The last place you would expect to find diverse landscapes would be in a landlocked country sandwiched between geographical giants – China and Russia. But, Mongolia is a country that continually defies expectations. Wind carved sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, emerald blue lakes and dense forests are just a sampling of the Mongolian landscapes that take on dramatically different and equally magnificent beauty dependent on the season. All this contained within a country categorized as the most sparsely populated in the world and you truly have the unspoiled and untamed wilderness that so many speak of but never truly find.
At a glance
For a population characterized by their nomadic lifestyle, where isolation is a way of life, Mongolians sure know how to put on a good festival. So it is fitting that the best way to get acquainted with Mongolia is through their annual festivals. On top of that list is the Naddam Festival taking place in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the largest of the year. The country gathers to celebrate the summer season with food, dance and music all to the backdrop of competition in the three national sports: wrestling, horse racing and archery. During the winter is the Ice Festival on the frozen Lake Khovsgol. Breaking up the cold season with a celebration of games and winter sports, the scenic venue is a great introduction to the culture of the nomadic reindeer herding tribe, the Tsaatan.
What to see
Festivals are a great way to get acquainted with the people but it is wilderness that makes up most of Mongolia. The best way to negotiate these landscapes is on some form of transport and we suggest a ride on the double-humped Bactrian camel to navigate the flowing dunes of sand in the Gobi desert, or a cross-country ski through the frozen steppe surrounded by winter forest and jagged mountain ranges in the Mongolian Taiga. You definitely can’t miss a horse-drawn sleigh ride over the crystalline ice of the frozen Lake Khovsgol or a motorbike ride from Ulaanbaatar to the countryside in the autumn to watch the changing leaves paint the landscape in a sea of gold.
Why we like it
Breath-taking scenery aside, Mongolians have reached legendary status when it comes to their hospitality and the reason we love Mongolia is because it offers that authentic cultural experience that true travellers revel in. Hence, your experience will not be complete unless you spend time with a Mongolian family in their traditional Ger drinking airag (fermented mare’s milk), or in a Tssatan tent singing folk songs and learning a traditional dance.