Mongolia Country Information

Mongolia has a 3485km (2165-mile) border with the Russian Federation in the north and a 4670km (2902-mile) border with China in the south. From north to south it can be divided into four areas: mountain-forest steppe, mountain steppe and, in the extreme south, semi-desert and desert (the latter being about 3% of the entire territory). Mongolia is a far-flung, little-visited destination, with much to offer in terms of scenery, wildlife, historic and cultural sites. Outside the main cities, Mongolians continue to live the traditional life of malchid (herdsmen), and many are nomadic. The capital, Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator), is the country’s political, commercial and cultural centre. There are a number of museums in the city, the largest being the Museum of Natural History.

Meat is the basis of the diet, primarily beef and mutton. The local cooking is quite distinctive. One local speciality is Boodog. This is the whole carcass of a goat roasted from the inside the entrails and bones are taken out through the throat, the carcass is filled with burning hot stones and the neck tied tightly, and thus the goat is cooked from the inside to the outside.

There are evening performances at the State Opera and Ballet Theatre, State Drama Theatre and Puppet Theatre. The Folk Song and Dance Ensemble and People’s Army Song and Dance Ensemble are in the capital. Other major towns also have theatre

 Quick Facts

AREA: 1,566,500 sq km (604,829 sq miles).

POPULATION: 2,617,379 (1999).

POPULATION DENSITY: 1.5 per sq km.

CAPITAL: Ulaanbaatar. Population: 627,200 (1997).

GOVERNMENT: Republic. Declared independence from China in 1921. Head of State: President Natsagiyn Bagabandi since 1997. Head of Government: Prime Minister Rentsennyam Amarjargal since 1999.

LANGUAGE: Khalkh Mongolian is the official language. Kazak is spoken by 5% of the population. There are also many Mongolian dialects.

RELIGION: Buddhist Lamaism is the main religion.

TIME: GMT + 8 (Bayan Ulgii, Uvs & Khovd Aimags in western Mongolia GMT+7)

ELECTRICITY: 220 volts AC, 50Hz.

COMMUNICATIONS: Telephone: An Asiasat Earth station has provided international telecommunications with Mongolia since 1994. Country code: 976. Area codes: Ulaanbaatar: 1, Darkhan: 37, Erdenet: 35, Khovd: 43. Fax: Service available. Post: Airmail to Europe takes up to two weeks. There is a DHL service in Ulaanbaatar. Press: The main newspapers include Udriin Sonin, Unuudur, and Zasgiyn Gazryn Medee. The English-language papers published in Mongolia include The Mongol Messenger and The UB Post.

 Environment

Mongolia is a ginat, landlocked country almost 3 times the size of France, sitting between China and Russia. During the period of Mongol conquest under Genghis Khan and Kublai KhanIt, it was even bigger bigger . Up until just the last century, MOngolia included parts of Siberia and Inner Mongolia (now a part of China.

Relief
Mongolia can be divided into three major topographic zones: the fingerlike mountain ridges that thrust into the northern and western areas, the basin areas that lie between and around them, and the enormous upland plateau belt that sweeps across the southern and eastern sectors. The entire country is prone to seismic movements, with some earthquakes reaching extreme limits of severity; their effects, however, are diminished by the low population density.

The mountains
The present relief of Mongolia is the result of geologically recent upheavals of the Alpine mountain-building period. There are three major mountain belts. The highest and the longest spine is the westernmost, the Altai Mountains (Mongolian: Altayn Nuruu), which sweeps in from the northwestern tip of the country and thrusts toward the southeast for 1,000 miles. The main range–the only one in the country where contemporary glaciation has developed–is the Mongolian Altai Mountains, and a lesser range splitting off to the southeast is known as the Gobi Altai Mountains. The southeastern extremities of the main range also split into a number of smaller hills, all following the same general trend, losing themselves in the expanses of the Gobi.

The Hangayn (Khangai) Mountains, also trending northwest to southeast, form a solid mountain mass near the centre of the republic, with peaks towering to more than 12,000 feet. A characteristic feature is the gentle slopes and crests, often covered with fine pastures. The higher central portions are nevertheless rugged and precipitous. To the far north, the mountains adjoin the Sayan Mountains of Siberia.

The third mountain block, the smaller and lower Hentiyn (Khentei) range, trends southwest to northeast of Ulaanbaatar; it reaches a maximum height of about 9,200 feet, but in general its elevation is between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. Ulaanbaatar lies at the southwestern base of the range. The enormous Greater Khingan Range rises along and beyond the eastern frontier with China.

The northern intermontane basins
Around and between the main ranges mentioned above lie an important series of basins. In the northwest of the country, tucked between the Altai, the Hangayn, and the mountains of the frontier with Russian Siberia, lies a scenic basin complex known as the Great Lakes region, in which are strewn more than 300 lakes. Another basin complex lies between the eastern slopes of the Hangayn Mountains and the western foothills of the Hentiyn Mountains. The southern portion (the basins of the Tuul and Orhon rivers) is a fertile region important in Mongolian history as the cradle of settled ways of life. Its landscapes are strewn with the ruins of numerous ancient communities.

Farther north, on the northern flanks of the Hangayn Mountains, lies the remarkable Khorgo region, in which as many as a dozen extinct volcanoes and numerous volcanic lakes are found in a small area. Swift and turbulent rivers have cut jagged gorges. The source stream of the Orhon River is in another volcanic region, with a cluster of lakes, deep volcanic vents, and hot springs. Near the northern border, Lake H?vsg?l is the focus of another rugged, lake-strewn region, noted for its huge subterranean caves.

The plateau and desert belt

The eastern part of Mongolia has a rolling topography of hilly steppe plains, supplanted in the extreme east by clusters of small, flat plains lying at altitudes of 2,000 to 2,300 feet. Here and there, small, stubby massifs contain the clearly discernible cones of extinct volcanoes. The Dariganga area of Mongolia’s eastern tip contains some 220 such extinct volcanoes. Most of the southern part of the country is a vast rolling oasis-dotted plain, forming the northern fringe of the Gobi, which is predominantly stony. The flat relief is occasionally broken by low, heavily eroded ranges. Several spectacular natural features are found in the Gobi region. Huge, six-sided basalt columns, arranged in clusters resembling bundles of pencils, are found in the eastern and central regions. The southern Gobi contains three mountain ranges, known as the Gurvan Sayhan Mountains, and the scenic Yelyn Valley, now a national park, with deep gorges surrounded by towering rocky cliffs where condors have made their nests.

 History

A united Mongolian state was first established in the 13th century under the leadership of Temujin (Genghis Khan). His armies, and those of his successors, swept through and occupied Asia and Eastern Europe and threatened to engulf Western Europe as well.

In the 17th century the region became the Chinese province of Outer Mongolia. Mongolian independence was achieved, with Russian support, in 1911. China attempted to reassert its rule following the Russian Revolution of 1917 but was beaten back in 1921, with Soviet help. A short-lived restoration of the traditional feudal Buddhist monarchy was followed in 1924 by the declaration of a People’s Republic, under the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP). China finally recognised Mongolian independence in 1946.

Early in 1990, the MPRP ceded its monopoly of political power and promised multi-party elections within months. Jambyn Batm?nh, who had assumed the office of President in 1984 (taking over from Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal, leader for 30 years) resigned – along with the entire Politburo – to be replaced by Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat. At the election in July 1990, the MPRP attained a large majority, with a handful of seats won by opposition candidates from the Mongolian Democratic Party. Dashiyn Byambas?ren, from the MPRP’s reformist wing, was appointed to the post of Prime Minister.

The Government committed itself to transforming Mongolia into a market economy, but found the process extremely difficult and resigned at the beginning of 1992. Its successor, which was elected the same year, was similarly dominated by the MPRP and pursued the same reform programme. President Ochirbat eventually left the MPRP later in the year in the wake of major disagreements over this economic policy, and at the next presidential election held the following year, he jointly represented the two main opposition parties, the National Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party, under the banner of the Democratic Alliance, and defeated the MPRP’s new candidate, Lodogiyn Tudev, editor of the party newspaper. Having broken the MPRP’s monopoly of political power, the Democratic Alliance instituted key political reforms relinquishing state control of the media as well as measures to attack ingrained corruption among government officials.

At the general election of June 1996, the Democratic Alliance claimed a significant win, taking 50 of the 76 seats in the Great Hural. Mendsayhany Enhsayhan was voted in as Prime Minister. However, the presidential election of May 1997 saw a surprise win by MPRP candidate, Natsagiyn Bagabandi; Ochirbat received just 30% of the vote. The result was interpreted as a rejection of the government’s continuing pursuit of economic austerity. However, the new government has suffered from a measure of instability. Prime Minister Tsahiagiyn Elbegdorj, who took office in May 1998 lasted just twelve months before being replaced by Rinchinnyamiyn Amarjargal.

Irrespective of the individual premier or party in power, domestic policy remains fixed on a course of gradual reform: this covers social policy as well as economic matters. One notable feature of this has been the resurgence of Bhuddism, which was largely suppressed under Communism: Mongolians are adherents of the Dalai Lama, although this is handled with great caution by the country’s leadership for fear of upsetting the Chinese. Foreign policy continues to be dominated by Mongolia’s relations with China and Russia. A 20-year friendship and co-operation treaty was signed between Ochirbat and Russia’s President Yeltsin in 1993 and a similar accord was reached with Chinese premier Li Peng twelve months later. Relations with China were consolidated in 1997 by two separate visits to Ulan Bator by Chinese dignitaries.

Genghis Khan

Such was the setting in Mongolia when Genghis Khan (his given name was Tem?jin) was born, about 1162 (the date accepted by contemporary Mongol scholars). Genghis was born into a clan that had a tradition of power and rule, being the great-grandson of Khabul (Qabul) Khan, who had been the greatest ruler of All the Mongols. Genghis inherited a feud against the Juchen-Chin dynasty and another against the Tatars, who had betrayed a collateral ancestor of his to the Juchen. His own father was poisoned by Tatars. He also inherited feuds among the ruling clans of All the Mongols and a feud with the powerful Merkit (Mergid) tribe, from whom his father had stolen his mother. Genghis was even more deeply a political man than a warrior, and he resorted to war only as an extension of policy by other means. He was orphaned in his teens; his family fell on bad times, and power among the Mongols passed to other clans. Even in such apparently primitive practices as camp raiding and horse thieving, he skillfully used ancient customs: marriage alliances; putting himself under the patronage of a stronger prince; making an alliance with Jamuka (later his dangerous rival) by the oath of anda, under which men became as if blood brothers; and recruiting n?kh?r (the modern Mongol term for “comrade”). Unlike the institution of anda, which created a fictitious kinship and harboured the possibility of deadly rivalry, a man who became a n?kh?r forswore all loyalties of kinship and tribe and declared himself solely “the man” of his chosen leader. Genghis later fell out with his anda, but he was never betrayed by a n?kh?r, and his most brilliant generals were n?kh?r. Genghis broke alliances and betrayed loyalties, but only when he could seem to be acting in “the common cause.” By 1206 his success in tribal warfare caused him to be proclaimed ruler of All the Mongols with the rank of khan and the title of Genghis (Chinggis)–a word deriving probably ultimately from the Turkic tengiz, meaning “a large body of water, the ocean”; although this explanation has not convinced all Mongol scholars, it is consistent with the belief that the ocean symbolized breadth and depth of wisdom, and later the equivalent Mongol word of ta-le (Anglicized as “dalai”) was applied to the supreme lama of Tibet. Previous nomads had invaded China, but none had yet ruled the whole of it, chiefly because they had invaded prematurely, leaving other nomads on their flanks and in their rear. Genghis, however, first united all the “dwellers in felt-walled tents” (tuurgatan), probing far back, away from China, to make sure that he controlled all potential nomadic rivals.

His first move was to bring under control the major tribal groups to the west of him in Mongolia, the Naiman and Kereit (Kerait) with whom he had been alternately in alliance and rivalry, as well as the tribes fringing the northern Mongolia-Siberia frontier. He then turned toward China, where at this time the eastern half of North China, south almost to the Yangtze, was ruled by the Juchen-Chin. In the northwest corner of China and the western extension of Inner Mongolia there was a small state, that of the Hsi Hsia: its rulers were Tangut from Tibet, and under them there were Turkish and Sogdian merchants who exploited the caravan trade, the cultivators of the oases being Turks and Chinese. China south of the Yangtze was ruled by the Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279). Although they had lost North China, the Southern Sung were expanding southward toward Indochina, bringing rich new land under cultivation. Among all these states there was an interplay of diplomacy, alliances made and broken, and open warfare. The Mongols themselves, far from being ignorant barbarians, understood the game and played it skillfully.

Between 1207 and 1215 the armies of Genghis probed deep into North China. Genghis made good use of the Khitan in northern and northeastern China, whose Liao dynasty the Juchen-Chin had overthrown and who were now discontented subjects of the Chin. In 1215 the Chin capital Chung-tu (modern Peking), from which the Chin emperor had withdrawn southward, was taken and sacked. Realizing, however, that it was premature to commit his main strength to the conquest of China, Genghis withdrew to Mongolia, leaving one of his best generals, Mugali, to ravage and weaken the country. He himself turned westward. When he had defeated the Naiman, the last of the powerful tribes in Mongolia proper, the son of the last ruler of that tribe, K?chl?g, fled to Karakitai and married the daughter of its last ruler, whom he then overthrew. In that variegated kingdom, which included Semirechiya in Russian Turkistan and the Kashgarian Oases in Chinese Turkistan (Uighur Autonomous Region of Sinkiang), he favoured the Buddhist minority and persecuted Islam, the majority religion. This situation made it easy for the Mongols to defeat him. The Mongol general Jebe (Jeb) proclaimed freedom of religion and forbade massacre and plunder. This policy indicates that the Mongols did not massacre out of sheer savagery but only when they thought it necessary to break the power of an opponent.

Taking over the lands of the Karakitai opened the way for Genghis to Khwarezm, the land of the oases along the Syr Darya and Amu Darya in northern Iran. For drawing on the resources of a higher civilization this gave him an alternative to China, and it also secured him against the danger of any other nomadic power organizing, on his flank and rear, a military striking force backed by agricultural and urban resources. This done, he turned back toward China, leaving further campaigning into Russia and the eastern fringes of Europe to his generals and sons. He would not, however, commit his main forces in China until he had dealt with the wealthy Tangut state of Hsi Hsia; it was on this successful campaign in 1227 that he died.

 Economic Profile

GDP: US$5.9 billion
GDP per head: US$2070
Annual growth: 6%
Inflation: 55%
Major industries:Wool copper, livestock, cashmere
Major trading partners: Former Soviet and Eastern European states, China, Austria

 Culture

Contemporary cultural life in Mongolia is a unique amalgam of traditional elements–the heritage of centuries–and a growing modern element.

Traditional elements
Mongolian literature evolved a wealth of traditional genres: heroic epics, legends, tales, yurol (the poetry of good wishes), and magtaal (the poetry of praise), as well as a host of proverbial sayings. These genres are infused by what Mongols regard as a national characteristic–a good-humoured love of life, with particular fondness for witty sayings and jokes, particularly evident in the image of Dalan Khuldalchi, the hero of humorous folktales, and in the stories about the badarchins, clever but wily wandering monks. The baatar–the popular hero of folk legend–is also a symbolic figure. Khurchins–folk poets and singers–carried down the oral epics and ballads; and their mime and gesture gave rise to the popular trenchant satirical vaudevilles, Sumya Noyon and Dunkher Da-Lam. The religious mysteries, tsam and maidari, were formerly staged as mass spectacles. Other folk arts include the making of shirdeg, richly ornamented felt carpets noted as adorning the entrances to yurts by 13th-century European travelers. The Mongolian form of chess, shatar, with a stern khan for king, a dog–the cattle breeder’s traditional honoured friend–as queen, and a camel as a bishop, has very deep roots and has produced some finely carved chess sets. The ancient faience decoration of glazed earthenware, with exquisite motifs, has been revived. A complicated and dignified ritual still accompanies the traditional offering and acceptance of hospitality in a country where traveling is all-important, and the seating arrangements in the yurt are likewise carefully arranged. When conversing, Mongolians traditionally place the right palm on that of the left hand, a symbol of mutual esteem, and the same gesture, together with a light bow, expresses gratitude, greeting, or farewell.

The most famous celebration of traditional ways, however, is the annual Naadam festival of the Three Games of Men, beginning each year on July 11, National Day, and held in all provinces and counties. The festival has recorded roots going back 2,300 years or more. The first sport is wrestling, prominent in ancient times at religious festivals, and the ritual entry into the arena of several hundred participants, clad in the bright colours of a special tight-fitting costume known as the Dzodog Shudag and simulating the flight of the mythical Garudi bird, is a spectacular sight. The contests themselves also are conducted with great ceremony. Titles awarded at the national Naadam festivals are those of Titan, Lion, Elephant, and Falcon. A three-time winner becomes a Darkhan Avraga (“Invincible Titan”). The second sport is archery; and bowmen vie for the title of Merghen, or “Supermarksman,” in individual and group contests, shooting at a leather-covered target with weapons of ancient design. Exceptional winners are characterized as Miraculous Archer, Most Scrupulous Archer, and similar names. The third sport, horse racing, is in many ways the most spectacular because all the competitors are children, ranging in age from 7 to 12. They are highly skilled and wear fine ornamental dresses as they race for about 20 miles across country. National horse-riding competitions for all ages are held during January and February, the Mongolian New Year, and are claimed to date back to the Bronze Age. Marco Polo, visiting in the 13th century, described a gathering of not fewer than 10,000 white horses held at the behest of the Great Khan.

Modern elements
Modern sports range from freestyle wrestling (introduced 1962) to motorcycling, rifle shooting, table tennis, boxing, and gymnastics. A growing number of economic enterprises cater to the various folk arts. The Palace Museum has a superb collection of folk art housed in the former winter palace of the khan, built in 1898. The architectural ensemble contains temples housing the famous sculptures of the goddess Tara made by the 17th-century artist Zanabazar. The State Central Museum and related exhibits portray the rich archaeological and paleontological remains of the country. Buddhist relics are exhibited in the Temple Museum, built 1903-05. The Erdene-Dzuu Monastery Museum on the site of Karakorum (Har Horin), Mongolia’s ancient capital, is also noteworthy. Each province now has its own museum of regional studies. The State Public Library contains works of great variety and historical value.

In literature, the poems and short stories of Dashdorjiyn Natsagdorj became particularly significant in the 1930s. The literature of the 1940s was more varied in theme and genre, and the autobiographical “Old Scribe’s Story” by G. Navaannamzhil was popular. Younger writers in the 1950s and ’60s injected a more contemporary note, attempting to balance psychological and social imagery. The realistic epic novel continues in popularity.

The State Drama Theatre, founded in 1931, shows both Mongolian and classical works, and the State Opera and Ballet Theatre has a deserved reputation. There is a puppet theatre in the capital and internationally known song and dance companies. Practically every community has its own amateur art group, and the State Circus is also very popular. The Mongolkino film studio in the late 20th century was making an increasing impact at international festivals: its productions are assisted by the magnificent landscapes and clear air of the country, which help the production of wide-screen epics. Mass radio and television services are of importance because of the great distances in the country and are now aided by satellite links. The vast majority of households have radios, and the ownership of televisions has spread. There are about a dozen central and nearly two dozen local newspapers. The leading newspapers are Unen (“Truth”) and Pionyeriyn Unen (“Pioneers’ Truth”). There are also several dozen popular and specialist periodicals.

 

The people

Ethnic and religious background
Anthropologically, the Mongols are quite homogeneous, belonging to the classic physical type to which they lent their name. Within Mongolia, Khalkha-speaking Mongols constitute almost four-fifths of the population. Other Mongolian groups–including D?rbed, Buryat, Bayad, and Dariganga–account for about one-eighth of the population. By tradition the Mongols have been Buddhists. Much of the rest of the population consists of Turkic-speaking peoples, mainly Kazaks, who traditionally have been Muslims; located mainly in the western part of the country, they have been granted an autonomous area. A small but significant number of Russians live mainly in the cities. The Chinese, who were formerly important in cities, trade, and finance, have largely left the country.

At the time of the founding of the modern state, the social composition was strongly influenced by the then-prevailing religious traditions of the lamas (monks), who followed tenets derived from Tibetan Buddhism, with a strong admixture of more primitive elements. Control lay in the hands of the head of the Mongolian Tibetan Buddhist Church (who was proclaimed the khan of all Mongolia) together with various local khans, hundreds of princes and noblemen, and the higher clergy. The new regime sought to replace feudal and religious structures with socialist and secular forms. During the 1930s the government closed monasteries, confiscated their livestock and landholdings, induced large numbers of monks to renounce religious life, and eliminated others. The number of Buddhist monks dropped from 100,000 in 1924 to 110 in 1990. Many aspects of the national cultural traditions are preserved in museums.

 Traveler Tips

VISAS: Required by all except the following:

(a) nationals of Kazakhstan, Laos, Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Poland for up to 90 days;

(b) nationals of Cuba, Israel, Korea (Dem Rep.) and Malaysia for up to 30 days;

(c) nationals of the Philippines for up to 21 days;

(d) nationals of Hong Kong and Singapore for up to 14 days;

(e) nationals of India have special visa arrangements.

Note: This information should be used as a guide only since, depending on the purpose of visit and the type of passport held, visas and/or letters of invitation may be required. The Mongolian Embassy or Mongolian National Tourism Centre can provide accurate and up-to-date information (see Useful Contacts section).

Types of visa and cost: Entry and Exit: £25. Single-entry (for visits of over 3 months): £20. Multiple-entry (for business only): £50. Single-transit: £20. Double-transit: £30. Express service: £10 additional.

Validity: 3 months from date of issue. Single-transit visa: 3 days from date of entry.

Application to: Consulate (or Consular section of Embassy); see Useful Contacts section. If travelling on an organised tour, visas can be obtained through tourism companies or travel agencies. A group visa in the name of the tour leader is valid for all tourists on the list attached, providing relevant details (nationality, sex, date of birth, passport numbers, and dates of issue and expiry) are given at the time of application. Independent travel is now possible for some nationals (including US nationals and nationals of EU countries); however some nationals will still require an official invitation. For details of status, contact the Embassy.

Application requirements: (a) Valid passport. (b) Application form. (c) 1 passport-size photo. (d) Some nationals will require confirmation and approval for the intended visit from the appropriate travel company or business organisation. (e) Fee (payable by cash or cheque). (f) Registered, stamped and self-addressed envelope for postal applications.

Working days required: 2 weeks. In urgent cases a visa can be issued on the day of application. Transit visas can be issued in 2 days.

Temporary residence/work permit: Enquire at the Mongolian Embassy.

Money & Costs

Currency: t?gro?g (T or MNT)
Relative costs:

  • Cheap meal: US$4-5
  • Moderate restaurant meal: US$5-12
  • Expensive restaurant meal: US$12-25
  • Cheap room: US$5-15
  • Moderate hotel: US$10-25
  • Expensive hotel: US$25++

HOTELS: There are six major hotels in Ulaanbaatar, offering over 1000 beds. There are also many smaller hotels, guest houses and hostels. There is suitable accommodation for backpackers. Outside the capital, hotels are basic and few in number. Most provide full board, daily excursions and entrance fees to museums and the services of a guide or interpreter. Accommodation can be arranged through tourism companies or directly with the hotels. Grading: There is currently no official grading system for accommodation in Mongolia.

RESORT SPAS: There is limited accommodation for visitors. Prices are available on request.

CAMPING: There are now 63 tourist ger camps spread throughout the countryside. The accommodation is in gers (round felt tents used by nomadic herders). In most cases there are also restaurants, bars, toilets and showers. Ger camps are usually open from May to October. Tourists with their own tents have the opportunity to camp almost anywhere they want although there are restrictions in protected areas and it is advisable to avoid settlements.

CRIME INFORMATION:
Over the past few years there has been a significant rise in crime in Mongolia, particularly in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. Violent crime is increasing, and it is no longer advisable to walk alone through the city after dark. The most common crimes against foreigners are pickpocketing and bag-snatching. Travelers should be especially cautious when taking public transportation, and in crowded public areas such as markets, the State Department Store, the Central Post Office, Gandan Monastery, and the so-called Black Market. U.S. citizens who detect pickpocketing attempts should not confront the thieves as they and their accomplices may then become violent. Foreigners have also been robbed by thieves dressed as or claiming to be police officers, especially in the area of Sukhbaatar Square. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid occasional protests and street demonstrations that can turn unruly.

 Attractions

Mongolia is a far-flung, little-visited destination, with much to offer in terms of scenery, wildlife, historic and cultural sites. Outside the main cities, Mongolians continue to live the traditional life of malchid (herdsmen), and many are nomadic. The capital, Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator), is the country’s political, commercial and cultural centre. There are a number of museums in the city, the largest being the Museum of Natural History. The palaeontological section has a magnificent display of the skeletons of giant dinosaurs. Others include the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Mongolian History and the Military Museum. There are also several Buddhist temple museums, and the still-functioning Gandan Monastery is worth a visit. Ulaanbaatar also has several theatres and theatre groups, such as the State Opera and Ballet Theatre, the State Drama Theatre and the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble. The Ulaanbaatar State Public Library has a unique collection of 11th-century Sanskrit manuscripts.

Every province has its own museums containing examples of local culture. The most popular tour takes the visitor to the Gobi Desert, the habitat of several rare animals, including Bactrian wild camels, snow leopards, Przevalsky horses and Gobi bears. Coaches take parties to the country’s tourist camps. The nearest to Ulaanbaatar is Terelj, 85km (50 miles) from the capital, where the Gorki Mountains, the Turtle Rock and the Terelj River may be seen. Khangai is a mountainous region with more than 20 hot springs renowned for their healing properties. Another therapeutic spring can be found in Khujirt, where the ruins of the world-renowned Kharakhorum, capital of the Great Mongolian Empire of the 13th century, can also be found.

 Getting In & Out

Mongolia’s national airline, MIAT Mongolian International Air Transport (OM), operates flights to Ulaanbaatar from Berlin, Moscow, Beijing and Seoul all year round and to and from Osaka and Hong Kong in the summer months.

Approximate flight time: To Ulaanbaatar from London is 14 hours including stopovers.

International airport: Ulaanbaatar (ULN) (Buyant Ukhaa) is 15km (9 miles) from the city. Buses run to the city centre (travel time 30 minutes). Taxis are also available (travel time 15 minutes). Airport facilities include a bank, duty-free shops and a restaurant.

Departure tax: US$12.

 Moving Around

AIR: Internal flights are operated by MIAT Mongolian International Air Transport (OM). This is the recommended means of travelling to remote areas.

RAIL: There are 1815km (1127 miles) of track. The main line runs from north to south: Sukhbaatar–Darkhan–Ulaanbaatar–Sainshand. Branch lines serve the principal industrial regions.

ROAD: Paved roads are to be found only in or near major cities. Bus: There are frequent bus services between major towns, but the roads are mostly unpaved. Car hire: Available through tourism companies although self drive is not available since most roads are unpaved, maps are poor and there are no road signs. Jeeps, camels or horses are available for hunters, trekkers and special interest travellers.

URBAN: There are frequent bus services in the city.

JOURNEY TIMES: The following chart gives approximate journey times (in hours and minutes) from Ulaanbaatar to other major cities/towns in Mongolia.

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