The nomadic life has always been appealing to travelers. However, there are very few places in this world where the nomadic life is actually practiced as a lifestyle, rather than just a pastime. Mongolia is one of those countries. The people and culture in Mongolia is still to make it part of their living tradition. Mongolia is a country landlocked between China and Russia. It has the lowest population density of all the countries in the world, with only 1.7 people per square kilometer (247 acres). It’s not so much nature, but the vast emptiness, that the typical traveler finds so poetic. If the vast emptiness happens to appeal to you too, and you want to visit Mongolia soon, here are six of the most interesting things you’ll want to check out in this country:
Tips & Recommendations for Mongolia
1. Browsing through revered artworks at Zanabazar Museum of Arts
This museum holds perhaps the largest revered collection of artworks - paintings, carvings, and sculptures - from all over Mongolia. It also holds most of the works of revered sculptor, Zanabazar, including his celebrated cast works, “Contemplation Buddhas” and “Five Dhyani.” More important is the rare display of religious exhibits such as the scroll thangkas (ancient paintings usually displayed for religious reverence), and Buddhist sculptures. There are also displays about the nomadic life such as those from renowned Mongolian artist, B Sharav. The museum has 12 permanent exhibition galleries, housing around 13,000 objects, starting from the ancient civilizations in Mongolia like petroglyphs and deer stones to their beginnings in the 20th-century, during the start of their empire states and cities. The exhibits are curated in English.
Zanabazar Museum of Arts
Address: Sambuu St, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Website: Zanabazar Museum of Arts
Ulaanbaatar, Tov Province
2. Go on an unusual shopping spree at the Black Market
Okay, okay. This only happens in the backstreets of the Naran Tuul Market, also known as the Black Market. Other than perhaps a couple of dodgy transactions of stolen goods behind the counters or questionable money exchanges, the Black Market is where you want to go when you want to shop for cheap, traditional Mongolian clothes like the huruum, Mongolian jacket, and the del. You’ll also find hat and boot sellers that sell many of the furry winter hats that are part of Mongolia’s iconography. Nomads also come here to buy textiles to make their own clothes. The leather and carpets in Mongolia make great gifts for friends back home. Be wary of people who ask for an entrance fee. Entering Naran Tuul should be completely free.
Black Market Tour
Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Website: Black Market Tour
3. See eagles soar at the Olgii Eagle Festival
Eagles, known in Mongolia as berkut, are trained to hunt and assist the lives of the nomadic Kazakh people. This ancient custom is commemorated in the Olgii Eagle Festival, also known as the Golden Eagle Festival, in Bayan Olgii province in the middle of the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia. About 500 eagle hunters gather every year, displaying their speed, agility, and relationship with their hunting partners. Travelers will be able to see the Kazakh people’s dances and ceremonies, honoring both hunter and eagle. The Altai Mountains themselves make a picturesque setting with their glaciers, lakes, and ancient rock paintings. You can also visit the town market, provincial museum, and the different archaeological sites. Usually to enter the festival, you’ll need to pay 30 USD per person to watch the 2-day competition. All proceeds from this festival go to the Berkut Association.
Golden Eagle Hunting Festival Tour
Address: Altai Mountains, Mongolia
Website: Golden Eagle Hunting Festival Tour
Govi, Altai Province
4. Search for a hundred treasures at Erdene Zuu Khiid
The Erdene Zuu or the Monastery of 100 treasures was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. At its most prosperous, it housed 100 temples and around a thousand monks. They dated to as far back as the 16th-century. In the early 1900s, the Stalinists put the place out of business, and they burned all the temples, all but three. The monks were also killed or sent to Siberia to work as slaves. Most of its treasures though - masks, wall paintings, thangkas - were saved. They were stored in some of the resident’s home or buried in the mountains. It was only in 1965 that it reopened as a museum. You can walk to the monastery from Kharkhorin. It’s a leisurely 2-kilometer (1.2 mile) walk.
Erdene Zuu Khiid
Address: Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Website: Erdene Zuu Khiid
5. Rub shoulders with royalty at the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan
The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan was the first residence of the monarch following Mongolia’s independence from China in the early 1900s. The Winter Palace is the only surviving palace (from a collection of seven temples and two courtyards in the temple complex) that was built between the Middle and Tuul River. For this, it holds a great religious, cultural, and political significance. This palace saw the struggle of Mongolia to regain its identity even as China, Russia, and Japan positioned for influence after the establishment of Outer Mongolia. You can see this very struggle by its architecture alone, which may look more Russian and European than it is Mongolian.
Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan
Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Website: Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan
Ulaanbaatar, Tov Province
6. Play on the sand dunes at Khongoryn Els
These are otherwise known as the Singing Sand Dunes of Mongolia. The wind makes the sand collapse and the sound that it makes creates a whistling, swooshing sound. The Khongoryn Els are also the largest dunes in all of Mongolia, stacking to as high as 300 meters (984 feet). You can trek all the way to the top, get a camel and a guide, or take a guided tour on a jeep. On certain parts of the year, you can also witness wrestling and horse racing in these parts. While going on your own may sound exciting, you must remember that the desert is harsh to the inexperienced. You can either take a tour or charter a jeep to reach your destination, it is about 180 kilometers (112 miles) from Dalanzadgas.
Singing Sand Dunes
Address: Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia
The vast emptiness of Mongolia
So much of Mongolia and the Mongolian lifestyle has always been depicted in films as a place with its harsh elements, punishing heat and a biting cold, with people who have learned to live with the bare minimum. If you follow this depiction alone, you’ll find that a lot of layers of how Mongolians choose to live, what they believe, and what the future holds for them, are sorely misrepresented. It’s best to discover the layers for yourself. The only way to do that, is to visit.