural traditions are re-emerging. Singing, music and games help pass the long winters and everyone is expected to join in. Traditional music involves a wide range of instruments and singing styles. Khoomi singing is famous and performances much sought after by visitors Carefully trained male voices produce harmonic overtones from deep in the throat, releasing several notes at once, as if produced by musical instruments.
In the mild, sunny summer, trek out to the Altai Mountains where traditional Kazak falconers still hunt, hike near the Orkhon Waterfall and swim in the clear waters of Lake Khuvsgul or head to the lands of the "lost country" – the Gobi. In Gobi Guryan Saikhan National Park you can ride the two-humped Bactrian camels and wonder at the "singing dunes" of Khongor where the largest dune reaches a height of 800 meters. Mongolians have names for 33 different type of Gobi, where sandy desert occupies only a tiny percentage of the area and the rest is steppe and foothill. Kustain Nuruu is the home of Mongolia's endangered wild Przewalski horses known locally as Takhi (spirit) horses.
Camp out in a traditional ger, visit with a herdsman's family and travel back in time, to a place where the modern world seems to disappear. Let the beauty of Mongolia envelope you!