WHAT WE DID:
- Spent 4 nights in ger camps in central Mongolia + 2 nights in a guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar (tour booked with Monkey Shrine as part of our Trans-Siberian railway package)
WHAT WE LIKED:
- EVERYTHING! Mongolia is a truly incredible country, with its intriguing cultural traditions, friendly people, and insanely-beautiful scenery.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE:
- We’d stay longer! If we’d known how much we would love it (and had more money in the budget, of course), we probably would have stayed for 3–4 weeks to see more national parks, the mountains in the West, and the Gobi Desert in the South. A large portion of the country seems easily accessible (if difficult to navigate) and safe to explore independently (e.g. no unexploded ordinances scattering the forests as in SE Asia).
WHAT WE LEARNED:
- The one downside to our stay in Mongolia was how difficult it was to exist as a vegetarian. The diet is entirely meat and dairy (eggs and milk are staples), as well as somewhat heavy on bread. It’s understandable, given the inability to grow a lot of fruits and veggies in that climate, but nonetheless it was a challenge for me. Ultimately, I did have to eat a fair amount of dairy and white rice, though I can’t say I ate much while I was there. The one exception was in Ulaanbaatar. There are numerous restaurants in the city that can cater to vegetarians (we found an amazing Indian place), but outside the capital you seem to be SOL.
- The Mongolians have a ‘farewell tradition’ of throwing (really sprinkling with a wooden spoon) milk as guests leave. Each time we left a ger camp, we waved happily as the proprietors flung a drizzle of milk in the direction of our departing vehicle.
- People drive on the right-hand side of the road in Mongolia… however, at least two-thirds of the vehicles had the steering column mounted on the right. It seemed like that might make passing and seeing clearly around corners quite difficult.
- Mongolian music is totally awesome! Mongolian hip hop is pretty popular, and really quite good; some of the flow is actually quite similar to beats in the U.S. Kara, start YouTubing… I think you might enjoy it. In addition to the hip hop, we actually really enjoyed some of the traditional music. While the female singers were a bit high-pitched and twangy for our tastes, some of the male singers had a beautiful tone and clarity to their voices. The songs with the really hollow-sounding drums and woodwinds (sounding like some sort of battle cry) were particularly appealing to both of us.
- Two of Mongolia’s biggest sports are wrestling and horse racing. Wrestling tournaments are held throughout the year in all 21 provinces, with champions going on to compete at the annual Naadam Festivals (there were an astonishing 1,000 competitors this year when we visited). Likewise, horse racing is a long-cherished tradition and is described as far back as Marco Polo’s 13th-century writings, with the rules and customs virtually unchanged through the centuries.
- Nomadic families typically move during the winter, and again as the weather warms. They do not have to pay taxes on the land they live on.
- If well cared for, a simple ger will often last a solid 20 years. Although a very simple design, we learned by staying in them that they are quite well-insulated. If they get too hot, the bottom portion of the insulation is rolled up to cool the interior.
- Because the nomadic family we stayed with had no electricity, and consequently no refrigeration/freezing capabilities, we were curious as to how [if] they stored meat, seeing as they raise their animals for food. Apparently, after killing an animal, they cook the meat immediately with a good amount of salt, and store some of it that way. They also share a ‘kill’ with neighbors. While I’m not a personal fan of eating meat, it seemed like a pretty nice, sustainable lifestyle. Stephan and I considered the idea that if you shared with four neighbors, and the cooked meat lasted one week (as our guide stated), each neighbor would only have to kill one animal from his herd per month.
WEIGHTS & MEASURES:
AVERAGE PETROL COST: 1,500 tugrik/L
AVERAGE EXCHANGE RATE: 2,000 tugrik (₮) to $1.00 USD