Being one of the five least populated countries on the planet, Mongolia quite literally promises to give you an ultimate break from your busy life. Synonymous with its trademark blue skies, the country is like a time capsule (with a few modern advancements, of course) where topography, landscapes, and even dinosaur fossils have remained untouched by industrialization.
This also means that their unique culture has remained unchanged and strong over the years. Picture this, children learning, by necessity, to ride horses as soon as they can walk and 5-year-olds riding up to 70 km/hr bareback on a horse. Intrigued? Read on!
Perhaps the right question to ask here would be why not Mongolia. Our in-house travel expert Gunjan visited this out-of-the-box destination for his honeymoon for 16-days and couldn't stop talking about it. We sat down with him to break down his journey and jot down the transformational experience he had. In his words, "Mongolia is like nowhere else in the world".
The list can't start without the mention of the locals. As Gunjan says "Mongolians have taken the Indian saying, 'Atithi Devo Bhava' to a different level. Entire days would go by and we wouldn't encounter a single human being. But whenever we would come across a nomadic settlement, they would gladly welcome us into their humble Gers and make sure we had access to their kitchen and dining spaces despite their limited possessions''.
When it comes to wilderness, Mongolia goes one step beyond anything you know. "Your first introduction to these vast open spaces will knock you off your feet, and you’ll find yourself now and then gazing up into a great expanse of the blue sky (afterall the locals do call their land the 'home of the blue skies'). Whether you’re travelling by 4x4, on horseback, or just watching through the window of your train carriage, the dramatic mountains, vast grassy meadows, towering sand dunes will practically hypnotise you". Some of the must-visit places from Gunjan’s list include Gorkhi Terelj National Park, Terkhiin Tsagaan (Great White Lake), Karakorum, Havtsgait Valley, and Flaming Cliffs.
With reindeer roaming the north, golden eagles soaring in the west, and camels wandering the deserts of the south, Mongolia quite surprisingly is home to varied wildlife. They have 139 mammal species, 449 bird species, 22 reptile species, 76 fish species, and 6 amphibian species. A tidbit that Gunjan shared that left us bewildered was, “In addition to the known wildlife like Bactrian camels, grey wolves, musk deers, Siberian ibex, you can even spot the elusive snow leopard, and the very rare Gobi bear here - one just needs to know where to look”.
No witty lines here, we’d just like to share a beautiful anecdote that Gunjan mentioned was the highlight of his trip. "We had the good fortune of meeting and staying with an Eagle Hunter's family in Western Mongolia. They were Kazakhs who had immigrated to Mongolia at some point during the Soviet suppression. There are only around 20 such families left in Mongolia now. The rear and pet wild eagles help them hunt for small prey in the harsh Mongolian winters. I had first heard about them on BBC Human Planet and couldn't believe my luck when I actually got to stay with one of the families. You have to experience the Mongolian culture at least once, it is something very, very different and unique."
The past & the present
Apart from the big cities, a majority of the population in Mongolia is still nomadic. "They have separate summer and winter homes and can wrap up and move their entire household in a matter of a few hours. It truly felt like we had gone back in time by a few centuries. Such a different life compared to the consumerism we are used to, whereby we cling on to the smallest of possessions. Moreover, the guides even use the sun to gauge directions, a refreshing change in the world of Google maps."
Being a remote country, our responsibility increases tenfold to its people, culture, and ecosystem. More so in Mongolia, because as per World Bank, in 2016, three out of ten Mongolians were living in poverty. Our trips do their best to give back to the community as much as possible. We do that by:
At UnWild Planet, we take our job as your travel curators very seriously and try to bring you experiences that are unheard of and unwritten about - Mongolia being one of them. Distant from your regular bucket lists (literally and metaphorically), this is where your travel will leave the most positive impact on the people, their culture, and their landscape. Join us as we endeavor to rethink travel and turn our negative travel footprints into something positive. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.