Mongolia, a tourist destination
Tourism in Mongolia revolves around its undisturbed culture and traditions and untouched nature and wildlife. The steppes and the immense scale of boundless landscape varying from Local herdspeople looking after tourists in the Gobi desert flat plains to rolling plateaus and extensive grasslands make up the heart of Mongolia, which is a transition zone between the Siberian taiga forest, the Central Asian steppe, the high Altai mountains and Gobi desert.
Apart from the steppes, such outstanding landscapes as Gobi desert, Lake Huvsgul, high Altai mountain range, Gorhi Terelj National Park as well as the site of Karakorum, the ancient capital city of Mongolia with Erdenezuu monastery and Ulaanbaatar are all focal points of visiting Mongolia.
On the edge of the 21st century, Mongolia remains to be one of the few countries to retain its ancient culture and traditions and the nomadic lifestyle plays an important role in creating a general perception about Mongolia.
Located in the landlocked plateau of Central Asia between China and Russian Siberia, Mongolia covers an area of 1,566,500 sq.km, which is roughly the size of Western Europe. Mongolia stretches about 2,400 kilometres from west to east and about 1,260 kilometres from north to south. jThe total length of the country’s borders is 8,158 kilometres. The country is mountainous with an average altitude of 1,580 meters above sea level. The lowest point, Huh Nuur, is 560 meters above sea level and the highest point is Huiten Mountain in the Mongolian Altai Range (4,374 m). The capital Ulaanbaatar lies at 1380 meters.
The geography of the country is characterised by great diversity. From north to south it can be divided into four areas: mountain-forest steppe, mountain steppe and, in the extreme south, semi-desert and desert (the latter being about 30% of the entire territory). The principal mountains are concentrated in the west, with much of this region having elevations above 2,000 metres and the country’s highest peaks permanently snow-capped land covered with glaciers. Mountains and dense forests predominate central and northern Mongolia and grasslands cover large areas of this region. Across the eastern part of the country stretches the vast grasslands of the Asian steppe. The steppe grades into the Gobi desert, which extends throughoutj southern Mongolia from the east to the west of the country. The Gobi is mostly gravelly, but also contains large areas of sand dunes in the drier areas of the Gobi near the southern border (WTO, 1994).
The country is dotted with hundreds of lakes, the largest being Uvs-Nuur (covering an area of 3,350 sq.kilometers), Huvsgul (2,620 sq.kilometers), and Khara Us-Nuur (1,852 sq.kilometers). Lake Huvsgul is also the largest fresh-water lake in Central Asia. The Orkhon (1,124 kilometres), the Kherlen (1,090 kilometres) and the Selenge (539 kilometres) are the largest rivers.
Mongolia’s climate is extremely continental, with long cold, dry winters and short warm summers. The mean temperature falls below freezing for seven to eight months of the year (See Table 3. 1). For two or three months in summer, the weather is warm and pleasant and relatively hot in the southern Gobi region. Winter usually lasts from mid-October until April, with the coldest period being between mid-December and the end of February or mid-March when the temperature drops to -20 or -30°C and occasionally even lower. Snow usually falls between mid-October and mid-April. There are some regions, especially in the north west, where the temperature goes down to -40 to -50°C. In the Gobi it drops to about – 40°C.
Humidity is generally low (47-73%), especially in winter, and because of the dryness the cold is less noticeable. Moreover, the cold weather is relieved by the almost continuous blue sky and sunshine. Around Ulaanbaatar, the number of sunny days ranges between 220 and 260 a year.
Mongolia has 136 mammal species, almost 400 different types of birds and 76 species of fish. From the abundance of wolves to the globally endangered snow leopard, there is a myriad of wildlife to track, photograph and hunt. The central and northern forest area is home to wolf, wild boar, elk, roedeer, and brown bear. Steppes and forest margins support marmot, muskrat, fox, steppe fox, and sable.
Western high Altai Mountain boasts a rich varied wildlife. Apart from common wolf and wild cats, such as lynx and snow leopard, Altai is home to the world’s largest wild sheep – argali and Siberian ibex.
The Gobi desert and the eastern Mongolian steppe are inhabited by thousands of gazelles. The rarest animal in Mongolia – the Gobi bear is found in the south western part of Gobi. Wild ass and wild camels are abundantly found in the desert while argali and Gobi ibex also inhabit the rocky mountains within the Gobi region.
Wild horses have been reintroduced to the country from captivity abroad after being unseen for about thirty years in their home country. Bird life is rich and includes the golden eagle, bearded vulture and other birds of prey, while the country’s 2,000 lakes are a magnet for water birds including storks and gulls. The east of Mongolia is famous for its bird life, boasting lakes of storks and pelicans, while vultures can be seen at will across the country and species as rare as the Altai snowcock and the mute swan are still observed in the countryside.
The population of Mongolia is 2,387,100 (official estimate 1998), out of which 45% are nomadic herdsmen. The population is homogeneous, with Mongol-speaking people constituting 95% of the total; the largest subgroup is the Khalkha, accounting for over 75 % of the total population. The only substantial non-Mongol group, representing over 5% of the population, is the Qazaqs, a Turkish-speaking people dwelling in the far West. A Chinese minority lives in Ulaanbaatar.
Most of Mongolia’s large geographic area is very scarcely populated. The average population density is 1.5 per sq.kilometer, in the southern Gobi it is as scarce as 0.3 per sq.kilometer.
Ulaanbaatar has a population of about 609,900 and a population density of approximately 305 inhabitants per square kilometer, accounting for about one fourth of the country’s population. It is also the political, economic and cultural center of Mongolia. During the last two decades, migration from the rural areas has accelerated, with the proportion of the population living in urban areas rising to 54%.
The official language, Mongolian, is spoken and understood throughout the country. Mongolian is written in Cyrillic, with two additional letters, but the traditional Mongolian script, which is written from the top downwards is gradually reappearing, mainly in signs and logos. Russian is the other major language used. However, other foreign languages, primarily English, are becoming more popular.
Traditionally, Mongols practiced Shamanism, worshipping the Blue Sky. However, Tibetan Buddhism (also called Vajrayana Buddhism) gained more popularity after it was introduced in 16th century. Tibetan Buddhism shared the common Buddhist goals of individual release from suffering and reincarnation. Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who lives in India, is the religion’s spiritual leader, and is highly respected in Mongolia.
As part of their shamanistic heritage, the people practice ritualistic magic, nature worship, exorcism, meditation, and natural healing.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Mongolia had hundreds of Buddhist monasteries and about 30 percent of all men were monks. Communists led an anti-religious campaign in the 1930s, which nearly destroyed the extensive system of monasteries. Under Communist rule, atheism was promoted and monasteries were closed, although shamanistic practices survived. From 1945 to 1990, only one monastery (Gandan in Ulaanbaatar) was allowed to operate. Democratic reform that started in 1990 allowed freedom of religion; well over 100 monasteries have reopened, and Qazaq Muslims are allowed to practice Islam. Many young people are receiving an education through these traditional centers of learning, and the people are once again able to practice cherished traditions.
Mongolia’s history spans 500,000 years. From nomads herding the Central Asian steppe to the formation of the powerful Mongol empire and the gradual emergence of the Mongolian Republic, its history is steeped in conflict.
Ancient Mongolian States
The first Mongolian state was established in 209 BC by Huns or Hunnu people. The name Hunnu comes from two ancient Mongolian words. Hun means man and Nu translates as sun. The Hun’s first king was Modun Shan Yui, whose father Tumen was chieftain of the Hun’s most influential tribe.
The Huns territory stretched from Korea in Far East to Tian Shan Mountain in northern China and from the southern section of the Great wall to Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. From 200 B.C until its collapse in 98 AD, the Hun state was the most powerful nomadic nation residing in the sprawling Central Asian steppe and mountain. But, after three hundred years of domination the Hun state imploded, ruined by internal conflicts between powerful chieftains.
After the Huns state collapsed several other ambitious clans established their own states and dominated Mongolian territory up until 1200 AD. The first dominant state after the Hun’s collapse was the Sumbe State, which lasted until the 3rd century BC. The Toba finally took over the Sumbe state in 250 AD and established its own state with a number of tribal allies. In turn the Tobas were defeated by the Nirun, who were forced to hand the state over to Turkic tribes who established the Tureg Kingdom in Mongolia 552 AD. Thousands of Turkic people had arrived from the far west via the Altai mountains during the 4th century AD. They extended the ancient feudal system, but were also defeated by their own internal conflicts 745 AD. The Uigur tribe then became the most powerful in Central Asia, were unable to dominate the whole of Mongolia. It was the Kidans, who had peacefully coexisted with several previous ruling tribes, who took over Mongolia in 907. Their dominance lasted until the 12th century when a number of central Asian tribes invaded at the same time. There was now no ruler in Mongolia and this vast territory was divided and subdivided into tribal areas.
The Mongol Empire
Temujin was born into the Esugui in 1162 and who is best known as Chingis Khan. His father was a chieftain of one of the numerous tribes and was killed by the Tartars when Temujin was just 9 years old.
With the support of his father’s friends, Temujin established the Great Mongol State in 1189. By 1206 he united 81 different Mongolian tribes and established the Great Mongolian Empire in 1206, when he was crowned as Chingis Khan. Chingis Khan died in 1227. Subsequent Mongolian Khans were chosen from following generations of Chingis Khan’s children.
During the 13-14th centuries, Mongolia developed in terms of its economy, culture, military strength and politics. It was a huge, sprawling empire which encompassed many separate Asian and European nations. Still known as the golden era of Mongolian history, during this time the Mongol Empire was the most powerful nation on earth. Chingis Khan was a great military general, statesman and Mongolian national hero.
The Mongol Empire began to fall apart in 1368. This was bound up with the collapse of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, which had been established in China after Kublai Khan named Beijing as the new Capital of the Mongol Empire.
The Manchurians conquered Mongolia in 1691 and the Manchurian colonisation lasted for 220. By the beginning of the 20th century Mongolians were embroiled in struggle for national liberation, which finally bore fruit in December 1911, when the Manchurians withdrew and Mongolia’s independence was proclaimed in Urguu (as Ulaanbaatar was previously known). Mongolia’s theocratic ruler Bogd Khan was awarded power across the entire country.
Socialist and Democratic Mongolia
On 11 July 1921, the socialist revolution, known as People’s Revolution took place. In 1924, The Mongolian People’s Party proclaimed Mongolia a People’s Republic. The congress endorsed the Republic’s first constitution. As Mongolia maintained strong links with the former Soviet Union, the socialist era continued until 1990, when democratic changes first started in Mongolia.
In 1990 the Mongolia former communist Politburo’s resigned and a multi-parliamentary system was installed. The country’s first multi party election was held in June 1990. The new parliament adopted Mongolia’s first democratic construction in January 1992. This constitution defined Mongolia as a democratic parliamentary republic operating with a President. Both parliament and president have to be directly elected by the general public. Throughout these political changes, Mongolia has slowly been paving its way towards a free market economy and away from the old centrally planned economy.