In 2006, Mongolia celebrated the 800th anniversary of its founding by Genghis Khan. Though it’s quite a large country, many Westerners know little about this country which is often mistaken for the Chinese Province of Inner Mongolia.
Landlocked, Mongolia has more than 2,000 miles of border with Russia to its north and more than 2,500 miles of border with China to its south. The vastness of Mongolia offers visitors a landscape which is home to only one person per mile. American travelers in Mongolia usually spend about 14 days, often as an add-on to a China trip. Mongolia is one of the last true nomadic cultures that survives in the world today. Some 40 percent of the population still live the traditional life of the nomad.
Visitors to Mongolia interact with nomadic families in a traditional “ger,” a round dwelling made of felt with a wooden floor. Mongolia is the ancient homeland of horse riding and the Mongolians were the first people to really master it. Mongolia is the original home of the oldest living horse species, the takhi, also called the Przewalski horse.
In July, the annual Mongolia’s Naadam Festival puts nomadic traditions into its “Three Manly Sports”: riding, wrestling and archery. The Naadam Festival is played out in the central stadium in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar and horse racing routes on the surrounding steppe. The festival evokes the country’s warrior and nomadic past with “Mongolian-style Olympic Games” that have evolved since the days of Genghis Khan and his 13th-century army. In the Gobi Desert, visitors can attend camel polo matches.
The steppe is the largest part of the country and is home to mountains, rivers and grasslands. Another big geographical aspect is the Gobi Desert. The western part of the country really attracts the adventure traveler; in the southern part they explore the Gobi which has many fossil remains of dinosaurs and in the eastern part of the country people explore the remnants of the Hunnu Dynasty. Throughout Mongolia there are many cave paintings.
Traditionally, the peak travel season runs from June until the end of September. But the Mongolian winter also offers stalwart visitors so many things to do. Dog sledding, ice fishing; ice skating and other activities give visitors an entirely different experience. The most common way to fly to Mongolia is from Beijing or sometimes Moscow. Ulaanbaatar is served by Chinggis Khaan airport; the national airline is MIAT.