Mongolia - View from the Inside

"For those who seek an entirely alien culture, life on the edge and nature in the raw (undertaken in some comfort, I hasten to add), then Mongolia comes with the highest recommendation."

April 2014 • Jules Verne

Mongolia - View from the Inside

Mongolia is definitely not for the agoraphobic – wide open spaces, limitless landscapes, never-ending roads, perpetual panoramas and a relentless desert – but infinitely intriguing. It’s strange how apparently empty desolate scenery can be so captivating, almost mesmeric. It certainly concentrates the attention on anything that breaks the horizon or shimmers into focus. Camels, goats, wild horses, solitary yurts or little encampments break the horizon but never a tree. Smaller things become more significant so a cluster of wild gentians catch the eye. For those who seek an entirely alien culture, life on the edge and nature in the raw (undertaken in some comfort, I hasten to add), then Mongolia comes with the highest recommendation.

Life on the steppe demands different values and priorities and the nomads encapsulate the Mongol character and spirit. While a visit to a nomadic yurt reveals surprising comfort and even modern technology, the principles of their lifestyle in their perpetual search for greener pastures have not changed over the centuries. Thus their only permanency is, paradoxically, their transiency.

Not that it is all remote and wild. Ulan Baatar provides a stark contrast to the serenity of the steppe with its traffic-laden streets, grand squares and monuments (rarely dedicated to anyone other than Genghis Khan), blocks of buildings cheek-by-jowl with urban yurts and ancient monasteries. Throughout its turbulent history Mongolia has retained its own identity, hardly giving an inch to its powerful and generally dominating neighbours Russia and China so while dour Soviet 70’s architecture abounds, colourful Mongol dress, language and traditions have been stoutly preserved for their own sake and not as a tourist attraction.

So why would you decide to go to Mongolia? The following reasons immediately come to mind: Ghandan monastery, UB’s enlightening museum, the ridiculously massive Genghis Monument, the beautiful but eerie Yoliin Gorge, the intimidating dunes of the Gobi, the fascinating history, the unique wildlife, the pristine environment, the fiery sunrises and sunsets, walking and bird watching and the chance to try archery, horse or camel riding, kayaking and fishing. That’s just a few of my initial thoughts. Unspoilt is a much overused word that is casually applied to many undeserving destinations. There are few that can realistically live up to the true meaning – but Mongolia is certainly one. Here the visitor can sample, share and enjoy this simple existence for there is little concession other than the concentration of the many sights into a short space of time. This is ‘proper’ travel with a sense of adventure and discovery. Those interested, step forward!”

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