Mongolia is one of the world’s most untamed countries. This exotic land may be considered the last frontier in Asia, and despite a history that includes such all-powerful warlords and diplomats as Ghengis and Kublai Khan–roving horsemen who’s bands of warrior-statesmen were responsible for unifying the largest empire in history–it seems amazing this country has kept it’s independence, existing between such giants as China and Russia. But Mongolia survives, through harsh winters, a serious lack of infrastructure, and few natural resources… In Mongolia, you are nothing if not a survivor.
Many Mongolian people are nomads who depend on their herds of sheep, goat, cattle, horse, and yak. Most Mongolians live in gers–traditional white felt tents that can easily be broken down and moved (this is even true in the cities). A family’s ger will have many religious and superstitious rules associated with them, and it’s suggested that you gain an understanding of these rules if you’re ever invited inside.
Traveling in Mongolia
The easiest way to get to Mongolia is to fly through Beijing, Moscow, or Berlin. Mongolia’s international airline, called MIAT, will get you there, but there is no guarantee when that will be, as flights are routinely canceled due to poor weather conditions. You can also reach Mongolia by way of the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which links Moscow and Beijing, or by crossing the border from Russia or China in a car (though, technically, this is still illegal).
Once inside the country, getting around is usually done via MIAT flights to one of the over 80 rustic regional airports across Mongolia. But buying tickets can be complicated because of low-technology: the airline has no computerized reservation system, forcing passengers to depend on one-way flights wherever they go. Be aware that flight times change regularly, with little or no notice; foreigners typically pay more for their tickets than Mongolian residents; and the airports are often little more than a dirt tracks on which to land.
There is bus service throughout the country, but the journeys are slow, delays are common for a variety of reasons, and schedules change often. You can also rent a jeep, but it’s advised to do so only with a guide, as breakdowns and accidents are common, but gas and good roads are not.
Weather in Mongolia
With 260 clear-sky days a year, Mongolia sounds like a sun worshipper’s paradise (in fact, it’s commonly known as the “Land of Blue Sky”). But the extreme climate varies greatly. Mongolia’s long winters keep some lakes frozen until June with temperatures dropping down to -22°F. The rainy season is short–lasting only from July until September–and the showers tend to be brief and gentle. The interior is dominated by the sprawling Gobi Desert, which gets just enough precipitation to support scattered herds of livestock and wild horses. Mongolia’s high altitude makes for cool evenings in the summer, while the spring is accented by terrible dust storms.
Population: 2.6 million
Government: Communist Republic
Square Miles: 610,740 sq mi (1,566,000 sq km)
Capitol: N’Djamena (pop 700,000)
Official Language: Mongolian, Turkic, Russian, Chinese
People: Khalkh Mongols (86%), Kazaks (2%), Chinese (2%), Russian (2%), about a dozen other ethnic groups
Religion: Tibetan Buddhism, Muslim, Shamanism
Major products/industries: Copper, livestock, cashmere, wool