Full of wonderful surprises, Mongolia never fails to capture the hearts of its visitors. A country like nowhere else in the world, where European and Russian influences combine with Asian touches. A language like no other, a unique culture, and vast open land home to a range of activities and experiences you wouldn’t find anywhere other than in this landlocked giant. In this blog, we help you discover the uniqueness of Mongolia from the hidden gems to the better-known lures that tempt tourists to what was once the heart of the Mongol Empire.
A 360° Ger Experience
If you’ve been to Mongolia before, or are considering it for a future adventure, then you will almost certainly be aware of the traditional Mongolian ger. Also know as a yurt in many countries, the ger is a formidable and sturdy home, which has remained practically unchanged for hundreds of years. On our tours, other than perhaps the odd night camping or in a hotel if necessary, you will be staying in either a ger camp, or a ger alongside a nomadic family no matter where you go in the countryside. If you are interested, you can roll up your sleeves and put some of your own elbow grease into putting up the ger you would be spending the night in, with a little help from the locals of course. Perhaps you would like to see the process of master craftsmen carving the nomadic dwelling from scratch, and maybe even thinking of owning one yourself? Just let us know and we can arrange a visit to a local carpenter as well as a ger market.
If you’re lucky enough to visit in July, you will most likely witness the spectacle that is Naadam. The festival season runs throughout July, with many of the rural naadams taking place in the first half of the month, as well as the annual National Naadam in Ulaanbaatar. It is is the ultimate celebration of nomadic and Mongolian culture. The strongest wrestlers, fastest horses and expert marksmen come together to compete for national and regional titles. You too can join the locals for a few rounds of wrestling to test your might, and who knows, maybe when you get back home you will be able to tell your friends that you have wrestled a Mongolian by the Singing Sands and won. If you’re afraid they will break you in half, don’t worry. We’ll tell them to go easy on you.
However, if you are not into testing your might and more into testing your sight, we have our own traditional handmade bow and arrow sets that we send out on trips for guests to use. Compared to western bows, Mongolian bows are much tougher to shoot but our guides and drivers will be happy to show you how it’s done. Then for the ultimate souvenir, we can arrange a visit to a master bow-maker’s workshop and have your very own traditional set shipped home.
Remote Indigenous Communities
Mongolia is a vast country with many different types of people. In the remote wilderness of northern Mongolia, you can find the Tsaatan – a small community of reindeer herders, whose numbers are slowly reducing as their traditions and way of life slowly phases out. You may bump into them at a festival, such as the Ice Festival just south of Lake Khovsgol in February/March time, but our favourite way for guests to meet the reindeer herders is to take a tour such as our Reindeer Trails – a hard-riding itinerary that offers the best of the Taiga.
If you head out west you will have the opportunity to meet the famous Altai eagle hunters. Spread vastly around the Altai Mountains and surrounding parks, eagle hunters are incredible nomads to spend time with. Whether you stay with a family by a stunning lake, or in the centre of the Tavanbogd Mountains, you can be sure to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience. The main spectacle during your stay out west, depending on the time of year, will be to head out into the valleys to either train or hunt with the eagles. We have trips that offer both the September and October eagle festivals, but you may also wish to combine your experience out west with the added bonus of seeing the Altai range on horseback. Wild wild west, indeed!
No matter which part of Mongolia you are planning to visit, there are always other ways to experience just a little bit more of Mongolia; other than putting up a ger, and joining a wrestling match, or meeting remote communities.
During your stay with a local family, you may be introduced to a traditional game of ankle bones. Known as “Shagai”, this game has been a stable Mongolian past time for thousands of years. It’s very simple to learn and the ankle bones make great souvenirs. In addition to this fun game, you may want to help out the family with their day to day activities and join hands in milking the cows & mares, tending to the herd and assisting with the dinner preparations.
A traditional haircutting ceremony, helping out with goat & sheep shearing, and making felt are other culturally unique things you can take part in. If it’s in season, you may also be interested in trying your hand at distilling handmade vodka or making “airag”, both made out of mare milk.
Another once in a lifetime experience, and one we have had the honour of arranging before, is organising your wedding in Mongolia, and/or having your honeymoon under the eternal blue sky.