Outer Mongolia is an independent democracy lodged between China and Russia.
Imagine waking one morning and discovering yourself surrounded by endless steppe. In the distance, you can see a glacier-topped mountain. A hundred meters away you can hear the gurgling of a stream. On the horizon, you can just spot your nearest neighbor galloping after his herds.
You're sure you parked your camel next to the ger last night, but somehow it has wandered off again!
Welcome to Mongolia!
Three hundred years after the exploits of Genghis Khan large parts of Mongolia fell under Chinese rule. The Manchus called the region closest to Chinese civilization "Inner Mongolia" and the northern part "Outer Mongolia."
Since then, Outer Mongolia has held a wild and remote reputation which it has never shaken off.
Let me take you on a quick tour...
Southern Mongolia consists mainly of desert.
The word 'desert' translates into Mongolian as "gobi," pronounced "goiv."
Technically "gobi" refers to an area of land with enough vegetation to maintain camels, but not enough for marmots. It's an extremely fragile environment where a little overgrazing can take the desert beyond even the camel's reach!
The northern and western portions of Mongolia include both glacier covered mountains and ancient forests.
A mountain climbing paradise, many people visit just for the fresh air and scenery.
The Mongolian steppe occupies most of eastern and central Mongolia.
The steppe harbors many threatened and endangered species. These species include: the world's last wild horse; wild Bactrian camels; wild mountain sheep and the wild ass. More exotic animals include: the Gobi bear; the long-horned antelope; and the snow leopard.
The steppe contains both fresh and salt water lakes. One of the lakes - Khuvsgul - contains two percent of the World's fresh water!
Countless rivers supply the lakes, including: the Onon, Khovd, Tuul and Selenge. More than fifty unique species of fish live in these rivers!
Over a million nomads wander the steppe.
Nomads live in round felt tents called gers - yurts in Russian. Their life revolves around thousands of years of tradition and culture. Tradition even dictates the direction they should walk in a ger!
The nomadic people of the Mongolian steppe are the most hospitable people on earth. Any tour should include a night or two with them - at least drop in for a cup of salty tea!
Yes, many of Genghis Khan's descendants have become urbanized and live in a handful of cities.
In Genghis Khan's day, urbanites lived in the capital - Karakorum. Genghis Khan's grandson, Khubilai Khan, moved the capital to Beijing. Today the capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator - spelled Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia.
Urban Mongolians enjoy all the benefits of city life, including internet cafés, designer clothes, the latest hand phones and highrise shopping malls.
But the Mongols haven't lost sight of their nomadic roots... oh no. Trying to keep track of Mongol friends, especially in summer, can be a hard task.
Mongolian culture revolves around its nomadic roots...
Christianity and shamanism dominated at the time of Genghis Khan. After Genghis Khan's death, Buddhism became the dominant religion.
But this all changed in the twentieth century when the Soviet Union destroyed almost every religious institution.
Since democracy arrived in the 1990s, Mongolia has reclaimed its past. Buddhism now dominates, and shamanism is growing in popularity. Other religions are also prospering, the number of Christians has grown from four in 1989 to several thousand today.
But it is shamanism which continues to flavor religious belief in Mongolia. Shamanistic beliefs have crept into every religion.
It's hard to raise a choir or even a quartet on the steppe. So Mongolians have developed a method of singing where the singer produces two notes at the same time. Called khoomei - Mongolian throat singing, in English - it sounds magical.
Musical instruments also have a nomadic flavor. One popular Mongolian instrument is a horse head fiddle, stringed with - you guessed it - hair from a horses tail.
Raising a quartet is difficult - imagine trying to raise a football team!
With the sparsest population in the world, Mongolia developed solo sports.
Over the years three sports have taken precedence in Mongolian hearts: wrestling, archery and horse racing.
Every July people gather to compete in a sporting contest called Naadam. Naadam officially takes place between July eleventh and thirteenth. But in the countryside any July day will do.
Why July? July has the best weather...
Mongolia has 257 days of blue sky a year. Even so the temperature can vary from between minus-fifty and plus-fifty Celsius.
July and August have the sunniest weather. But you might want to avoid December through March when everything ices over for four months.
Then again maybe you like sledding with huskies cross-country!
Interested? Stop reading, come visit!
Mongolia will provide you with memories that last a lifetime . . .
Things to see: the Gobi desert; dinosaur graveyards; Genghis Khan's birthplace; Buddhist temples; two-humped camels; vast, empty spaces; wild, untamed nature; and much more.
Here are some activities to consider: racing across the steppes on a camel, horse or mountain bike; white water rafting; fishing; camping; stargazing; sledding; just breathing pure air...
Contact me if you need help finding a good tour operator. Mongolia has more than 452 - not all of them good!
Getting here is easy...
The scenic route is the trans-Siberian. The Russian trans-Siberian line branches off at Ulan Ude, to join the trans-Mongolian line. This line connects Russia with China. If you stay on board, you will pass through ghost towns, steppe, the capital of Mongolia and the Gobi desert.
The adventurous route prize goes to the Mongol Rally - a ten-thousand mile car trip from Europe right through Asia.
The common-sense way is to arrive on a plane. Several countries offer direct flights to Ulaan Baatar.
Read more about how to get to Mongolia on my travel to Mongolia page.
Want to learn more about Mongolia before you come?
Since I live and breathe in Mongolia, I naturally get to hear a lot of Mongolia news. I filter out the best and most appropriate to send to you!