Blissfully distant from the hustle bustle of the rest of the world, yet accessible enough for the avid road-tripper to embark upon an adventure like no other – Mongolia is a picture of exquisiteness.
Expansive, verdant and exceptional; legendary Genghis Khan’s homeland is a treasure trove of fascinating traditions, festivals that celebrate Mongolian valour, historic scientific discoveries, hypnotic natural panoramas and rare flora and fauna.
Here are a few things that make this landlocked nation a dream destination for that inimitable road trip you have been waiting to undertake.
Mongolia’s only city in the truest sense of the word, Ulaanbaatar is situated on the banks of the Tuul River; encircled by mountains that host dreamy pine forests in the north and vividly green steppes in the south. A curious combination of Soviet-era remnants, traditional Mongolian influences and fast-paced urban developments – the city of Ulaanbaatar is a city of swiftly shifting contrasts where both ends of the horizon seem to be co-existing harmoniously.
Known since time immemorial for their strength and skill in the battlefield, Mongols have carried on the proud tradition by way of the festival of Naadam. Locals participate in three main “manly” competitions; archery, wrestling, and horseback racing as part of festivities which are believed to have originated with the rise of the Great Mongolian Empire, and was the mainstay of Genghis Khan’s strategy to ensure his warriors stayed in peak physical condition. The year 2010 saw the festival of Naadam being inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The wonderfully daunting Gobi Desert is a miracle of nature, and not in the least a small one! The mesmerizing Yol Valley, huddled in the lap of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan mountain range, and home to the majestic and very rare Lammergeier [bearded vulture]; the gorgeous Flaming Cliffs, where dinosaur eggs were first discovered by American palaeontologists almost a century ago in 1922; the many astonishing shades of Gobi, along with the ancient mysteries it nurtures, makes for an inimitably surreal experience.
Mongolia is one of the last few existing societies where the nomadic way of life is still very much prevalent. Traditional gers (white felt yurts) can be seen peppered across the emerald green of the vast countryside, savouring their solo presence beneath a screen of glittering stars.
You will find local herdsmen and their families more than eager to share their customs and manner of living with any visitors. In fact, Mongolians are known for their hospitality and will prove to be definitely some of the warmest people you will ever meet.
Two characteristic landmarks that deserve more than a visit or two from anyone who is looking to decipher the mysticism that marks Mongolia are the Ongiin and Erdene-zuu Monasteries.
A curve in the Ongiin River hosts the remains of two ruined monasteries, which together accommodated about 28 temples in their prime before being destroyed in the communist surge of the 1930s. The vast complex, with one small temple erected later in the day, is today referred to as Ongiin Khiid.
Erdene-zuu, on the other hand, is widely accepted to be the earliest surviving Buddhist hermitage in Mongolia. Fenced by the magnificent ruins of erstwhile Kharkhorin City’s colossal walls with 108 stupas, Erdene-zuu was built in the latter half of 1500s. At its peak it is supposed to have housed over 60 temples, with scores of monks in residence. After having been destroyed almost completely in the 1930s, the renowned monastery has been resurrected to much of its former glory today.
If the highly bucket-list-worthy Mongolia has set your senses afire, then give in to the wanderlust and join Adventures Overland on our soon-to-be-launched road trip to this beautiful country. We promise you will have only luxury and ease for company, as you cruise through the ‘Land of the Blue Sky’ in your very own 4×4 SUV.
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