Why Mongolia should be next on your bucket list

Mongolia

Mongolian nomads still use ancient hunting techniques. Source: Shutterstock

TRAVELERS looking for authentic experiences and unique adventures shouldn’t overlook Mongolia. 

Sandwiched between Russia and China, the landlocked nation is made up of vast steppes and plateaus which hold centuries of history and culture.

Despite Mongolia being the fifth largest country in Asia, it has a small population of only around 3 million people.

And 30 percent of its population are certified nomads or semi-nomads who constantly roam the plains to find lush pastures for their herds to graze.

While there is plenty of self-sustaining communities across Mongolia, farming, mining, and processing animal products such as pelts and meat have been the most common industries for thousands of years.

But after the fall of the strict Soviet Union rule in 1990, Mongolia has been making every effort to establish a dedicated tourism industry.

Just under 500,000 international tourists visited Mongolia last year, and the nation hopes to welcome one million by 2020, creating a revenue of US$1 billion.

Recently, environment and tourism minister Namsrai Tserenbat said Mongolia wants “to increase the number of tourists by 30 percent per year in the coming years to reach this goal.”

“We are working to develop tourism products, better services, and tourism safety plans,” Tserenbat added.

One of these products is the hotline service for foreign travelers. It offers access to information about destinations, ongoing events and provides emergency help.

Mongolia has also declared 2018 the year of tourism to kickstart the race to a million visitors by 2020.

So what better time to visit the Land of Eternal Blue Sky than at this very moment?

Here’s a glimpse of the fun to be had in Mongolia.

The beauty of the Gobi

The Gobi Desert is one of the largest on Earth. But unlike those that sweep across Africa, the Gobi is cold with frost frequently covering the dunes.

The desert stretches from southern Mongolia across to northern China and is bounded only by the incredible Altai Mountains and verdant steppes.

Whether you choose to explore the Gobi the traditional way on camelback, add speed in a four-by-four, or by foot, be sure the check out the Flaming Cliffs and the Khongor dunes.

The Flaming Cliffs, real name Bayanzag, was the first place a nest of fossilized dinosaurs eggs was discovered. To this day, ancient relics of prehistoric times are still being unearthed, making it a proper haven for archeology junkies.

The top of Khongor dunes reveals panoramic views across the Gobi Desert.

If you can tear your gaze from the never-ending horizon, you’ll notice the sand changes color by the hour. Starting red at dawn and creeping through every shade of yellow and silver throughout the day until it appears red again.

The Khongor dunes are also a good place to watch an extraordinary sunset.

Endless adventures

Mongolians are known for their resilience to extreme conditions and love of hazardous sports, such as Yak polo (or sarlagan polo) and Mongolian wrestling.

For the serious adventurers among you, Mongolia hosts a 100-mile trek through the Altai Mountains once a year. The walk showcases some of Mongolia’s most outstanding beauty while delivering a heart-thumping sense of adventure to anyone who journeys it.

The walk follows the footsteps of the fearless Kazaks, an ethnic minority in Mongolia, who trek through the harsh conditions every year to reach western Mongolia where food is more available for the cattle.

Then, there are the horseriding expeditions in the Arkhangai region which parade through mountainous landscapes and into central Mongolia.

The horseback treks weave through valleys and cross crystal clear lakes, providing the perfect campsite setting.

If all things aqua get you excited, how about rafting down the Kherlan river in Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve?

Surrounded by dense forest and abundant wildlife, it may be the closest you get to being at one with nature.

Perhaps you’re a snowsports enthusiast but think the Alps are so 1989 and Vermont is full of posers?

Now you can consider Mongolia as your next ski destination.

In winter, Darhad Valley in the remote northwestern corner of Mongolia provides sapphire skies, frozen lakes, and snow-covered hills creating brilliant ski conditions.

Mongolia is also one of the best places in the world to stargaze.

Given it’s free to camp anywhere in Mongolia, what’s stopping you packing your travel telescope and heading outdoors?

Discover tons more adventures on the official Visit Mongolia site.

Heaps of history and culture

Mongolia seeps rich history and vibrant culture at every turn. But one of the must-sees is the ancient capital Kharkhorin.

Established in the 13th century by Genghis Khan, it is now a Unesco World Heritage Site and a monument to the Mongol Empire.

Nearby Kharkhorin is the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, dating back to 1585.

But only parts of the Erdene Zuu Khiid monastery survived communist leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan’s warpath to eradicate religion from Mongolia in the late 1930s.

Another way to absorb Mongolian culture is by staying with a nomadic family.

These families have been living in the wilderness for centuries and can provide you with one of the most memorable traveling experiences.

Learn how to hunt with eagles, practice your wrestling techniques, and cook the traditional way.

It will undoubtedly leave you with a newfound appreciation for supermarkets and running water.

Food

If you travel with your stomach in mind, you won’t be disappointed by Mongolia’s delicacies.

Although fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to come by, the hearty stews and buttery dumplings make up for it.

Because of the freezing winters, Mongolians sustain themselves on fats, protein, and starchy foods.

Most rural families drink yak’s milk and eat sheep’s cheese daily. Sometimes, an older member of the cattle herd will be used for a meaty stew too.

If you’re traveling through and don’t plan on a homestay, try to find a restaurants serving buuz.

Buuz is a Mongolian steamed dumpling often stuffed with mashed potato, cabbages, and minced mutton.

Describing these golden pockets as moreish is an understatement.

Whatever you’re seeking from your travels, be it food and adventure or history and culture, Mongolia has a treat under its eternally blue sky for everyone.