Perspective: CNN included Mongolia in the list of its most ethical travel destinations for the year 2016.
That’s why we the Mongolians say “it’s always better to see once through one’s eyes than to hear other’s saying it many times”. This prompts me to share my humble thoughts with my friends in Bhutan on what Mongolia could actually offer to travellers who dare to visit a relatively unchartered land in Asia.
Prior to this, I should say there are many similarities between Bhutan and Mongolia in terms of topography, religion, way of living and so on.
Mongolia is a sparsely populated landlocked country with four distinct seasons. The Altai-Khanghai mountain range with its eternally snow-capped peaks and glaciers comprise two-thirds of its land, which is roughly three times the size of France or nearly as big as Alaska.
The mountainous areas include wet meadow pastures and seemingly endless steppe. There are thousands of lakes and rivers. There is bright sunshine for about 300 days a year. Though annual precipitation is merely 224mm of rainfall in the months of July and August, it is enough to swell the rivers.
The majority of the open grasslands are fertile soil in contrast to the arid lands of the Gobi desert. Winter continues from November to April with frequent snow blizzards followed by windy but an amazingly refreshing spring. All the four seasons are ideal for adventure tourism.
Nearly one tenth of Mongolia is forested land that lies mainly in the northern region. It is home to wolf, wild boar, elk, moose, deer, caribou, antelope and brown bears. Remote mountains are home to wild cats such as the lynx and the snow leopard. Steppes and forest margins support marmot, muskrat, fox, steppe fox and sable.
Mongolia is also a home to wild ass, wild camel, wild sheep and also nocturnal yellow Gobi bear (mazaalai). The wild horse (takhi) is being reintroduced from captive herds in Holland and the Czech Republic at the Khustai sanctuary. Today, Mongolia is indeed a conducive itinerary for eco-tourism.
Birdlife is rich and includes the golden eagle, bearded vulture and other birds of prey, while the lakes are a habitat for water birds including storks, herring gull and relict gull from India.
The 2,000 lakes support 50 species of fish unique to Mongolia. Hunters and fly-fishers visit there to replenish their trophies.
Throughout the centuries Mongolians have been engaging with pastoral animal husbandry, which is intrinsically interwoven with their nomadic lifestyle. Even today, nearly 40 percent of households look after nearly 60 million (M) sheep, goats, horses, camels and cows that turned into a distinct attraction for urban hibernators from near and far.
As a travel destination, Mongolia enthrals visitors with its picturesque natural sceneries, variegated landscapes, vast open steppes, pale ontological and historical heritages blended with the nomadic lifestyle and culture of the natives, which adds an amazing twist. One can enjoy leisure tourism such as horse riding, bird watching, hiking, hunting and fishing.
The vast expanse and hospitable nomadic lifestyle makes Mongolia not only a conducive environment for horse riding but also a wonderful lifelong experience. With few roads, trackless mountains and open steppe with rich fauna, it offers excellent opportunities for bird watching and hiking. In the recent years, auto rallies through Mongolia have become a trend amongst Europeans.
Historical vestiges of stone monuments, deer stones, rock drawings and forgotten tombs always stir the intellectually inspired travellers. One can get acquainted with nearly a dozen well-maintained museums including the new dinosaur museum.
Shamanism had prevailed in Mongolia, which left its mark on native culture and traditional rituals and gradually gave way to Buddhism, while Kazakhs residing in western Mongolia traditionally adhere to Islam. The different religious faiths add their respective shades to the present day spiritual landscape in Mongolia.
The ancient Mongolian capital, Chinggis Khan’s fabled city Kharkhorim, was founded in 1220 in the Orkhon valley at the crossroads of Silk Road. It was from there that the Mongol Empire had been governed until Khublai Khan moved it to Beijing. From there one may proceed to the Ulaan tsutgalan waterfall.
If you visit Mongolia in summer, you can enjoy its wide range of colourful events including our National Day – Naadam, which is celebrated in a traditional way. It falls from July 11 to 13. Mongolian national wrestling, horse racing, archery and anklebone shooting are the main composition of the festival. Naadam begins with an elaborated introductory ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, musicians and open-air gala concert in the evening.
Mongolian horse racing as featured in Naadam is a cross-country event with races from 15 to 30km depending on the horses’ age. For example, there are two-year-old horse races for 10 miles and seven-year-old horses for 17 miles.
Both men and women can participate in the archery competition. Men shoot their arrows from 65 metres away. Traditionally, archers wear their national gown (deel) during the competition
Mongolian archery is unique for having not only one target but also dozens of cubic. After each hit, a secondant repairs the damaged wall and makes it ready for the next attempt. The winners of the contest are granted the titles of ‘National marksman’ or ‘National markswomen’.
Come to Mongolia but don’t forget to pack your sunglasses and hat as the sun is overwhelmingly generous like the hearts of Mongols, even in the winter.
The author is the Ambassador of Mongolia to Bhutan.