THIS VAST COUNTRY IS HOME TO ONE OF THE LAST TRULY NOMADIC CULTURES
Mongolia, like any place, is not just one thing. While the country is home to one of the last truly nomadic cultures, it also has Ulaanbaatar, a modern city with a great mix of lifestyles and traditions. The wide-open spaces of the desert-like landscapes often seem as if they will go on forever, unpopulated by humans and without any road signs (hardly even a proper road), when suddenly seemingly out of nowhere, a resort hotel will appear complete with green lawns, beautiful rooms, and a wonderful outdoor dinner served under canopies and stars.
THE LAND OF DINOSAURS
Our very own planet is still full of mysteries, hidden treasures and plenty of adventures to be embarked on. One proof was the finding of one of the largest petrified dinosaur footprints, found on earth, from the Mongolian Gobi Desert just this autumn. And the world paleontology is more than 200 years old! So, we never know what else can be found from such less discovered and majorly untouched places like Mongolia. Below, let’s look into some of the highlights of Mongolian amazing dinosaur facts and findings which date back to 100 million years ago on average.
EARLY DAYS OF MONGOLIAN DINOSAUR DISCOVERY
Then paleontologist at the American Natural History Museum Roy Chapman Andrews accidentally discovered some debris of dinosaur fossils back in 1922 in the Mongolian Gobi Desert, namely at Flaming Cliffs or Bayanzak, during their Central Asiatic Expeditions en route to Beijing. Despite their initial intention to look for artifacts of early humans, such accidental discovery triggered him to come back to Mongolian Gobi two more times in the subsequent years and they all paid off. Andrews not only found few different species of dinosaur fossils, but also discovered the first ever dinosaur eggs during his expeditions to Mongolia.
Andrew’s expeditions to the Gobi introduced Mongolia to the rest of the world as the land of dinosaurs for the first time. However, because of the ongoing domestic political turmoil in Mongolia, Andrew’s team was no longer able to continue their expeditions in Mongolia.
MONGOLIAN DINOSAUR DISCOVERY DURING SOVIET ERA
As of today, there are almost 500 different species of dinosaurs identified based on various artifacts and fossils found around the world. Out of these 500 species, around 80 species were found in Mongolia. Among those 80 species, some were believed to be as small as a chicken and some as gigantic as the size of 10-20 elephants combined. Substantial portion of such discoveries, in Mongolia, were made during the Soviet era; namely through joint Russian – Mongolian paleontological expeditions in the 1940s and joint Polish – Mongolian paleontological expeditions in the 1960-1970s. One of the most praised findings from stipulated time is the Fighting Dinos which believed to be killed during extreme sandstorm while fighting with each other.
MONGOLIAN DINOSAUR DISCOVERY STILL LIVELY IN THE PRESENT
Since 1990s, there have been multiple joint expeditions, namely those with Korean and Japanese palaeontologists, aiming to untangle more mysteries and reveal more hidden treasures in Mongolia. Discovery of the giant dinosaur footprint mentioned in the beginning is one of the most notable results of such expeditions. There have been tons of other discoveries which should have collectively contributed tremendously to the understanding of our planet, its evolution and potentially even future trends.
Unfortunately, being the land of dinosaurs has made Mongolia attractive not only to palaeontologists and adventure-seekers, but also to the greedy. Since 1990s, illegal fossil digging and poaching has increased. There have even been incidents of returning illegally exported dinosaur fossils from USA to Mongolia. The Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs /ISMD/ is one of the most dedicated NGOs on the ground working towards educating children and raising general awareness about dinosaurs, particularly the sites and artifacts, that deserve much protection and preservation, through not only top-down but bottom-up approaches.
Interestingly, at Flaming Cliffs and other popular dinosaur sites in the Gobi, locals have still been able to spot some debris of the dinosaur fossils which they offer to tourists for sale. You may want to try out your luck and hunt (not dig!) for dinosaur fossils while hiking in the steppes or the cliffs as well.
In any case, we would be privileged to be your bridge to connect to the mysterious world of the dinosaurs in Mongolia!
Mongolia has a lot to offer to nature lovers. A large portion of its area is characterized by unsurpassed human and geographical diversity of steppe, desert, forest and lake-lands, which are occupied by various distinct ethnic groups.
Horses and riding in Mongolia
Horses are a part of Mongolia’s culture as traditionally they indicate the wealth of the owner. Most Mongolians know how to ride a horse and the horses are a part of Mongolian songs and even govern the pace of life with their speed.
Infants are often taught to ride a horse and the prowess of young Mongolian men is measure by their skills as a horseman. Mongolia is a great setting for adventurous travelers who like to experience traditional lifestyles, which remain largely unchanged from the times when Ghengis Khans horsemen create one of the world’s largest empires.
The Mongol horse is a native breed of horses from Mongolia. Allegedly the breed is mostly unchanged from Genghis Khan’s time. The number of animals held by the country is much greater than its human population.
Horses live outdoors all around the year in Mongolia and look for food on their own. The milk of these horses is processed into airag, the national beverage of Mongolia. Every person in a Mongolian family usually has his or her own horse.
How to ride a Mongolian horse
If you would like to go horseback riding in Mongolia, you can do so by either signing up for a riding tour, renting a horse or even buying your own horse. Mongolian families often sell horses that they do not have much utility for. But it is recommended to book an organized riding tour.
It is always best to have a Mongolian guide with you, unless you know the area really well. Apart from the actual act of riding, the challenge is ensuring you have water sources along the way. Just for back up always carry sufficient water for your horse.
Mongolian horses usually get going with the sound ‘choo’. Climb your horse from the left side to the saddle. Mongolian horses are used to his because that is the side they were climbed on by Genghis Khan’s warriors.
In the beginning you may feel unbalanced while riding. Finding the right balance is the first important part of horse riding. Use your hands and legs to control the horse and other aids if you do have them. Remember not to panic ever and make any rash decision while you are on the horse because you and the horse could get hurt.
THE NAADAM FESTIVAL
The Mongolian national holiday Naadam is celebrated in Mongolia each year on 11 July. “Eriin gurvan naadam” the three manly games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery- make up the core activities of the National day festivals.
Wrestling: At the start of competition all the wrestlers with the higher title – holder in front , enter the hall in a line wearing gutuls (decorated Mongolian boots. ) and hats and their wrestling costumes called “zodog”(an open fronted , long sleeves vest of silk) and “shuudag”(tight short trunks ). There are many different titles for the wrestlers such as Titan (avarge), Lion (arslan). Zaan and Falcon. All the names signify strength. Titles are mostly confirmed during the national festival Naadam. A wrestler who wins five fights in succession uring one competition has the right to have the title of Falcon, and if he wins seven fights in succession Elephant. When a wrestler wins all the fights in a competition during one of these festivals he will be a Lion. If he wins a subsequent year he merits the title of titan, the highest rank. There is a variety of throws used to defeat opponents. Some say there are hundreds of them. When the wrestling arena or step onto the carpet in the case of an indoor competition and the second take off the wrestler’s hats.
When a wrestler touches the ground with any part of his body other than his feet and arms, he is considered to be defeat. The main difference between Mongolian national wrestling and international free wrestling is that the weight category of wrestlers is not taken into consideration.
Horse racing: Mongolian people have loved horse racing since time immemorial. A whole system for conducting the contests has developed over the centuries. In the races held during national festivals, including Naadam, participants are six age groups and the distances range from 15-30kms. No special tracks are prepared, the horses covering the distance in the steppe and jumping over natural barriers. Before they start the riders sing an ancient war-like song -Giingoo. The competitors start at the finishing line and at the signal to start and back to the finish line. Thus the distance is actually doubled. The horse racing can be held on saddled or unsaddled horses. Horses of two years older take part. The winner is honored with a cup of airag which he drinks and sprinkles on the head and croup of his horse. After the races, praise-singer extols the best riders and their horses.
Archery: the third element of the national games is archery. Five lines engraved on an ancient Mongolian target immortalize the phenomenal record of Yesuhei- baatar, saying that his arrow hit the target at a distance of 536 meters. The bow is an ancient invention going back to the Mesolithic Period. Ancient Mongolians made their contribution to the design of the bow as a combat weapon.
Today Mongolian’s use less complicated form archery than in ancient time; the target is ‘wall’ made of cork cylinders braided together with leader straps. It is four meters long and 50cm high. The target is placed on the ground at a distance of 75 meters for men and 60 meters for women. In the past Mongolians used three types of bows; “big hand” (165-170cm),”average hand” (160cm), “small hand’ (150cm). Today Mongolian’s mostly use the average hand bow which requires a force of 22 to 38kg to draw it.
Arrows are usually made from pine wood and had feather fins which help the arrow to reach distance of 900 meters. Naadam archery also attracts individual archers as well as Teams of 8-12 people. Every male archer has forty arrows to shot at each target. The judges dressed in national attire, stand by the targets with hands held up after the arrows have been shot. They praise the best shot in a drawing recitative voice. The contests are accompanied by colorful national rites. Before the competition starts you hear the recitative song “uukhai’, calling on the archers to be good marksmen and hit the target.
Mongol New Year:
Mongolia and a number of other Eastern and Central Asian countries have followed the lunar calendar with its 12 year animal cycle since ancient times. The New Year according to the Oriental calendar in Mongolia is called Tsagaan sar which translate white month. There are many options about the origin of this name. One is that Mongols believe white symbolizes happiness, purity and abundance of milk products. The date of Tsagaan sar, depending on the phases of the moon, falls anywhere between the end of January and early March. Tsagaan sar is a birthday for all Mongols. Mongol families start preparations for a holiday almost a month a head. First of all there is a tradition to prepare plenty of gifts and food, in other words to have one’s hand’s full. Also gers, sheds and pens should be cleaned out. Every Mongol family makes hundred of buuzs and bunshes. Mongols like to greet the New Year in everything new. So women sew new dels for the whole family. According to custom Mongols kill a sheep, the fattest in the flock. Then the lower back with the tail is boiled and served on the table for the entire holiday. Tsagaan sar symbolizes wealth and prosperity in the family. The New Year eve in Mongolia is called Bituun – the last dinner of the old year. Beginning at noon family begins to set up the table. There must be several dishes; a dish with the boiled sheep’s back tail a dish with ul boov (traditional bread biscuit), a dish with the berees (rice cooked with butter , sugar and raisins) and dish with traditional milk products; aaruul. Byaslag (unsalted cheese), cream, etc. one must eat all the traditional dishes that evening; boiled lamb and beef, huge variety of milk products, buzes and dessert. Some families have the tradition of placing coins inside the banshes. Whoever bites into the bansh with them coins will have good luck. At the end of the evening everyone’s stomach is fully satisfied. The following morning everyone rises bright and early according to tradition (about 6-7 o clock). On this morning there are many customs to follow. The first is to greet the sun; everyone watches the sun rise. Second in order to have good health and happiness in the New Year, each individual must take “their first steps of the year”. Everyone takes some steps in a specific direction. The direction is dependent upon what lunar calendar year one was born in. for ex, a person who was born in the mouse year must take the first steps to the north at the first day of the monkey year. The following year the direction will be different. After the fist steps are take, all family members re-enter their home. At this point the traditional Tsagaan sar greetings begin. The oldest family member is greeted first. They are seated at the north side of the ger -the most respected side of the ger. The next oldest family member is the first to greet. This member carries the hadag- a beautiful piece of blue silk – across their arms. A cup filled with milk is placed in the right hand on the silk. This person greets the oldest family member by saying”Sar shinedee saihan shinelj bna uu?” and then gives the silk and milk to them. The younger member has her or his palms facing upward and grasps the older one’s elbows. The older member has palms faced down, and the arms are above the younger. While this occurring, the two kiss one other on each cheek. (This kiss, not exactly kiss, is the touching of one’s cheeks) On this day ‘all family members show their respect and love through this greeting. After the second oldest member has finished the greeting, the one family member greets the oldest member. Then they continue to greet one another and give gifts. After the greetings, the food is placed on the table and the eating and drinking begins once again. The drinks consist of airag and vodka. The almost favorable drink during this holiday is Mongol milk tea. The woman who is head of the house continually cooks, and serves, cleans all day. Her children help her with all of the work.
At this point, guests begin to arrive and continue to all day long. The greetings continue as well as the gift- giving. The conversation greetings with the guests are a little different. Usually, question is asked about livestock’s how they survived through the winter, if they are healthy, etc.
During this period it is expect that all family members visit one another. The greetings should be finished within 15 days then Tsagaan Sar has ended.
Mongolia Horse Trails Travel