A to Z of Adventure Travel: U is for Ulaan Baatar

5 06 2009

Mongolia 2

There are few countries on earth whose very name conjures visions of a wild and nomadic existence as much as Mongolia.

 Synoymous with its legendary warrior Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes, away from Ulaan Baatar, Mongolian life seems unchanged from its ancient history. The capital city quickly gives way to the country’s arid windswept steppes, its jagged mountains and pristine lakes and the mighty Gobi desert.

While many visitors to Mongolia travel there as a stop on the Transiberian Railway, an increasing number choose it for its pure undiluted adventure value. Most visits begin in Ulaan Baatar with its intriguing mixture of Mongolian, Russian, Chinese and Tibetan cultures and religions. Although many travellers promptly leave the capital for the wilderness, every year it hosts the Naadam Festival where competitors from throughout the country compete in time-honoured warrior contests of wrestling, archery and cross-country horse racing. This isn’t something staged for tourists, this is the real thing and outsiders feels as though they have travelled back in time to an age when basic skills ensured survival and prosperity.

Given the country’s limited infrastructure away from its main centres, it’s not surprising that many tours of Mongolia include stays in traditional Mongolian gers. These nomadic felt tents have been used on the steppes and throughout country since time began, and still provide shelter and insulation from the winds and cold temperatures of the night. While not exactly luxurious, the gers generally offered to travellers include a few extras such as beds…but likely not flat screen TVs or hair dryers!

Mongolia offers some wonderful and unique hiking. The Khan Khentil Special Protected Area north of the capital provides a wonderful opportunity to explore the region as the Mongolian herdsmen used to: on foot, supported by yaks and their herdsman. This slower pace enables visitors to learn much about the local environment and rich wildlife and also the lives of the people who have called it home for millennia.

A country of rich history and tradition, Mongolia has its own customs and etiquette that should be respectfully observed, especially when visiting nomadic families. In Mongolia, it is expected to keep sleeves rolled down and not to expose bare wrists. Food and drink should only be accepted with the left hand. If a plate is particularly heavy, the left hand should be supported with the right elbow but never also held with the right hand. Everything should be accepted with an open hand, with palms facing upwards. If offered vodka, it is customary to dip a finger of the right hand into the glass and lightly flick a drop once towards the sky, once in the air once to the ground. But don’t use too much of the precious fiery liquid! If you don’t drink, continue with the same custom but put your finger to your forehead, express gratitude and return the full glass to the table.

Although a destination best suited for those with a sense of adventure and a tolerance for roughing it, Mongolia’s rich treasures will provide rewards well in excess of any possible hardship experienced along the way.

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photo by: Mongolia Tourism

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One response

8 06 2009
Unique Travel Experience

This looks like a good bet for true adventure travel lovers. A nice, interesting fact about accepting food too. Mongolia seems to be one of the few remaining spots in the world where man can truly experience being immersed in a clean and natural outdoor environment.

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