Mongolia is typically described as being harsh, wild and remote. However, since a tourism boom in the 1990s this epic landscape has become popular with tourists. As one of the last real wildernesses in the world, experiencing the real Mongolia is still possible, but takes some planning.
Read on to discover our tips for going off the beaten track. It’s a chance to experience the culture and beauty of Mongolia at its finest and most rugged.
Stay with a Mongolian family
Mongolian families are famed for their hospitality. Their their horseback treks to hidden gems, hearty feasts and inspiring after dinner entertainment are regularly the highlights of travellers’ experiences. Liz Carlson, a.k.a. Young Adventuress, recalls her stay with a Mongolian family in her blog post How Mongolia Changed My Life:
“The ethnic Kazakhs that live in the Altai in far eastern Mongolia on the border with China do not have easy lives. They are the last of the true nomads on the Eurasian Steppe, their culture and way of life preserved, (mostly) unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan. With the occasional soviet jeep, Russian candies, or satellite dish thrown in there to keep things interesting. They are horse people. They are nomads, moving with their families and flocks from place to place in accordance to the seasons. Higher lands in summer, down in the valleys in winter.”
Up to 40% of Mongolia’s population is thought to be nomadic, which makes a stay with a family in the far reaches of this great country even more captivating.
Go off the beaten track (particularly during Naadam)
Naadam is one of the most celebrated and highly documented celebrations in Mongolia, and for good reason. The annual festival celebrates the return of the nomadic communities, who during the Mongolian winter would have been cut off from family and friends due to heavy snow. This hugely competitive event – the festival features archery, wrestling and horse racing among other sports, offers a powerful insight into Mongolian culture. Rather than take in the glitz and glamour of the official event in Ulaanbaatar, head out of town for more local events and enjoy a true taste of Naadam.
If you’re planning to take a trip to Mongolia in February, then Tsagaan Sar shouldn’t be missed. Mongolia’s Lunar New Year is a showcase of traditional cuisine, drinks, entertainment and hospitality, especially if you celebrate with a Mongolian family.
Live like a local
As well as taking to horseback to experience Mongolia, getting involved in how people hunt provides another fascinating insight into life as a local. Eagle hunting has been used by the Mongolian people since the early 15th century. These birds of prey are essential companions for nomadic communities. Female Golden Eagles are the bird of choice and they work with Mongolian families to trap small animals for fur and food.
Whilst 70 years of communism stopped the tradition of eagle hunting in its tracks, this pastime is experiencing a revival, primarily in the western regions of the country. As well as being a lifeline for many families, eagle hunting is a highly respected sport, and is celebrated annually at the Altai Eagle Festival.
Want to experience Mongolia in an entirely different way? Our Trans-Siberian Classic trips could be for you. Contact our team for further details.