Explore Mongolia, the 'Land of the Eternal Blue Sky' with us!
Mongolia is a remote region of boundless space and sky, endless steppes, the cradle of nomadic people and a land of diverse ethnic groups, religions and terrain. Steeped in legend, mythical Mongolia is a fabled land of golden steppes, the infamous Gengis Khan, nomads on horseback, gers and both Shamanistic and
The Gobi Dessert, over1600 kilometers from southwest to northeast, is one of Mongolia's best known regions, a vast expanse of waves of sand, nomadic people, camels, cave monasteries, pre-historic excavations and bare rock. The Gobi is the fifth largest desert in the world, and the largest in Asia. Khamriin Khiid is a wonderful Buddhist monastery set in the midst of a large expanse of desert, which magically turns hues of pink, yellow and orche in the evening light, and one of the most important power points in all of the world.
We stay at a lovely tourist ger complex, get out into the desert for camel-riding excursions and visiting local families during this Gobi trip, which can be either an extension of one of our Mongolia treks or a trip on its own.
Day 1 - Arrive Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar | Ulan Bator)
Day 2 - Ulaanbaatar | Sightseeing
Day 3 - Drive Gobi (Saishand)
Day 4 - Camel Riding + Gobi Trekking
Day 5 - Camel Riding + Khamriid Khiid Monastery
Day 6 - Camel Riding + Jeep to Khar Uul Monastery
Day 7 - Drive Ulaanbaatar
Day 8 - Trip Ends
+ Optional Extra Day - Zuunbayan
Read More Testimonials
- The Otherworldly + Incredibly Beautiful Gobi Desert
- Buddhist Khamriid Khiid Monastery
- Mongolia's Endless Sky
- Camel Riding Safari
- Staying with Local Nomadic Families
Tim Cope: On the Trail of Genghis Khan | National Geographic
Mongolian Diptychs | NYT
The Trail of Genghis Khan | Screen Australia - Tim Cope's Ride across Mongolia
Mongolian Throat Singing - YouTube Music Video
How China's Politics of Control Shape the Debate on Deserts - New York Times
Mongolia, Land of Lost Opportunity - Wall Street Journal
Mongolia's Mangled Politics - Foreign Affairs
A Documentary Star is Born: The Girl Who Hunts with Eagles - Film Preview
Frozen Tombs of Mongolia | YouTube Video about Scythian Tombs in Western Mongolia
Genghis Khan | BBC YouTube
I Have Seen the Earth Change | YouTube
Nomads of Mongolia | Brandon Li Vimeo
Winter in Mongolia | Jonathan Stewart YouTube
In Mongolia, a Changing Nomadic Way of Life | Radio Free Europe YouTube
Fascinating Photos of Reindeer People Living in Mongolia | My Modern Met
Herding Reindeer | Joel Santos Photos, Huffington Post
Tracking the White Reindeer | Hamid Sardar-Afkhami
Teenaged Mongolian Eagle Hunters | Foreign Correspondent
Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography
- Hotels, Ger Camps, Guest Houses in Mongolia
- All Meals
- Transport by Private Vehicle
- Airport Transfers
- Domestic Flight
- Entrance Fees + Permits
- Single Tents on Trek
- International Flights
- Travel Medical + Travel Insurance (both required)
- Mongolia Visa
- Helicopter Evacuation
- Alcohol, Sodas & Packaged Drinks
We recommend $50 per person as tips for the guide + driver.
Contact Numbers in Mongolia
+ Guide (Details on Booking)
+ Ulaanbaatar Hotel (00976 11 320620)
+ Mongolia Office (Tuul: 00976 9989 1826. Please note that you cannot leave voice messages on this number)
+ UK Office (Olly Reston: 0044 (0) 1869 866 520. You can leave voice messages if necessary, and these are checked regularly)
Details on Booking
Mongolia is a country that requires many foreign citizens to have obtained a visa in advance of travel. A Mongolian tourist visa is usually valid for a stay of up to 30 days, with entry within three months from the date of issue. It is your responsibility to ensure you have a valid visa to travel to Mongolia, if required, according to your nationality. Please note that all UK, Australian and most European citizens (excluding Germans) DO require a visa to travel to Mongolia, and this must be applied for in advance - usually at any country's Mongolian Embassy or Consulate (whether you are a citizen or resident of that country or not). Only in exceptional circumstances may it sometimes be possible to pre-arrange a visa on arrival.
USA, Canada, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Brazil, Israel, Philippines, Cuba, Hong Kong and Singapore
+ These countries do have rules and regulations associated with length of visit, please check before travel.
How to Apply
Obtaining a visa is a straightforward process, and usually very quick - especially if you are able to apply in person. Most embassies will return the visas within 2-3 days for a standard service, and some of them offer a same day express service. Most embassies require minimal documentation - the 2-page application form; passport valid for at least 6 months after date of entry and with at least 1 blank page for the visa; fee payment; passport photo. Some embassies ask for additional documentation - an itinerary, flight reservation, a letter of invitation from your tour company (i.e. us) - so please check. We can usually help provide all additional documentation.
Filling out Visa
There are some sections of the form that you may require help with. Please fill in as follows:
+ Name and address of host person or organisation in Mongolia: Goyo Travel, Door 1A, Tower A, Golomt Town, Peace Avenue, Ulaanbaatar; Tel. 9959 8468
+ Your home address and telephone number in Mongolia: Ulaanbaatar Hotel, 14 Sukhbaatar Square; Tel. 320620
Some embassies have an online application form on their website, and sometimes the functionality is poor or confusing. Please be aware that embassies also accept hand-written forms, and there is one standard form worldwide.
Customs + Immigration
There are only six border points open to most foreign passport holders. They are at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, the road and train crossing to China at Zamyn Uud, the road crossing to Russia at Tsagaannuur in the far west, the train crossing to Russia at Sukhbaatar and the road crossings to Russia at Altanbulag and Ereen-Tsav in the north east. You may not cross into China or Russia at any of the other border points as they are either seasonal and/or are open only to Mongolians and/or Chinese and Russians.
Foreigners on a tourist visa are legally required to carry their passports at all times. Failure to carry your passport may lead to a fine, and officially a photocopy is not sufficient - however in our experience checks are very seldom, and in reality passport copies are fine (so many of our guests leave their passports at the hotel when in Ulaanbaatar; or in their gers/bags in vehicles when out in the countryside). We recommend that whatever you do, you should keep separately and somewhere safe, a copy of both the bio data page in your passport and your Mongolian border immigration stamp. This will help you both to obtain a new travel document and to demonstrate that you entered Mongolia legally should you lose your passport.
If you intend to remain in Mongolia for more than 30 days or if you do not have an entry or exit visa, you must register your stay with the Mongolian Immigration Agency in Ulaanbaatar within a week of arrival. You can appoint someone to do this on your behalf if necessary.
+ Goyo Travel offer this service if required.
Mongolia Health Information
No special inoculations are required for travel to Mongolia but you should be up-to-date on standard vaccinations (Tetanus, Diptheria and Hepatitis A). Please consult your doctor 4-6 weeks prior to travel.
+ Rabies. The chances of being bitten in Mongolia by animals that could carry rabies are relatively slim. This low risk, combined with cost and lead-time for pre-vaccination, and the fact that pre-bite vaccination only reduces the number of post-bite vaccinations needed rather than preventing the contraction of the disease, mean that most people don't bother. In the unlikely event that you are bitten and are not vaccinated against rabies (most people aren't), then you can rest assured that on almost all trips you will be able to access the required first injection within the recommended 24hr post-bite period. An injection within 24 hours is required whether or not you have had the vaccination beforehand - the difference is that pre-vaccinated people have 3 injections in advance, and 3 after the bite. Non pre-vaccinated people have 5 injections after the bite.
+ Encephalitis Japanese +/or Tick-born. Only specifically recommended if going to heavily forested regions (Khentii and Selenge province) which is unlikely.
Travel Medical Insurance
Required for your own safely. We carry a copy of your insurance with all contact, personal and policy information with us on the trek and our office in Kathmandu keeps a copy. Note that we almost always trek over 4000 meters (13,000+ feet) and that we don't do any technical climbing with ropes, ice axes or crampons.
NOTE: We advise that you check with your insurance company that SOS Medica is on their list of approved service providers in case of an emergency that requires medical evacuation. If not, you can purchase extra cover locally.
+ First Aid - In case of an accident that requires administering of First Aid at the scene, our staff are trained in basic emergency response techniques, and all trips carry LifeSystems first aid kits, equipped according to the nature of the trip. We check, replenish and/or replace our kits on a regular basis.
+ Local Hospitals - For relatively minor injuries including cuts, sprains, dehydration, fractures etc., local hospitals will usually be able to provide adequate medical provision. In most instances you will be within 0-4 hours' drive of a local hospital. Doctors here will probably not speak English, so your guide would translate.
+ Evacuation to Ulaanbaatar (and Abroad) - SOS Medica, in Ulaanbaatar, are part of a chain of international private clinics. They provide a helicopter medical evacuation service in partnership with A-Jet Aviation, and have English-speaking local and international medical staff. Their contact details and 24hr emergency number are in our 'Trip Manual', a copy of which is provided in each vehicle. On more remote trips that are equipped with satellite phones, their contact details are saved on the phone. For more information on SOS Medica, please visit www.sosmedica.mn.
We recommend that our trekkers also sign up for Global Rescue, which is rescue services only, as a supplement to your travel medical insurance.
Book package through Wicis-Sports via Carlota Fenes (email@example.com)
Wicis-Sports Wearable Tech | Sports Package
Live personal heath stats via a wearable chest strap heart rate monitor.
Track your vitals (heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation), the weather, GPS locations, altitude, speed, bearing and stream LIVE via a Thuraya satellite hot spot. Partners: OCENS (weather), Global Rescue, Aspect Solar.
Thuraya Telecom + WiCis Sports offer connectivity to Himalayan treks + expeditions
"Founded in 2011 by Harvard and Stanford anesthesiologist Dr. Leo Montejo and located in the Lake Tahoe area, the company’s goal is to promote the use of mHealth and tracking devices to make adventure sports safer and engage their followers with real time data that is either private or also available to social medial platforms."
Book package through Wicis-Sports via Carlota Fenes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We have a full medical kit with us including Diamox, antibiotics, inhalers, bandages, re-hydration, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs etc. but please bring a supply of all prescription and personal medications. Kim has First Aid, CPR and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications as well as many years of experience with altitude in the Himalaya but is NOT a qualified medic or doctor, so please have a check-up before leaving home, and inform us of any medical issues. This is for YOUR OWN safety.
DO bring all prescription medications and good rehydration/electrolytes. We advise bringing your own Diamox, Ciprofloxin, Azithromyacin & Augmentin. We have all of these with us but the Western versions are always better than the Indian equivalents.
Arrival in Ulaanbaatar
The guide and driver will meet you in the arrivals hall at Ulaanbaatar Chinggis Khan Airport. Transfer to the hotel and check into your room. The plan for today is quite flexible, as arrival times may differ between group members, and you will probably want some downtime to relax and catch up on sleep. You may also need to sort out exchanging money and other practical things.
Extra Nights - Single $90 | Double $65
Arrival By Air
Ulaanbaatar's Chinggis Khaan airport is small by international standards. Arriving and departing is usually a painless and relatively swift process.
+ Exit the plane and queue up at passport control counters marked 'Foreign'. Usually there are 2 of them. This will take up to 30 minutes, depending on your place in the queue.
+ Then proceed downstairs to collect your luggage (there is only 1 carousel) before exiting to the arrivals hall.
+ After collecting baggage, you may be asked by customs officials to screen your luggage in a machine before exiting and/or check your luggage tags against the corresponding labels that you were given when checking in, to make sure you have taken the correct bags.
Departure by Air
+ Check-in 2 hrs prior to flight time is ample for all international flights
+ There is no departure tax to pay (all taxes are included in ticket prices)
+ Fill in a departure card and hand in at passport control counters after going through security
+ There are shops and cafes in the departure area near the gates.
Arrival By Rail | China
Passengers travelling by train across the China/Mongolia border at Erlian/Zamyn-Ud should expect a delay of a few hours because of the need to change the bogies, as the railways use different gauges. If travelling from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar on Train No. 23 you should expect the following
+ Arrival at Chinese border approx 8pm
+ Hand over passports and declaration forms (these are provided by attendants in advance), which are taken away and returned later.
+ You may or may not have the choice to stay on the train during bogie change. If you can ,or have to, stay on the train, please note that the loos will be locked.
+ If you can, or have to, leave the train this is for most people the preferred solution, but take a book/iPad/cards etc. You will be led into the station waiting room where there is access to loos and usually a small convenience store may be open. Don't count on it though.
+ After 2-3 hrs you will get back on the train and passports handed back.
+ The train will move a short distance into Zamyn-Ud, the Mongolian border. Your passports will be taken again, and returned once checked.
+ You will finally be on the move again anytime between midnight and 2am, so do not expect unbroken sleep until then!
Arrival By Rail | Russia
No need to change the bogies, but the border crossings can take longer - up to 6-7 hours combined. Coming into Mongolia from Russia, you have to get off the train in Naushki whilst they uncouple carriages not going on to Mongolia. There is a station cafe, loos, and you can walk into the town if you want, although it is only worth it just to pass the time and to stretch your legs. Maybe 4hrs here, then back onto the train - more passport checks, no-mans land/border crossing, then 30kms the Mongolian border town of Sukhbaatar where it stops for an hour or so (get off and have a wander/drink if you want, or stay on train), and then you're off.
+ Most trains arrive in Naushki around lunchtime and you're off and rolling out of Sukhbaatar by around 9pm, arriving into Ulaanbaatar at 6am.
Flights to Mongolia
The number of flights and routes to Mongolia has increased significantly in recent years. The following cities have direct flights to Mongolia, and all are major international transit hubs providing connections to many countries. The flight frequency listed is based on summer schedule during June-Sep (winter schedules are often subject to reduced frequency).
Beijing - MIAT and Air China both fly direct daily
Frankfurt - MIAT fly direct 2 times per week
Hong Kong - MIAT fly direct 5 times per week
Istanbul - Turkish Airlines fly 'direct' 3 times per week (refueling en route!)
Moscow - Aeroflot fly direct daily; MIAT fly direct 2 times per week with connections from/to Berlin as well.
Seoul - MIAT and Korean Airlines both fly direct daily
Tokyo - MIAT fly direct 5 times per week
Extra Days in Mongolia
If you would like to visit the Gobi Desert or spend more time in Mongolia, let us know and we will help to make arrangements for you. Details and prices according to your specifications and time, but set aside at least five days for a Gobi trip.
Temperatures + Clothing Mongolia has an extreme rages of climactic zones, ranging from the scorching, humid Gobi to the cold steppe. In general we visit Mongolia in the summer, so you can expect hot days while traveling across the country in jeeps, the usual mountain weather when trekking. Chilly in the evenings, gets hot during the day, can rain or snow. Think layers, bring a down jacket, down sleeping bag, sun hat, sunscreen, good sunglasses, light hiking shoes.
Ullanbaatar is casual, bring a pair or jeans and something light to wear out to dinner if you want. Nothing revealing outside of Ullanbaatar, in general. The Gobi is EXTREMELY hot, so bring lightweight and light colored clothing, sandals, sun hats and stay out of the mid-day sun!
Temperatures + Clothing
Mongolia has an extreme rages of climactic zones, ranging from the scorching, humid Gobi to the cold steppe. In general we visit Mongolia in the summer, so you can expect hot days while traveling across the country in jeeps, the usual mountain weather when trekking. Chilly in the evenings, gets hot during the day, can rain or snow. Think layers, bring a down jacket, down sleeping bag, sun hat, sunscreen, good sunglasses, light hiking shoes.
Ullanbaatar is casual, bring a pair or jeans and something light to wear out to dinner if you want. Nothing revealing outside of Ullanbaatar, in general. The Gobi is EXTREMELY hot, so bring lightweight and light colored clothing, sandals, sun hats and stay out of the mid-day sun!
+ All information below from our excellent Mongolian agent! +
Mongolia is country of extreme weather patterns, with warm, short summers and long, dry and very cold winters. Known as "the land of blue sky", Mongolia usually has about 250 sunny days a year - but the majority of these are between September and May. In the coldest winter months of December-February, some areas of the country drop to as low as -50°C , with Ulaanbaatar often seeing temperatures of -35°C. In the summer the Gobi basks in 30°C+ temperatures, whilst it's colder the further North you go.
You might expect to see a chart of 'averages' in this section. Forget it - it's irrelevant! At best it just shows you how cold it is in winter, and at worst it is misleading about what to expect in the summer.
If travelling between May and September, 4 seasons in 1 day is a distinct possibility, and 4 seasons during the trip is an absolute certainty. Anything is possible, from 30°C and no wind in May, to 15°C and snow in August.
There are, however, some distinct benefits about this changeable climate - bad weather often passes very quickly. And more often than not, the weather is good. Here is a quick overview of what to expect during the main travel months:
May - Dry, windy, dusty, sunny. Large fluctuations in temperature. Day 10-20°C; Night 0-10°C
June - First half similar to May, then temperatures rise and less fluctuation. More cloud cover, some rain. Day 15-25°C; Night 10-15°C
July - A mixed bag. Very changeable - sunshine most days, but also cloud and rain most days. Day 15-30°C; Night 10-20°C
August - First half similar to July, then it becomes a lot drier and sunnier, but colder at nights. Day 15-30°C; Night 0-15°C
September - Dry, sunny, calm, chilly. Day 0-20°C; Night -5 to +5°C
It is usually colder in the North and warmer in the South, as is to be expected. One thing is for certain: you will have to pack for all eventualities!
Think layers. Think casual. Think practical. Duffel bags recommended for easy packing and transport. Pack loose-fitting, lightweight cotton materials, the most comfortable for humid and warm conditions, thermals, fleece tops, fleece + fiber-filled jackets for colder conditions, waterproof + windproof jackets important to pack. Lighter colors for the desert.
Cultural Issues + Etiquette
Mongolian culture is rich in social tradition and even in modern times there are many everyday situations where there are accepted ways of doing things. This is particularly true in the countryside, where there is an additional set of codes associated with visiting a ger, and other rural nomadic customs. Respect and superstition lie behind almost all of them - respect for ones elders and for nature, plus superstition linked to the powers that shape the natural world, manifested through beliefs rooted in shamanism. There are also Buddhist elements to many practices.
Don't worry though, no Mongolian will expect you to know many of their customs (if any at all) and most will delight in teaching you, including your guide. You will not insult people by making mistakes, but you might if you don't learn from them!
+ Pass with right hand
+ Shake the hands of someone who you have accidentally bumped feet with
+ Accept food or drink that is offered to you - if you don't like it, at least be seen to try it before passing it on or handing it back
+ Accept vodka if served and passed round - dip your ring finger in, then throw a few drops to the sky, into the wind (to the side), and to the floor. If you don't want to drink, you can still perform this ritual, then touch your forehead with the finger, and put the glass back on the table.
+ Proceed to the left as you enter a ger
+ Pass with left hand
+ Point with your finger
+ Point the soles of your feet to anyone when sitting
+ Talk or joke about bad things that may happen
+ Say thank you too much or for small gestures
+ Pass anything between or lean against the ger poles
+ Touch other peoples hats, let alone to sit or stand on one
+ Step on the threshold to a ger
Mongolians are renowned for their hospitality and generosity - particularly in the countryside. You will visit nomadic families during your trip - which may occur once or twice, or may be a daily occurrence, depending on your itinerary and personal preference. Locals will not expect anything in return for their hospitality - it is a natural, cultural tradition to welcome passing travellers into their home and offer tea, food, snuff, vodka etc. However, it is perfectly appropriate to offer gifts as a small token of your appreciation.
Gifts that are appreciated by nomadic families include both small tokens of friendship and also practical presents. Nomads in the remote areas of Mongolia rarely have stores nearby, are often on a tight budget, and they appreciate useful gifts. It is not necessary to bring large quantities - just a few items. We ask that you do not bring tobacco and alcohol for adults, nor sweets for children, for obvious reasons.
• Pens, notebooks, and notepads
• Something specific to where you come from - postcards, decorated tea towels, coasters, keyrings
• Fabric, scarves, warm socks, and gloves
• Small flashlights with batteries or wind-up torches
• Small pocket knives
• Sewing kits
• Pictures of the Dalai Lama or khatags, the Buddhist blessing scarves (get in UB), will be appreciated by older people
• Incense & Lighters
• Picture books, colouring books, stickers and pencils for children
• Hair bands and hairclips
• Small toys, such as farm animals, model aeroplanes
Mongolia produces some good quality natural products, and traditional items. The most popular items are paintings, antiques, handicrafts, carpets, books, cashmere, traditional Mongolian clothing, musical instruments, Buddhist artefacts, leather goods, wall hangings, postcards, snuff bottles, and woodcarvings.
Throughout your trip you will have the opportunity to go shopping - from a roadside craft-stand selling yak wool products, to a cashmere factory outlet store in Ulaanbaatar. Our itineraries sometimes have shopping suggestions - but they are purely optional and you will never be taken shopping unless you have requested it or it has been offered as an option beforehand. In Ulaanbaatar there are a number of interesting shops, plus the usual standard tourist fare in souvenir shops. Your guide will be on hand to make suggestions if desired.
When buying any antiques, you need to be careful about what you buy as some of it is illegal. Make sure the shop you buy it from can produce a certificate of authenticity, as well as a receipt, in case you are asked for it by customs.
Bargaining - Most of the shops in towns have fixed prices which are often displayed on the goods. Do not try to bargain here. At markets, tourists are unlikely to be charged very much more than the locals, unless they are buying antiques, jewelry and other cultural items. By all means try and get a price down but be reasonable. For example, as a guide, don't try for less than 60-70% of the asking price. And only start bargaining if you're seriously interested in buying. Mongolians also don't mess around, unlike their Chinese cousins. They'll state a price to begin with, you then state a lower offer, and they will then generally state their lowest price that they are willing to go. You should, in most cases, take or leave it at that stage rather than trying to haggle further, as doing so will probably only frustrate or offend them.
Mongolian is the primary language of Mongolia. Linguistically, Mongolian belongs to the Altaic family, which includes Turkish, Japanese, and Korean. Modern Mongolian, based on the Khalkh dialect, developed following the Mongolian People’s Revolution in 1921. The introduction of a new alphabet in the 1940s developed along with a new stage in Mongolia’s national literary language - including the assimilation of many Russian words.
Mongolians still use two types of writing: the classical script and the Cyrillic alphabet. The classical Mongolian alphabet, which is written vertically, is a unique script used by speakers of all the various dialects for about a thousand years. In spite of increasing interest in using only the classical alphabet, along with the decision by Parliament to use it for official papers, the majority of Mongolian people use the Cyrillic alphabet, which was adopted in the early 1940s.
Most Mongolians speak little or no English - especially in the countryside. At hotels, bars, shops and restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, most staff will have basic knowledge, and menus/signs are often written in English. Your guide and driver will teach you some basic phrases, but if you would like to come more prepared then please consult the 'Further Reading' section of this document for recommended language books.
Tips + Tipping
Tipping is quite a recent concept in Mongolia, but it is understood and appreciated. Drivers and guides will probably expect it, but only if they have earnt it! Here is some basic guidance, but please use your own discretion. If in doubt during your trip please ask your guide for advice.
+ Porters - It's useful to have a small collection of $1 bills or 500 and 1000MNT notes for porters at hotels and ger camps.
+ Restaurants - Service is not included. Tips are not generally taken for granted, but if you've had a good meal with good service we suggest leaving 10% - always in cash, not on card as the staff probably won't get it.
+ Airport transfers, city transport - In Ulaanbaatar you may have different drivers and vehicles than in the countryside, for practical reasons. It is not necessary to tip city drivers, and most wouldn't expect it. But if you do feel that they have gone the extra mile (and I don't mean taking the long way round!), then you could tip them $2-5pp for the day or equivalent in local currency.
+ Guides - A guide might ordinarily receive tips between $150-$400 in total for a trip lasting 10-14 days, depending on group size. So, let's say you might budget between $50-$100 per person, depending on group size. On shorter trips, a calculation of $5 per day per person - based on a group of 2-4 pax - would be our recommendation. Solo travellers may want to increase it slightly.
+ Drivers - You will discover just how hard the drivers work, so tipping levels should not be far off what guides get. As an indication, budget 60-75% of guide tip allowance for drivers.
+ Others - Horse/Camel guides up to $5per day per person; Cooks on camping trips - similar to drivers (see above); Ger Camp staff, not at all necessary or expected but $1-5 here and there could be given at your discretion - for example, you may feel that a particular staff member at a camp deserves a little something. Perhaps they have been lighting the fire in your ger at dawn each morning, or have gone beyond the call of duty to help you or improve your stay.
Currency + Changing Money
The tögrög (or tugrik) is the official currency of Mongolia. It uses the sign ₮ and code MNT. There are no coins, only notes, with denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000. The exchange rate (as of January 2016) is 1USD = 1990MNT; 1GBP = 2870MNT; 1EUR = 2165
You can't get MNT abroad - only in Mongolia. There are many banks, ATMs and exchange bureaus all over Ulaanbaatar, and some at the airport. Opening hours of the bigger bank branches are from 8 until 8, and some are 24hrs. Some close on Saturday, and all close on Sunday. You can also change money at the most hotels.
USD, GBP, Euro, Yuan, Yen, and other major international currencies (particularly Asian ones), are all fine to bring to exchange. But the best one is USD, because you can actually pay for certain things in USD - including tips (locals often prefer it). If bringing USD, make sure you bring crisp, clean notes, 2009 issue or later - otherwise most places won't accept or exchange them.
+ Do NOT bring traveller's checks. They are hardly accepted anywhere!
You are unlikely to need a great deal of money, as almost all our trips are inclusive of meals and most activities. On a 2-week trip, a budget of $400pp should easily do, probably less if you are a couple or family. Roughly half may go on tips, and the rest on miscellaneous things like alcohol, and small trinkets, arts and crafts etc. that you might buy in the countryside. This doesn't include any purchases you might make in Ulaanbaatar - e.g. cashmere, leather goods, traditional crafts - but these can be paid for on credit card, or by getting money out of the numerous ATMs around town.
Transport in Mongolia
Mongolia is a large country with a limited, though steadily improving, transport infrastructure. In many ways, the network of pot-holed roads, gravel trails and dirt tracks are an integral part of what make the country so appealing for travelers. Driving here is not a sanitised asphalt chore indistinguishable from your daily lives back home, but a predominately off-road overland adventure through diverse landscapes rich with wildlife and nomadic culture.
We recognize the need to balance the time it takes to drive anywhere with the time that you have available in Mongolia, and the need to experience, do and see. Unlike many companies, we do not advocate rattling along in a vehicle for 7 hours every day just to tick off points on the map from behind a car window. On our journeys, any necessary long drives are offset by photo stops, picnic lunches, roadside pitstops, tea/coffee breaks, and of course seeing points of interest, leg-stretching walks, dropping in on nomadic families, popping into villages and markets.
Consecutive days of long drives are rare - we prefer to stagger trips so that guests can enjoy and explore special areas where you really benefit from staying 2 or more nights, especially if you're staying at one of our favorite ger camps.
To make the most of your time in Mongolia, we design itineraries which combine overland driving sections with domestic flights between Ulaanbaatar and far-flung areas of interest. The airlines we use are reputable companies with impeccable safety and maintenance records, with ever-growing fleets of modern aircraft. The majority of provincial destinations also have paved runways.
UAZ + Landcruisers
Our vehicle of choice is the UAZ. Fun, functional & practical, most of our guests fall in love with these indomitable vehicles and our fantastic team of drivers. With a high wheel base, large surround windows, ample luggage space, the flexible sociable layout comfortably seats 4-5 guests plus guide and driver. Quite simply, these beasts of the east were born for the wilds of Mongolia.
If your priority is comfort & air-con, and are prepared to pay a bit extra, then the Landcruiser is the perfect option. These vehicles are ideal if you're travelling as a couple or as a smaller group looking for 2 or more cars to provide flexibility and privacy. Please note that, unless specified, we do not use Landcruisers for our group trips.
Domestic Flights + Baggage Allowance
There are 2 companies who operate domestic flights in Mongolia - Aeromongolia and Hunnu Air. There is not much to choose between them in terms of quality or service, so we tend to choose airlines according to scheduling preferences and/or availability. Domestic flights are operated using Fokker 50 and Airbus 319. The aircraft carry between 50-120 passengers depending on the type of aircraft and route flown.
+ During June-August there are twice daily flights to the most popular provincial destinations of Dalanzadgad (for Gobi Desert) and Muron (for Lake Khovsgol). During the off-season and winter months flights are much more limited.
+ Hunnu Air and Aeromongolia allow 10kg hold + 5kg hand luggage. Both airlines officially restrict hand luggage to 1-piece but this is rarely enforced. Excess baggage charges are between $2-5 per kilo depending on the route, so a few extra kilos isn't going to break the bank.
Roads in Mongolia
The vast majority of Mongolia's official road network, some 40,000 km, are simple cross-country tracks. Around 5000 km are graded, gravel covered or otherwise improved, but only 3500km are paved, although these latter two figures are increasing as the government is investing heavily in creating better road links between the main provincial centers and the capital.
Accomodation in Mongolia
From the warmth of countryside hospitality, and the novelty of sleeping in a traditional ger, to the laid-back character of the capital's service culture, the accommodation Mongolia has to offer is diverse. Enjoy the relative luxury of lodge-style countryside retreats and Ulaanbaatar's modern hotels, plus homely and endearing rural ger camps, and other more rustic options - including homestays and camping.
Our Mongolia agent regularly reviews and researches the accommodation choices to ensure that guests are provided with the right balance of style and substance, with local flavou and character. The various overnight stays in Mongolia will offer variety and interesting experiences, mostly tremendously enjoyable and memorable.
Hotels in Mongolia
On most journeys you will spend your first and last night in Ulaanbaatar, often by necessity as well as by design. Like any rapidly developing metropolis, traffic, noise, and pollution are all issues - so location is key. We have a preferred list of hotels that balance character, atmosphere, service, cleanliness, and comfort - all within convenient well-lit walking distance of the city center.
Outside of the capital, you will spend some - or perhaps all - of your nights at ger camps. These are locally-run enterprises set in rural locations near areas of cultural, historical or geographical interest. A ger camp typically comprises 20-30 gers, each with 2-4 beds and a traditional wood-burning stove. Separate male & female bathroom blocks with western-style facilities are located a short distance away, as well as a communal larger dining ger or lodge where meals are served.
Facilities can vary from civilized to basic. Some camps have 24hr mains electricity, hot water on demand, plus lighting and plug sockets in the gers. Others have no mains electricity, but have generators that operate only at certain hours. Hot water is often only available at certain times, and even then it is not guaranteed. Extra services are provided by many ger camps - laundry, massage, sauna, equipment hire (e.g. fishing rods, kayaks etc. at Lake Khovsgol). Unless otherwise specified in the itinerary, the costs for these are extra.
Many itineraries include homestays with local families where you can experience Mongolian life up close. Stay in a guest ger, learn their customs, and enjoy traditional cuisine.
Activity based wilderness trips will mainly consist of wild camping. Some with vehicle support, others with pack animals and a more pared down equipment quota. Our Mongolia agent supplie all camping and cooking gear except for sleeping bags which can be rented from us at a small additional charge.
Food in Mongolia
We guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by the food available in Mongolia. This is partly because your expectations will be low, but also because, contrary to popular belief, dietary options are not just limited to mutton and fat. In Ulaanbaatar, there is a range of great local and international restaurants, and although in the countryside the choice and ingredients are more limited, there are some traditional culinary specialties to enjoy and savor.
Ger camps have set menus (for example, cucumber & tomato salad, beef goulash, fruit compote). Traditional cuisine is served but often with a twist or refined to suit Western tastes. Russian influences are stronger than Chinese, although both feature.
We cater for all dietary needs (vegetarian, vegan, dairy, wheat free, etc). We like to vary meals during a trip - lunch may be with a nomadic family, or at a roadside cafe, or a picnic. Each vehicle is also kitted out with a snack box - chocolate, crisps, nuts, dried and fresh fruit. We often also stop and stock up on supplies at local villages and markets.
In summer, delicious local homemade yoghurt, clotted cream and wild berry jams are also available - often from nomadic families, but also at ger camps. Although mainly imported, a growth in organic farming has led to an increase in availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.
We include an unlimited supply of still mineral water on all trips which involve overland travel in vehicles. We provide small bottles and also large containers from which we fill the small bottles from. This enables us to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Wherever you stay or eat, they will not mind you bringing in your own bottled water, so we advise stocking up from the vehicles each night to avoid you having to pay unnecessarily for water.
For adventure trips, during sections without vehicle travel (i.e. walking, on horseback), we either provide water filters which enable you to fill up your bottles at streams and rivers, or we boil enough water each morning for you to carry in your daypacks and drink as you go along.
Soft Drinks + Alcohol
We provide a complementary 'starter pack' selection of soft drinks and alcohol on all trips - but once these supplies have gone you will need to stock up yourselves, if desired. Ger camps have bars - some well-stocked including an array of soft drinks, mixers, drinkable wines, spirits and cold beers; and others less well-stocked, often just with fruit juice, vodka and room-temperature beer. The former tend to disapprove of - or not allow - guests bringing in their own drinks (other than water); but the latter tend to accept that guests will bring in other drinks to supplement their own poor selection!
There are plenty of opportunities on most trips to stop in villages and towns en route to stock up on extra drink supplies if needed. Choice in the countryside is more limited than in Ulaanbaatar, so if you know you have a penchant for a specific imported soft drink, gin and tonic, a good red wine, or a nice whisky, then visit a supermarket in Ulaanbaatar at the start of your trip or the Duty Free shop before you arrive.
Mongolian tea is the local drink of choice - traditionally made in a large pot over a stove with half-water, half-milk, a handful of tea leaves, some salt, and perhaps a dollop of butter (or fat left over in the pan).
In the summer months, airag - fermented mare's milk - is widely available in the countryside. The fresh milk is stirred and aerated over a period of 2-3 days until it starts to ferment. A 'young' airag will taste light, slightly sharp and lightly fizzy with a very slight alcohol content (0.5%)- not too unpleasant. An 'older' airag - a week or two old - will taste rich, sour and fizzy, with a slightly higher alcohol content - this is an acquired taste!
There is a wide variety of Mongolian beer - much of it very good, partly due to the German-invested breweries and equipment. The classic Borgio lager is a national staple, as well as Sengur, whilst the pilsner style Chinggis and Golden Gobi offer a more robust flavour, and darker brews such as Khar Khorum add further variety. No mention of drink would be complete without vodka - Mongolians drink a lot of it. Most is poor quality, but some (like Bolor) is very good. Nomads distil their own 'milk' vodka, which is around 10-12% and is surprisingly drinkable.
Responsible Travel | Goyo
From our excellent Mongolian Agent: The concept of responsible travel is highly subjective, a turn of phrase that is overused, often mis-understood and under-implemented - both by travel companies and travellers alike. At Goyo Travel we don't pretend to be whiter than white, nor do we make overblown claims about our ethical credentials, nor use hackneyed quotes by historical figures and pretend we live by their mantras. What we are though is honest, fair and transparent, whilst doing our best to reduce our environmental impact and give back to the communities that we visit.
Local & International Perspective- We strive hard to make sure that any cross-cultural interaction or transaction is mutually beneficial. We pay locals a good wage - from our office staff, through to our guides and drivers, right down to nomadic families providing a meal or horses for rent. We also charge our guests what is fair - not what we can get away with. Thus closes the gap between expectation and reality, and everyone comes away satisfied. We also invest in people's futures and livelihoods - from simple things like paying tax and social insurance, to training and education of local staff and partners, cross-fertilisation of ideas to improve the Mongolian tourism industry, and creating new sources of income for nomadic families such as homestays or recruiting rural family members as cooks/assistants.
In tandem with our environmental concerns we also endeavour to source, where practical and available, a good proportion of equipment and provisions that are 100% Mongolian. A Mongolian biscuit can be equally as good as a British one, the difference being that it hasn't travelled 6,000 miles to get to you. Conversely, we also recognise the importance of imported goods bought by us in Mongolia, especially when there is not a suitable locally-made alternative - in these instances, quality combines with the added benefit of international investment in the country's economy and employment.
Environmental Travels | Goyo
We recognise that the environmental impact of travelling to Mongolia is considerable and it's not realistic or practical to think it can be completely offset in a vain attempt to clear our conscience. However, we can do our best to mitigate the damage. Here's a list of measures we take to do our bit for the environment:
- We carry 20 litre containers of water to refill smaller bottles, thereby reducing the amount of plastic waste
- We dispose of rubbish in large towns rather than rural areas, as otherwise it often ends up in unsightly and environmentally damaging open landfill sites in the open countryside on the edge of villages.
- A percentage of all our revenue goes to support environmental projects such as Gobi Oasis, a tree-planting nursery in Mandalgobi that fights against the increasing desertification - www.gobioasis.com
- We do not drive distances that are better walked, unless weather or guest fitness does not allow. This is particularly applicable in Ulaanbaatar where the traffic is horrendous - walking is not only by choice but also necessity!
- We request our staff pick up litter in rural areas if they come across it, sometimes encouraging guests to join in too! Litter is an all-too-common problem in a country where non-degradable food and drink packaging was almost non-existent 20 years ago, and its increase has sadly not been matched by environmental policies and education.
- We streamline our logistics. For example, if a driver needs to get to or from a remote pick-up or drop-off point for domestic flights, then we endeavour to manage different trip bookings so their drivers finish one job in the same place they start the next. If not possible, we make sure they don't drive empty - instead carrying equipment, staff and/or local passengers as a public transport service.
- Behind the scenes, we do what we can in the office, including walking to work; printing only what we have to, and on recycled paper or on back of used paper; doing bulk shopping at wholesalers every so often rather than regular car journeys to supermarkets.
Local Community Projects | Goyo
Our wonderful Mongolian Travel Agents believe that supporting local community projects and charitable foundations is important - as part of our collective contribution to cultural, social and environmental regeneration. However, we like to combine financial donations with personal investment of time - with visits and active involvement in projects giving an insight into the work they do and delivering a more meaningful experience for both sides. Here's are just a couple of examples of how we do this
Women's Quilting Centre - We support this group of previously disenfranchised ladies who have turned their skills to needlework, using a variety of quilting techniques, combined with traditional Mongolian design, to provide a great selection of handicrafts. We visit their workshop and outlet on most trips, use many of their products, and can offer guests the opportunity to spend a day learning techniques and making traditionally designed items. All monies go directly to the project.
Gobi Oasis - Byamba has been running the Gobi Oasis tree nursery tirelessly for over 35 years, planting seedlings to combat desertification. The project is located on the edge of the provincial town of Mandalgobi, and on many trips we stop by for an overnight stay in with Byamba's family, with a visit to the nursery to plant some seedlings. We also take volunteers to work at the nursery for periods of 1 -6 weeks and longer. All monies from these visits go directly to running of Gobi Oasis.
Photography in Mongolia
Many people travel to Mongolia for the photographic opportunities that the country offers - whether you are interested in landscapes, portraits, architecture or photo-journalism. All our itineraries are very flexible, building in time for unplanned photo stops, and taking advantage of sunrise and sunsets in key locations.
When it comes to photographing people, Mongolia is generally no different to other countries in the world - most people don't mind having their photo taken, but some don't. But either way, unless you are being discreet and at an unintrusive distance, please ask permission before you do it. Unless, they ask you first of course! This is also quite common particularly in rural areas or at festivals and other times of celebration when people love to have their photo taken, especially if they are in full traditional costume. On such occasions, the value of having a Polaroid camera is immeasurable, so it is definitely something to consider - particularly if you are likely to travel regularly to other countries where you might benefit from having one.
Photography is generally not permitted inside temples and museums, although many will allow it for a fee - usually around $5 or so for still shots, and more for video. These costs are not included in any itinerary and must be paid in cash.
Employ a degree of care and sensitivity when taking scenes of everyday life - particularly in villages and markets, as people do not like feeling as though they are being objectivised or degraded. Also be sensitive about taking pictures of things that to Mongolians may seem odd for you to want to photograph - for example, a carcass of a camel at a market may be a novelty sight for any visitor, but to them it would be like you seeing someone in your own country taking a picture of chicken in a supermarket (for which you'd certainly get some odd looks!). In all these situations, perhaps explain why you want to take such pictures, so they understand your motives. If in doubt, ask your guide. They will be able to advise, negotiate special permission in places if necessary, and also translate on your behalf.
Photography Tips | Goyo
- Bring a polarising filter to cut the glare on sunny days.
- Cotton buds are useful for cleaning hard-to-reach areas in dusty conditions
- Large, heavy-duty garbage bags or ziplocks can be useful to protect your camera in inclement weather.
- For travel in wet conditions, you might want to consider bringing a dry bag or Pelican Case.
- Please be particularly careful in the Gobi, as both dust and sand are plentiful and can wreak havoc on cameras
- Bring a spare fully charged battery if on a remote expedition, as charging opportunities could be limited.
Communications in Mongolia
UB | Connection 24/7 - During your time in the capital, you should not have a problem with communications. Foreign mobile phones, Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, tablets and android devices should all work to make telephone calls - and usually also receive e-mails and internet connection. However, if these services aren't working, or you don't have an internet-enabled phone, many hotels and cafes have wireless broadband, which can obviously be used with laptops as well. Hotels also have business centres with desktop computers, internet, fax, printer, and copying services. There are also phones in the hotel rooms.
Countryside | Mobile Phones - During your time in the countryside, communications will be more limited. Mobile coverage is increasing every year, even in rural areas, so you and/or your guide will have access to mobile phone reception at some time on most days.
Internet Access | Internet access will be restricted to larger towns and villages which you will have the opportunity to pass through every few days - these will have internet cafes, often with slow connection (and also affected by sporadic power cuts). We advise all guests that it is best just to plan for no internet access whilst you are in the countryside.
Satellite Phone | We provide some trips with a satellite phone, depending on the remoteness of the route and/or activities and the associated risk involved. Your itinerary inclusion/exclusion sections will indicate whether or not your trip includes provision of a satellite phone. If it does not, and you would like one to be provided, please ask us in advance of your departure and we can arrange satellite phone rental at a small additional cost.
The best advice my friend photographer and writer Michael Benanav who spent three months exploring Mongolia had for me was to 'Let it all go' and learn the phrase for 'Call off the Dogs'!
Mongolia (or Outer Mongolia), a vast country in the heart of Central Asia referred to by its inhabitants as 'Blue Mongolia', is a country of eternal blue sky, nomads, yurts, desert and extreme contrasts. Protected by an immense blue dome, the Mongolians revere nature and the heavens and their protectors. To this day, Mongolian women offer the first sip of their milky tea to the sky gods
Mongolia, its meager population (which has quadrupled since the turn of the century) of 2.7 million living in an area half the size of Europe, is sandwiched between Russian and China, and was caught in a tug-of-war for many years with Russia winning out. In 1990 Mongolia became democratic and instituted numerous political reforms; after many years of being closed, its now open to the outside world and it welcomes tourism but with a more basic infrastructure than other Asian countries in general. Twelve hundred years ago the nation we now know as Mongolia was made up of nomadic tribes, but now only half of the population continue their nomadic lifestyle, the other half living a much more modern life-style in cities and towns. The nomads produce approximately 20% of the Pashmina wool sold on the world-wide market.
Before the onset of communism when all but one monastery were destroyed and nearly half the monk population killed, Mongolia was second only to Tibet as a strong-hold of Tibetan Buddhism. Since the liberalization in the 1990s there has been a huge revival of Buddhism, and Mongolia now hosts over 130 Buddhist monasteries. There are also approximately 60,000 Kazakh Muslims and a small percentage of Christians in Mongolia.
The topography of Mongolia ranges from the Gobi Desert to high mountain ranges to the severe Siberian steppe ...
The Altai Mountains, the largest chain in Central Asia, guard the farthest western reaches of Mongolia, at the point where China, Russia and Mongolia meet. The Tavan Bogd or 'Five King Peaks' are the highest peaks in the Mongolian Altai range, the highest reaching over 4000 meters. In the summertime, the region is full of colorful wildflowers. Kazakh and Uriankhai nomads roam the plains with their flocks of sheep and herd of horses, camels and sometimes even yaks, living in their traditional yurts, called gers in Mongolia. The Muslim Kazakhs are famed worldwide for hunting with their Golden Eagles. The Uriankhai are Buddhist, and hunt in a more traditional way with bows and arrows.
Kharkhiraa Uul and Turgen Uul are twin peaks dominating the western aimag, home to the Khotan nomads, famed throughout Mongolia as shamans, grazing their flocks in the summertime.
Spectacular Khovsgol Lake, the crystal clear 'Blue Pearl of Mongolia' and its second largest lake, is home to three unique ethnic groups, the Dharkad, the Buriat and the Tsaatan (Dukha) people, all of which still exist as they have for centuries. The region is an enclave of Shamanism rather than Buddhism. Stretching over 100 kilometers into the Siberian taiga, Khovsgol is a popular fishing destination and home to over 200 species of birds. It is surrounded by beautiful, flowering meadows and bordered by the Khoridol Saridag mountains to the west.
+ Below Information from GOYO +
History of Camels
About 285,000 Bactrian camels - 30% of the world’s population - live in Mongolia, mainly in the Gobi desert. Camels are powerful animals, standing over 2 metres tall at the hump and weighing 720-820kg. A camel can haul loads of nearly 300kg at a rate of 50km per day. Although averaging 4km/h, they have been clocked at over 65km/h. Well adapted to harsh climates, camels are famous for their ability to travel as many as 160kms without water. They retain their body moisture efficiently, and have a large capacity for storage. A thirsty camel can drink as many as 135litres at a 10minute sitting. They don't store water in their humps - these conserve up to 36kg of fat, which allows the camels to survive when food is scarce. The humps shrink as fat is consumed for energy.
Horses + Riding
Mongolian horses are of a stocky build, with relatively short but strong legs and a large head. They range in size from 12 to 14 hands high. Despite their small size, they are horses, not ponies! Mongolian horses have great stamina, although they have smaller body they can gallop for 10 km without break. The hooves are very robust, and very few animals are fitted with horseshoes.
The design of the Mongolian ger has remained virtually unchanged for centuries. It consists of wooden lattice walls - usually in 4 or 5 sections - which are linked and tied together, with a door facing south. Two large central poles support a round ceiling opening, which is kept in position by many long poles which fan out as a roof and attach to the top of the wall sections. This wooden frame is then covered with felt, tarpaulin and a linen cover, all tied down with animal-hair rope. A stove is then placed in the middle of the ger, with the chimney coming out through the central roof hole.
+ Below Information from WIKIPEDIA +
(1162 – August 18, 1227). Born Temüjin, Genghis Khan was the founder and Great Khan (Emperor) of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. After founding the Empire and being proclaimed "Genghis Khan", he started the Mongol invasions that conquered most of Eurasia. Campaigns initiated in his lifetime include those against the Qara Khitai, Caucasus, andKhwarazmian, Western Xia and Jin dynasties. These campaigns were often accompanied by wholesale massacres of the civilian populations – especially in the Khwarazmian and Western Xia controlled lands. By the end of his life, the Mongol Empire occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia and China.
Before Genghis Khan died, he assigned Ögedei Khan as his successor and split his empire into khanates among his sons and grandsons. He died in 1227 after defeating the Western Xia. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Mongolia. His descendants extended the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia by conquering or creating vassal states in all of modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and substantial portions of modern Eastern Europe, Russia, and Southwest Asia. Many of these invasions repeated the earlier large-scale slaughters of local populations. As a result, Genghis Khan and his empire have a fearsome reputation in local histories.
Beyond his military accomplishments, Genghis Khan also advanced the Mongol Empire in other ways. He decreed the adoption of the Uyghur scriptas the Mongol Empire's writing system. He also practiced meritocracy and encouraged religious tolerance in the Mongol Empire while unifying the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. Present-day Mongolians regard him as the founding father of Mongolia.
Although known for the brutality of his campaigns and considered by many to have been a genocidal ruler, Genghis Khan is also credited with bringing the Silk Road under one cohesive political environment. This brought communication and trade from Northeast Asia into Muslim Southwest Asia and Christian Europe, thus expanding the horizons of all three cultural areas.
Temüjin was related on his father's side to Khabul Khan, Ambaghai, and Hotula Khan, who had headed the Khamag Mongol confederation and were descendants of Bodonchar Munkhag (c. 900). When the Jurchen Jin dynasty switched support from the Mongols to the Tatars in 1161, they destroyed Khabul Khan. Temüjin's father, Yesügei (leader of the Borjigin clan and nephew to Ambaghai and Hotula Khan), emerged as the head of the ruling Mongol clan. This position was contested by the rival Tayichi’udclan, who descended directly from Ambaghai. When the Tatars grew too powerful after 1161, the Jin switched their support from the Tatars to the Keraites.
Autumn at the Onon River, Mongolia, the region where Temüjin was born and grew up. Little is known about Temüjin's early life, due to the lack of contemporary written records. The few sources that give insight into this period often contradict. Temüjin's name was derived from the Mongol word temür meaning "of iron", while jin denotes agency thus temüjin means "blacksmith”. Temüjin was probably born in 1162 in Delüün Boldog, near the mountain Burkhan Khaldun and the rivers Onon and Kherlen in modern-day northernMongolia, close to the current capital Ulaanbaatar. The Secret History of the Mongols reports that Temüjin was born grasping a blood clot in his fist, a traditional sign that he was destined to become a great leader. He was the second son of his father Yesügei who was a Kiyad chief prominent in theKhamag Mongol confederation and an ally of Toghrul Khan of the Keraite tribe. Temüjin was the first son of his mother Hoelun. According to theSecret History, Temüjin was named after the Tatar chief Temüjin-üge whom his father had just captured.
Yesukhei's clan was Borjigin, and Hoelun was from the Olkhunut sub-lineage of the Khongirad tribe. Like other tribes, they werenomads. Temüjin's noble background made it easier for him to solicit help from and eventually consolidate the other Mongol tribes. Temüjin had three brothers Hasar, Hachiun, and Temüge, one sister Temülen, and two half-brothers Begter and Belgutei. Like many of the nomads of Mongolia, Temüjin's early life was difficult. His father arranged a marriage for him and delivered him at age nine to the family of his future wife Börte of the tribe Khongirad. Temüjin was to live there serving the head of the household Dai Setsen until the marriageable age of 12. While heading home, his father ran into the neighboring Tatars, who had long been Mongol enemies, and they offered him food that poisoned him. Upon learning this, Temüjin returned home to claim his father's position as chief. But the tribe refused this and abandoned the family, leaving it without protection.
For the next several years, the family lived in poverty, surviving mostly on wild fruits, ox carcasses, marmots, and other small game killed by Temüjin and his brothers. Temujin's older half-brotherBegter began to exercise power as the eldest male in the family and would eventually have the right to claim Hoelun (who was not his own mother) as wife. Temujin's resentment erupted during one hunting excursion when Temüjin and his brother Khasar killed Begter.
In a raid around 1177, Temujin was captured by his father's former allies, the Tayichi'ud, and enslaved, reportedly with a cangue (a sort of portable stocks). With the help of a sympathetic guard, he escaped from the ger (yurt) at night by hiding in a river crevice. The escape earned Temüjin a reputation. Soon, Jelme and Bo'orchu joined forces with him. They and the guard's sonChilaun eventually became generals of Genghis Khan.
At this time, none of the tribal confederations of Mongolia were united politically, and arranged marriages were often used to solidify temporary alliances. Temüjin grew up observing the tough political climate, which included tribal warfare, thievery, raids, corruption, and revenge between confederations, compounded by interference from abroad such as from China to the south. Temüjin's mother Hoelun taught him many lessons, especially the need for strong alliances to ensure stability in Mongolia.
Marriage to Börte
As previously arranged by his father, Temüjin married Börte of the Onggirat tribe when he was around 16 in order to cement alliances between their two tribes. Soon after the marriage, Börte was kidnapped by the Merkits and reportedly given away as a wife. Temüjin rescued her with the help of his friend and future rival, Jamukha, and his protector, Toghrul Khan of the Keraite tribe. She gave birth to a son, Jochi (1185–1226), nine months later, clouding the issue of his parentage. Despite speculation over Jochi, Börte would be Temüjin's only empress, though he did follow tradition by taking several morganatic wives. Börte had three more sons, Chagatai (1187–1241), Ögedei (1189–1241), and Tolui (1190–1232). Genghis Khan also had many other children with his other wives, but they were excluded from succession. The names of at least six daughters are known, and while they played significant roles behind the scenes during his lifetime, no documents have survived that definitively provide the number or names of daughters born to the consorts of Genghis Khan.
Temüjin began his ascent to power by offering himself as an ally (or, according to other sources, a vassal) to his father's anda (sworn brother or blood brother) Toghrul, who was Khan of the Keraites, and is better known by the Chinese title "Wang Khan", which the Jurchen Jin dynasty granted him in 1197. This relationship was first reinforced when Börte was captured by the Merkits. Temüjin turned to Toghrul for support, and Toghrul offered 20,000 of his Keraite warriors and suggested that Temüjin involve his childhood friend Jamukha, who had himself become Khan of his own tribe, the Jadaran. Although the campaign recaptured Börte and utterly defeated the Merkits, it also paved the way for the split between Temüjin and Jamukha. Before this, they were blood brothers (anda) vowing to remain eternally faithful.
The Culture of Mongolia has been heavily influenced by the Mongol nomadic way of life. Other important influences are from Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and from China. Since the 20th century, Russian and, via Russia, European cultures have had a strong effect on Mongolia.
Among the topics that are mentioned from the oldest works of Mongolian literature to modern soft pop songs are love for parents and homesickness, a longing for the place where one grew up. Horses have always played an important role in daily life as well as in the arts. Mongols have a lot of epic heroes from the ancient time. Hospitality is so important in the steppes that it is traditionally taken for granted. The Mongolian word for hero, baatar, appears frequently in personal names, and even in the name of Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolian: Улаанбаатар, Ulan Bator). The word was introduced in the Middle Ages to many non-Mongolic languages by conquering Mongol-speaking nomads, and now exists in different forms such as the Bulgarian language, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Persian, North Indian and Georgian. Traditional words such as temul signified a way to describe creativity and passion; temul was used in several Mongol words and had the meaning to: "rush headlong, to be inspired or to have a sense of creative thought, and even to take a flight of fancy. It can be seen from Mongolian perspective as “the look in the eye of a horse that is racing where it wants to go, no matter what the rider wants."
Yurts in the Mongolian Countryside
The ger (yurt) is part of the Mongolian national identity. The Secret History of the Mongols mentions Genghis Khan as the leader of all people who live in felt tents, called gers, and even today a large share of Mongolia's population lives in ger, even in Ulaanbaatar. Ger also means home, and other words are derived from its word stem. For example, gerlekh means to marry.
Religion in Mongolia
Since ancient times Tengrism was the dominant belief system of the Mongols and still retains significant importance in their mythology. During the era of the Great Khans, Mongolia practiced freedom of worship and is still a defining element of the Mongol character. In the 17th century, Tibetan Buddhism became the dominant religion in Mongolia. Traditional Shamanism was, except in some remote regions, suppressed and marginalized. On the other hand, a number of shamanic practices, like ovoo worshiping, were incorporated into Buddhist liturgy.
Tibetan Buddhism is a ritualistic religion with a large number of deities. This inspired the creation of religious objects including images in painting and sculptures.
After the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, both Buddhism and Shamanism were virtually outlawed in the Mongolian People's Republic. In Inner Mongolia, traditional religion was heavily affected by the Cultural Revolution. Since the 1990s, a number of Christian sects are trying to gain a foothold in Mongolia. About 4% of the Mongolian population is Muslim.
The Mongolian cuisine is primarily based on meat and spices, with some regional variations. The most common meat is mutton, supplemented in the desert south by camel meat, and in the northern mountains by beef (including yak). Dairy products are made from mare's milk (Airag), from cattle, yaks, and camels (e.g. clotted cream). Popular dishes include buuz (a type of meat dumpling), khuushuur (a meat pastry), khorkhog (a meat stew, usually a special meal for guests), and boortsog (a sweet biscuit). The meal commonly known as Mongolian barbecue.
Starting in the second half of the 20th century, vegetables are increasingly becoming a part of the Mongol diet as well. In Ulaanbaatar, there is a wide range of imported food available.
Music in Mongolia
Mongolia has a very old musical tradition. Key traditional elements are throat-singing, the Morin Khuur (horse head fiddle) and other string instruments, and several types of songs. Mongolian melodies are typically characterized by pentatonic harmonies and long end notes.
In the 20th century, western style classical music has been introduced, and mixed with traditional elements by some composers. Later on the full palette of Pop and Rock music has also been adopted by younger musicians.
The Mongolian Waltz is a dance unique to Mongolia. Typically, one mounted horseman and one mounted horsewoman circle each other in time to a traditional song, which speeds up as it progresses. The three step gait of the horses, as they circle, gives the dance its name.
Clothes in Mongolia
Mongolian dress has changed little since the days of the empire, because it is supremely well-adapted to the conditions of life on the steppe and the daily activities of pastoral nomads. However, there have been some changes in styles which distinguish modern Mongolian dress from historic costume. The deel, or kaftan, is the Mongolian traditional garment worn on workdays and special days. It is a long, loose gown cut in one piece with the sleeves; it has a high collar and widely overlaps at the front. The deel is girdled with a sash. Mongolian deels always close on the wearer's right and traditionally have five fastenings. Modern deels often have decoratively cut overflaps, small round necklines, and sometimes contain a Mandarin collar.
Depictions of Mongols during the time of the empire, however, show deels with more open necklines, no collars, and very simply cut overflaps, similar to the deels still worn by lamas in modern Mongolia. In addition to the deel, men and women might wear loose trousers beneath, and men may have worn skirts during the later Buddhist period, and women might wear underskirts, but in fact it appears on some Mongol paintings women wore wide trousers gathered at ankle, similar to shelwar or Turkish trousers. Skirts of the same style are still worn in part of Mongolia and China today; they have plain front and back panels with closely pleated side panels. Paintings of Mongols from Persian and Chinese sources depict men, and often women, wearing their hair in braids. The hair would be divided into two pigtails, each of which would be divided into three braids. The ends of the braids would then be looped up and bound to the top of the braid behind the ears. Men shaved the tops and sides of their heads, usually leaving only a short "forelock" in front and the long hair behind. The famous bogtag headdress worn by women seems to have been restricted to married women of very high rank.
Each ethnic group living in Mongolia has its own deel design distinguished by cut, color, and trimming. Before the revolution, all social strata in Mongolia had their own manner of dressing. Livestock breeders, for example, wore plain deels, which served them both summer and winter. The priests wore yellow deels with a cape or khimj thrown over it. Secular feudal lords put on smart hats and silk waistcoats.
Customs + Superstitions
Mongolians traditionally were afraid of misfortunes and believe in good and bad omens. Misfortune might be attracted by talking about negative things or by persons that are often talked about. They might also be sent by some malicious shaman enraged by breaking some taboo, like stepping on a yurt's threshold, desecrating waters or mountains, etc.
The most endangered family members were children. They are sometimes given non-names like Nergui (Mongolian: without name) or Enebish (Mongolian: not this one), or boys would be dressed up as girls. "Since people of the steppe received only one name in life, its selection carried much symbolism, often on several levels; the name imparted to the child its character, fate and destiny." Before going out at night, young children's foreheads are sometimes painted with charcoal or soot to deceive evil spirits that this is not a child but a rabbit with black hair on the forehead.
When passing ovoos (cairns) on a journey, they are often circumambulated and sweets or the like are sacrificed to have a safe trip. Certain ovoos, especially those on high mountains, are sacrificed to obtain good weather, ward off misfortune, and the like.
For a child, the first big celebration is the first haircut, usually at an age between three and five. Birthdays were not celebrated in the old times, but these days, birthday parties are popular. Wedding ceremonies traditionally include the hand-over of a new yurt (ger) to the marrying couple. Deceased relatives were usually put to rest in the open, where the corpses were eaten by animals and birds. Nowadays, corpses are usually buried.
A Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar
The most important public festivals are the Naadam (English: game). The biggest one is held each year on July 11–13 in Ulaanbaatar, but there are also smaller ones on aimag and sum levels. A Naadam involves horse racing, wrestling, and archery competitions.
For families, the most important festival is Tsagaan Sar (English: white month), which is roughly equivalent to the Chinese New Year and usually falls into January or February. Family members and friends visit each other, exchange presents - very popular presents for all opportunities are the khadag - and eat huge quantities of buuz.
Under the Soviet influence, New Year became a big event, and it is one of the biggest celebrations, comparable to Christmas in the West.
Letter from Arghun, Khan of the Mongol Ilkhanate, to Pope Nicholas IV, 1290
The oldest completely passed down work of Mongolian literature is probably also the most well-known abroad: The Secret History of the Mongols. It does, however, contain passages of older poetry. Otherwise, few examples of Mongolian literature from the time of the Mongol Empire have come down in written form: fragments of a song about the mother and the area where one grew up were found in a soldier's grave at the Volga river in 1930, 25 manuscript and block print fragments were found in Turpan in 1902/03, Pyotr Kozlov brought some fragments from Khara-Khoto in 1909.
Other pieces of literature have long been orally traded and typically consist of alliterative verses, and are known as Üligers, literally meaning tales. They include the proverbs attributed to Genghis Khan, and the epics around the Khan's life, or the one about his two white horses. Other well-known epics deal with Geser Khan. Famous Oirad epics are Jangar, Khan Kharangui, Bum Erdene, and more.
Beginning from the 17th century, a number of chronicles have been preserved. They also contain long alliterative passages. Notable examples are the Altan Tovch by Luvsandanzan and another anonymous work of the same title, Sagang Sechen's Erdeniin Tovch, Lomi's History of the Borjigin clan (Mongol Borjigin ovgiin tüükh), and many more.
Already at the time of the Mongol empire, samples of Buddhist and Indian literature became known in Mongolia. Another wave of translations of Indian/Tibetan texts came with Mongolia's conversion to Tibetan Buddhism in the late 16th/ early 17th centuries. Beginning in the 1650s, copies of religious texts like the Kanjur and Tanjur and also of epics like Geser Khan began to appear as block prints. These prints were mainly produced in Beijing, but also in some Mongolian monasteries.
In Mongolia's time under the Qing dynasty, a number of Chinese novels were translated into Mongolian. At the same time, social discontent and an awakening Mongol nationalism lead to the creation of works like Injanash's historical novel Blue Chronicle or the stories about "Crazy" Shagdar.
Beginning with the works of Tseveen Jamsrano and other Buryats in the 1910s, many important works of Russian and European literature, or at least those that were not politically incorrect, were translated into Mongolian in the 20th century.
Religious theatre plays about the Tibetan hermit Milarepa were already performed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The oldest Mongolian drama known today, "Moon cuckoo" (Saran khökhöö) was created by Danzanravjaa around 1831. The play got lost in the early 20th century, but in the meantime other theatre groups had developed. The first professional Mongolian theatre was founded in Ulaanbaatar in 1930. In the socialist period, every aimag got its own theatre. Since the 1990s, a number of small privately owned theatre companies, like Mask or Shine üe prodakshn have been founded. They heavily focus on light comedies and skits, and also regularly produce clips that are distributed on DVD or the internet.
Mongolian Fine Arts
Sita (White) Tara by Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar. Mongolia, 17th century
Before the 20th century, most works of the fine arts in Mongolia had a religious function, and therefore Mongolian fine arts were heavily influenced by religious texts. Thangkas were usually painted or made in applique technique. Bronze sculptures usually showed Buddhist deities. A number of great works are attributed to the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, Zanabazar.
In the late 19th century, painters like "Marzan" Sharav turned to more realistic painting styles. Under the Mongolian People's Republic, socialist realism was the dominant painting style, however traditional thangka-like paintings dealing with secular, nationalist themes were also popular, a genre known as "Mongol zurag".
Among the first attempts to introduce modernism into the fine arts of Mongolia was the painting Ehiin setgel (Mother's love) created by Tsevegjav in the 1960s. The artist was purged as his work was censored.
All forms of fine arts flourished only after "Perestroika" in the late 1980s. Otgonbayar Ershuu is an important painter of our time, he was portrayed in the film "ZURAG" by Tobias Wulff.
Cultural Artifact Controversy
On May 20, 2012, a rare skeleton of a Tarbosaurus bataar, also known as Tyrannosaurus bataar, was sold to an undisclosed buyer for $1,052,500 at an auction in New York City, USA, despite efforts by Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia to stop the sale. The Mongolian government is concerned about maintaining control over fossils and cultural relics while scientists worry about such items disappearing into private collections. A smuggler was convicted in a New York court in December 2012 for looting Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons originating from Mongolia and transporting them to the United States for sale.
Cinema of Mongolia
In socialist times, movies were treated as a propaganda instrument by the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. The first topics were popular legends and revolutionary heroes like in Sükhbaatar. In the 1950s, the focus shifted to working class heroes, as in New Year. The 1970s saw many documentaries and everyday life stories as in The Clear Tamir.
After democratisation, film makers turned to international partners for support, as in the Japanese-Mongolian co-production Genghis Khan. Independent directors like Dorjkhandyn Turmunkh and Byambasuren Davaa created movies that connected ancient traditions and mythology, and how they may relate to life in a modern world. Byambasuren's The Story of the Weeping Camel was nominated for an Academy Award as foreign documentary in 2005.
Games of Mongolia
Popular board games are chess and checkers. The chess figures are noyon (noble = king), bers (cp. bars "tiger" = queen), temee (camel = bishop), mori (horse = knight), tereg (cart = castle), khüü (boy = pawn). The rules used today are the same as in European chess, although there are differing versions called 'Mongolian Chess' and 'Daur Chess'.
Dominoes are played widely. Indigenous card games existed in the 19th century but are now lost. One of the popular card games that is played is Muushig.
Sheep anklebones, or shagai, are used in games, as dice or as token. Rock, paper, scissors and morra-like games are also played. Wood knots and disentanglement puzzles have traditionally been popular.
Mongolian children were known to have played an ice game on frozen rivers that is similar to curling.
Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photographs
Day 1 - Arrive Mongolia (Ulaan Baatar/Ulan Bator)
Arrive in Ulan Bator (locally known as Ulaan Baatar), where about half of the Mongolia population now lives. You'll be met at the airport by a representative from Happy Camels and/or our guest house (TBA) and driven to the centrally-located guest house where your rooms are booked for you. Take a walk around Ulan Bator to get yourself oriented; visit the main square with the impressive statue of Ghengis Khan or head up to the Zaisan Memorial on a hill overlooking the city. There are also several museums worth visiting for those who arrive early including the Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum and the Choijin Lama or State Oracle Residence Museum. There is also the Winter Palace of Bogd Khan, the palace of the last theocratic ruler of Mongolia, to visit if time permits.
Day 2 - Ulan Bator
A free day in Ulan Bator today, so take the day and explore the city. Some options are to visit Gandan Monastery, home of Tibetan Buddhist since 1911, to visit the Chojin Lama Museum or to do one of several other things (see start of trek, UB). We will set up a local sight-seeing tour based on what you would like to do.
Day 3 - Drive to Saishand in the Gobi Desert
We leave Ulan Bator in our private jeep for the long drive to Saishand, in the Gobi Desert ,where we will stay with a local camel-breeding family. This is a unique opportunity to experience the warm hospitality of the Mongolian families. For dinner we will be offered a typical Mongolian meal that will be prepared by nomads. Those who want will have the opportunity to try the 'airag' or fermented horse milk! Mmmm. Our guide/translator will help us to communicate, ask questions and bond with these families.
Day 4 - Camel Riding in Gobi Desert + Kharmiin Khiid Monastery
Hop on! You'll have a 1 1/2 - 2 hour camel ride to the Khamriin Khiid Monastery in the morning, before the sun gets too hot, and the rest of the day (after a local lunch) will be spent at the monastery.
Day 5 - Khamriin Khiid Monastery
We're back on our wonderful camels to visit Khamariin Monastery (Sambala Khiid), where we will explore a region of petrified wood, dinosaurs bones, Sambala energy complex and cave monasteries. We'll wander around in the beautiful, ochre sand dunes in the afternoon, a unique experience.
Day 6 - Khar Uul Monastery
We'll spend another desert day on our camels, this time just for the morning. After lunch we will take jeeps to another small monastery, Khar Uul, at the other side of the railroad. Once there, we'll climb up to the top of the hill and enjoy spectacular views from high up in the Mongolian sky ...
Optional Day: Zuunbayan
You can drive to Zuunbayan and visit this ghost town. It used to be a Russian military base, but since the Russians left this town was abandoned. Now empty buildings are all that remains.
Day 7 - Drive Ulan Bator
Sadly we leave the Gobi and our new friends behind and head back to Ulan Bator in our jeeps.
Day 8 - Trip Ends
We take you to the airport for your flight home. It's been an amazing journey through Mongolia, the land of the eternal blue sky.
© Kim Bannister