3 Million Reasons to Visit Mongolia: The Land of Chinggis Khan

by on November 16th, 2014
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I remember, as a child, pestering my mother over and over for a biscuit, tugging at the hem of her skirt as she tried to get on with the housework, whining in the annoying high pitched wail peculiar to the most annoying of children until my mother finally snapped. She spun around, glared into my eyes and yelled ‘If you don’t behave, young man, I’ll damn well post you to Outer Mongolia!’

Fast forward two decades to a sunny August day this year, the day of my long suffering mother’s birthday. I stood on the balcony of my apartment and looked out on the view of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, my home. I took out my phone, dialled my mother to wish her a happy birthday, but first asked if I could please have a biscuit.

For years I’d dreamed of visiting the fabled land of Mongolia; not for any reason I could readily identify but – and I’d guess this is the case for many in the west – because the country has for many years been a byword for the remote. In the western mind Mongolia has taken on a semi-mythical status, of a wild and untamed land where nomads roam the ragged edge of civilisation.

Today, as the formerly barred and gated lands east of the Iron Curtain continue to flourish and bloom, it has never been easier to visit Mongolia. If you’d like to see for yourself I’d warn you to go sooner rather than later, though, as the mythical Mongolia is all too quickly giving way to the pressures of the western world. Before too long the land of the nomads and broad blue sky may be just another holiday destination.

Why Mongolia?

Mongolia is, quite simply, one of the most unusual nations on earth. Sandwiched between the behemoths of Russia and China, Mongolia has for centuries battled great powers to maintain a grip on its native culture. The country is three times the size of France but has a population of just three million. In comparison Beijing, the closest city of any note to the borders of Mongolia, has a population of 22 million. There is, then, a good reason for Mongolia’s reputation as remote and isolated.

Beyond the relatively bustling capital city of Ulaanbaatar, a modern metropolis of around 1.5 million inhabitants, the Mongolian wilderness is astoundingly empty. Few places on earth can offer such impossibly vast tracts unspoiled by human occupation, and it is through this landscape that the Mongolian nomad has wandered for centuries. Through the stifling summers and the frigid winters the nomad has led his herd, travelling with the seasons to find green pastures and fresh water.

The neighbouring giants, the steamy summers and the harsh, often too harsh winters have left their mark on the citizens of Mongolia. It’s a tough country, and it has made tough, strong people, hardy and resourceful, but also friendly, open and hospitable. The merciless environment created a world in which only those who helped his kinsman would survive, and running deep through the Mongolian bloodline is a spirit of cooperation, their open hearts and warm hearths welcoming to any and all visitors.

A visit to Mongolia, then, is not just an opportunity to visit the land of Chinggis Khan, to walk the vast, deserted steppe, to gaze at the massive, deep azure skies over rolling hills and jagged mountains in awe and wonder. It is also an opportunity – perhaps more subtle, less apparent – to meet a warrior people fired and frozen by their world until they turned to teak; a warm-hearted clan, strongly independent yet fiercely loyal who, as the world grows smaller and homogeneity reigns, keep alive the pride and strength of Khan’s sons and daughters.

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