The land of the Mongols. The country that got its name and fame because of its association with the great warrior Chengiz Khan is a dichotomy in existence. The ferocious Mongols gave way to one of the most stunning and peaceful countries in the world. Mongolia is contrasted by any means. We begin our trip by first knowing where is Mongolia? It is at the top of China and south of Russia. A landlocked country. We also need to be aware of what is the capital of Mongolia: Ulan Bator, a modern city, will all the amenities beckoning a mobile future.
Its harsh and yet ethereal landscape gives way to warm people. Mongols are as gentle as they come. Hospitality gets redefined in a Mongol home. The country is stark and yet filled with umpteen memories and visuals that set the heart racing. Being an uncommon place to visit, Mongolia attracts more confusion than anything else. Hence it is best to be prepared before you set foot on its land. This article will give a brief idea of what to do in Mongolia.
Let's go and look at what one needs to be prepared for before visiting the world's most sparsely populated country.
Beware of the weather. Mongolia is a hot country, but only when the sun is out, at night, it is freezing. You better be prepared with all the warm clothes that you have at your disposal. The weather is also quite fickle-minded. It can be cloudy at one point in time, and then the sun starts staring down. Also do not forget to bring in your rainy shoes. It rains like there is no tomorrow. It does get a tad overwhelming at times, but then that is how it is.
Well, there aren't many. Mongolia is a vast desert formation, and the roads which we are attuned to are dissimilar to what you will find there. In Mongolia, it is best to call them paths, because that is what they exactly are. The rural countryside is a vast empty land, and looking for a road is mostly a futile exercise. Ulan Bator has good roads, but that is the only large city you will encounter in Mongolia. Not that it is a bad thing. For us, city-bred folks can become a bit disconcerting at first, but Mongolia has a habit of slowly and surely winning over its visitors.
Continuing with the lack of roads, most transport vehicles in the country have padded ceilings. Now I know the reason why. You would like it too.
Transportation is sparse and scarce. Being a country of only 3 million souls and spreading over a vast land with practically no roads in between, finding transportation is often a miracle. Moreover, if you aren't carrying a phone, the task may nigh become impossible. However, this can be taken care of if you have a guide with you. The local populace is also extremely friendly and helpful, and they will ensure your safety at all costs.
Mongolia subsists in two languages: Mongolian and Kazakh. The irony is that Mongolia and Kazakhstan do not share any common boundary though only 37 km separate them. Nonetheless, the majority in the country are not conversant with the English language, and it does become a challenge communicating with the local folks.
There is plenty of food to choose from, but only if you are a non-vegetarian. This landlocked country is a haven for meat lovers, especially if that meat happens to be mutton. There is a mutton everywhere. One of the reasons this is such a delicacy, and the norm is that Mongolia is a mostly harsh desert with few vegetation. Hence, the cuisine generally roams around animal protein. Most of their cuisine revolves around dairy products and meat. Two of the most popular Mongolian dishes are Buuz, which steamed dumplings filled with meat in its core and Khuushuur, which is a meat pie but deep-fried. You can also try Khorkhog, which is a Mongolian Barbecue dish. It is a process whereby the meat is cooked inside a container along with heated water and stones.
Airag is another national obsession. It is fermented horse milk and a favorite across the ages. One of the reasons why it is so sought after is because it is hard to find. Being extremely low on alcohol, children adore it. So while you are on your trips and find your driver guzzling down a bottle of it, do not panic. It will not be considered as drinking and driving.
If you are thinking you can just walk into Mongolia and start hiking all over the place, think again. The country loves bureaucracy. There is a ton of paperwork that needs to be completed before you can even set your foot outside the airport. I think the local authorities and the central ministry is working on it, but that may take time. So permits and passes are the norms for a traveler.
The Ger Rules
The Ger is the customary Mongolian homestay or their place of living. And some rules and etiquettes need to be followed. As I mentioned earlier that Mongolians are generally warm and welcoming, but not following the Ger rules may get them offended. You wouldn't want to break Mongolian hearts. So before you embark into rural Mongolia, which is most of the country, learn them from your local guide.
It is not a difficult task to get a Mongolian visa. The country has permitted citizens of twenty-two countries who would now be able to avail of a visa on arrival. So do check if you happen to be from one of those member countries. The visa does not cost a penny and can last from 30 to 90 days. If you are a US citizen, then you can enjoy a stay of up to 90 days.
Naadam is the national festival of Mongolia. It generally takes place for three days between July 11th to 13th. It is a summer festival and consists of three events, namely, Archery, cross country horse riding and wrestling. The festival is an extravagant affair and is a treat to watch.
Another popular sport during Naadam is the Shagaa or flicking of the sheep's ankle bone, several feet away, at a chosen target.
Horse riding is one of the most traditional Mongolian sports. Every Mongol is expected to know how to ride a horse. However, the most popular sport of Mongolia is wrestling, and they have produced Olympic champions.
The Naadam is celebrated to honor the founding of the great Mongol state. It juxtaposes with the anniversary of the National Democratic Revolution too.
The Mongolia religion consists mainly of Buddhism, with a smaller proportion consisting of other faiths. Shamanism is also part of the Mongolia religion.
Ditch the comfort zone and what to do in Mongolia
Mongolia is not for the prim and the proper traveler. It is a refuge for the adventurous. Get out of your skin and bask the landscape. It is stark, in your face, and dangerously beautiful. It will, at some point in time, overwhelm your senses. The vast openness and the empty horizon will be a different world from the one you inhabit. The silence is pervading too. The Mongolia Capital is a bustling modernist sanctuary, but the rest of the country is untouched.
Let's be honest. Mongolia is not the easiest country to be traveling to. It is not dangerous by any stretch of the imagination, but it still lives amongst ancient times. It is devoid of the many pleasure we are used to. And when you travel to this delightful land, all these modern living traps have to be left behind.
You might want to get hold of a Mongol SIM card, for that would be the wisest of things to do. Also, prepare a route or schedule of your entire trip. I say this because Mongolia can throw pleasant surprises. Every nook and corner of the country is a natural delight. The clouds' play, the paths in the desert who eventually become your partners, the craggy mountains, and the uneven surface all add up to something unimaginable.
Mongolia is a hidden gem. It shocks and awes with plenty to spare. It defines the true meaning of the word exotic. It does not have the usual trappings of a modern society, which Ulan Bator, the Mongolia capital, has plenty. But what it provides in return will stick with you till eternity. The food is tasty, the families warm and the country, an unmistakable paradise.
Imagine a country so in sync with their culture and customs and yet not a tinge shy to reveal it to the world. The land of the nomads and the horses, a meat lover's delight, the hitch hiker's playground, Mongolia is everything and yet so much more. It might give you the feel of the planet Mars, but infinitely more beautiful.
Certainly, many days after you have returned, the Mongolian bugle's distant horn will keep ringing in your ears. The Tsuur is as mesmerizing as the person who plays it. Couple that with the Mongolian cymbal, the Tsan and Olympus will be conquered in a day.
This summer, make your plans and prepare to visit Atlantis, Mongolia, the land of our dreams.