Mongolia – “Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky”

Mongolia is in the heartland of Inner Asia.  While the country is undergoing rapid social and economic change, it remains the “Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky” as a recent book referred to it. Today, about 170,000 families still live a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle in the steppes and forest lands in the central and northern part of the country, and in the Gobi desert in the South, undertaking seasonal moves with their livestock.  The five kinds of livestock – the treasure of the nomads – are horses, cow and yak, camel, sheep and goats.

Mongolian Livestock Herders

Today, Mongolia’s herders manage over 60 Million livestock, seeking to maintain their traditional lifestyle, while also introducing modern technology and practices to improve the life of their families and secure a future for their children. Many of the younger generation are also moving away from the hard life of a herder and into city life. Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, now home to 1.8 Million people, is quickly modernizing, while its outskirts are growing with gers (yurts) and small houses of migrants from the country side.

Mongolia is very rich as a nation, with a wealth of history and traditions, of landscapes, sites of natural beauty and of biological diversity, as well as of important mineral resources.

Mongolia – Early Human History,  and the Cradle of Nomadic Civilization

The oldest signs of human activity date from the Stone Age, and throughout the periods of history, human settlements and nomadic use of the land left a rich heritage that the traveler will come across in all parts of the country – from artifacts in cave sediments  and petroglyphs in the Gobi desert, deer stones in northern and western Mongolia, to the remnants of cities and magnificent palaces in the central part of the country around the ancient capital of Kharkhorin and the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the cradle of nomadic civilization.

The most revered sites of all, however, lie in the Khentii, the forest and mountain wilderness in the central northeastern part of the country where Temujiin was born and grew up and who was later to become Chinggis Khaan. It was Chinggis Khaan who united the warring Mongol tribes, founded the Great Mongolian State, and went on to establish the largest land empire the world has ever seen.

Mongolia Grasslands

Largest intact Grasslands and largest remaining herds of Migratory Wildlife worldwide today

Mongolia is famous for its vast expanses of grasslands where the largest remaining herds of nomadic wildlife, the Mongolian Gazelle, migrate. But the country holds a whole sequence of ecosystems, from northern taiga, montane and alpine regions, forest and forest steppe, and in the south the desert steppe that eventually turns into dryland desert and enormous sand dunes, canyon landscapes, and the Easternmost mountain ranges of the Gobi Altai.

Mongolia Biodiversity and Wildlife Conservation

Successful re-introduction of the sacred Takhi – the Wild Horses of Mongolia

Wildlife species include argali, ibex and snow leopard in the Altai mountain ranges, red deer, reindeer, roe deer, grizzly bear, and moose in the northern taiga and forest steppe; the grasslands are inhabited not only by gazelle and antelope, but offer habitat to numerous migratory bird species. Although wildlife populations have declined in the wake of economic and political change in the last 20 years, nature reserves and efforts to manage Mongolia’s landscapes as wildlife habitat still offer ample opportunity for wildlife sightings. A successful reintroduction program in the “Hustai Nuruu” National Park has brought the beloved Takhi, Mongolia’s wild horse, back to the steppe.

Mongolia’s Ancient Traditions in Nature Conservation

In ancient Mongolian cosmology, Tengri (the Sky-Father), and Gazar Eej (Mother Earth) were the central beings. Reverence for the “Eternal Blue Heaven” and care taking of “Mother Earth” are still important values, but good stewardship of the land and its resources is meeting with enormous challenges today.

Mongolia’s Recent History and Development

The more recent history of Mongolia is as colorful as the ancient one. Declared independent in 1911, Mongolia became the first Soviet satellite state, gained true independence in 1945, and in 1990 made a remarkably peaceful transition to democracy. Twenty years on, it is mineral resources that generate today already nearly 30 % of GDP compared to about 20 % contributed by the livestock sector.  A fierce competition for the exploitation of mineral resources is underway, and Mongolia is at the crossroads, and as ever, between giant neighbors.  A young generation of leaders in business and in government is driving Mongolia’s own economic development and steering the country through the rapid change.

Horses of Mongolia and Horseback Travel in Mongolia

Ever present throughout the country is the love of the horse, where on the steppes, herders still depend on them for their daily life. A Mongolian proverb says “A horse without a rider is still a horse, but a rider without a horse is just a man”. The annual Naadam festival in July that marks the country’s independence, highlights this fact with horses and horsemen from all over the country gathering in Ulaanbaatar for this annual holiday and where the horse is king.

Stone Horse Expeditions rely on the great Mongolian horses. Their stamina, combined with a typically great disposition, make Mongolian horses excellent trail horses for pack trips into the back country of Gorkhi Terelj National Park and into the wilderness of the Khan Khentii Mountains.

Mongolia – Good Horses and Blue Sky

With its continental climate with extreme temperatures, vast distances and a fast pace of change, Mongolia is challenging. Yet, you can make a good argument for being there. After all, where is the best place on Earth? For some, it’s on the back of a good horse and under the Eternal Blue Sky. And that, no doubt, is (most likely) in Mongolia.

Mongolia Horseback Trekking Expeditions

If you want to experience Mongolia on horseback, take a trail ride with Stone Horse Expeditions to explore cultural and wilderness landscapes.

Mongolia Information for further reading:

  • Baabar, B. 1999: History of Mongolia. The Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge. ISBN 999-0-038-5
  • Robinson, C. 2010: Mongolia – Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky. Odyssey Books and Guides. ISBN 978-962-217-808-3
  • Weatherford, J. 2004: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Crown Publishers New York. ISBN 0-609-61062-7
  • Carter, Liza, F. 2014: Moving with the Seasons: A portrait of a Mongolian Family. Can be found on Moving with the seasons.com and Amazon.com

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 Mongolia Facts

State and Political System, Geography and Population

  • Mongolia is a parliamentary republic. The parliament (State Great Khural) of 76 members is unicameral and appoints the Prime Minister. Elections are every 4 years.
  • Mongolia is a unitary state, divided into 21 Aimags (provinces), Aimags are divided into Soums, and Soums into Bags.
  • The population of Mongolia is 2.8 Mio., of wich 1.8 Mio now live in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar.
  • The land area is 1,566,000 square kilometers.
  • The average altitude is 1,580 m above sea level.
  • The climate is extremely continental, with an average summer temperature of + 20° C, and average winter temperature of -26° C.
  • Mongolia shares boundaries with China in the South and Russia in the North.