MONGOLIA 2019-04-11T16:47:26+00:00

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THE MOST SPARSELY-POPULATED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD

WITH A MULTI-ETHNIC AND NOMADIC CULTURE,

LANDLOCKED IN BETWEEN TWO GIANTS.

Eagle Hunters, wide landscapes with no one there and Genghis Khan nation? Even with the Extreme temperatures, impossible to prevent yourself from going…

Landlocked between China and Russia, Mongolia is the less densely populated country in the world. The country  (19th biggest in the world) is more than sixty times bigger than Laos and have half its population, around 3 million inhabitants, 2 inhabitants/km2, there is really no one there.

Settled and nomadic country, almost half of the population lives in the Capital (162 inhabitant/km2) and other small clusters over the country not reaching the 100 000 people.  

The rest, are connected on “island time”, living in tents, geers (yurt) and wooden houses they move through the seasons to find the right meadow for their livestock composed of horses, sheep, goats, cattle, yaks, and camels. The livestock represents wealth and provides the fuel source (yak dungs) to cook and be warm enough but also 95% of the food (milk, yogurt, cheese, fat and meat). There are 35 sheeps and 13 horses for one man in Mongolia. Mongolian horses are the only truly wild horses remaining on earth, they have 2 chromosomes more than average horses. Around 25 tribes (Mongolian, Turkish or Russo-Turkish origins) living in the steppes still carry unique heritage way of life and a capacity to be to the self-sufficient people living in the harsh steppes. To name but a few, the Kazakhs (Eagle hunters), Touvas (shamans) or Tsataans (reindeer herders) …

Mongolia as the largest desert of Asia and the 5th in the world, the Gobi desert that is after the Californian Valley, a real nest of dinosaures fossils and bones. Stunning landscapes that nothing spoils as far as your eyes can see. Nevertheless, the soil is not cultivable and the temperatures vary from 40 to – 40 degrees… Extreme life conditions with aharsh and inhospitable terrain.

Serendipity, the frozen cream stored in the sheep bellies was shaken during the long horse rides and transformed in Ice Cream from where this recipe gained China and Marco Polo imports it to Italy at the end of the 18th century.

The vast majority of Mongolians practice a mix between Tibetan Buddhism, The Gelugpa, or “Yellow Hat,” (since 16th century) and Shamanism. Most of the time the tribes are Sunni Muslim or pure Shamanist.

Mongolia always was a nomadic land, a crossing point for many nomadic tribes until Genghis Khan reunite them (in 1206) and created his army to conquer 12 587 342 km2 of the planet on horseback, more than double the area of land that Alexander the Great did. A millennium before, the nomad tribes of Mongolia were already showing a taste for territory expansion as the Great Wall of China was built to protect China from their attacks. Mongolia and China had a war going on during 300 years. The Great Wall can be seen at the demarcation of Inner Mongolia Autonomous region of China (12% of China) and the rest of the mainland.  During the Yuan Empire Mongolia annexed China, the Ming empire got rid of them meanwhile the Qing empire in 18th century swallowed all Mongolia all of it. In 1911, Outer Mongolia became independent and quickly swallowed by the URSS (1924 to 1990) which did not encourage China to repeat the story with Inner Mongolia. Nowadays 4 million people from (Outer) Mongolia live in Inner Mongolia.

 Check more, here.

Ghenghis Khan was the greatest conqueror of all times. At 20, he began building a large army with the intent to destroy individual tribes in Northeast Asia and unite them under his rule. More than a quarter of the population of the world was under his control at that time and nowadays 16 million people might carry his DNA. 

He unified the clans, introduced a writing system in 13th century, a vertical column system copied  on the Uyghurs, he wrote the “Ikh Zasag Law” (Yasa), a testament of laws covering every aspects of the life (religion, sacred places, respect, environment, water supply, civic and military duties, tax, crime, trade and marriage.…), created one of the first international postal systems and conquered the world.

Military genius, he is the national hero, unifier and father of Mongolia. During the URSS, soviets wanted to kill Mongolian nationalism removing Gengis Khan from history and forbidding even his name to be mentioned. Restored in history since the 90’s, Genghis Khan rebirth in popular culture and Mongolian currencies.

“I hate luxury. I exercise moderation…It will be easy to forget your vision and purpose one you have fine clothes, fast horses and beautiful women. [In which case], you will be no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.”Genghis Khan

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THE SOMBOYO, NATIONAL SYMBOL

#SIMPLE TIPS TO TRAVEL Mongolia is historically a nomadic country and most of the rules are linked to this way of life. First, never refuse offered food or drink at least enjoy a bit and always receive it with both or right hand handling it by the bottom. Never say too much thank you for small gestures, they are hospitable and friendly but very shy. The Geer/Yurt should be respected not standing on the threshold or leaning against the pillars. You need to announce yourself when entering the geer and avoid entering or going out by the left side. Water and Fire are sacred and should never be polluted. Do not whistle inside a ger or blow your nose. Do not touch man’s head or people’s hats. Do not joke about bad things that could happen and estimate hours it could bring bad luck. #BASICS

ΦLOPS’ERA

ULAN BATOR

Ulan Bator or “Red Hero”, the capital, was a nomadic monastery  before to definitively settle there in 1778. Today, the capital hosts almost half of the population of the country (1.400.000) against  25% in 2002 and 60.000 in 1921. In the last few years, droughts and cold weather have decimated the livestock in the countryside and peasants have been pushed to cities.

A modern industrial town surrounded by almost all the factories of the country (cement, iron, brick work; footwear and garment factories; vehicle-repair works; food-processing plants..) and offering an interesting mix of architecture with a touch of Soviet, Buddhist and modern style and the traditional with its cluster of yurts/geers.

All the newcomers generally coming from the countryside, loose their livestock and capacity to sustain themselves, they just try to find a spot to settle down their geer/yurt hoping to step by step transform add water supply, sanitation facilities and electricity or to find a better place to live in the buildings. It is a very surprising mix, a very pleasant town to stroll in and visit its markets, temples, museums and fairground.

KAZAKH AREA 

Kazakhs are descendants of the Turkish and medieval Mongol tribes, Iranian Nomads and other tribes as the Huns. The Kazakhs trace their origins in 15th century when a direct linage of Ghenghis Khan founded the Kazakh Khanate near the Aral Sea in present day Kazakhstan. Kazakhs are not only present in Kazakhstan there are also huge communities in China (1,800,000 inhabitants), Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Mongolia (210,000 inhabitants).

 Kazakh nomination was, in the former times, generally used with regard people who had taken or achieved independence from a figure of authority which in reality refers to the Cossack (self-governing military society), «qazaq», which means “free man”.

This is the largest ethnic minority in the country, with 6% of the population. Mainly concentrated in the west, on the highest area of the country nearby the Altai Mountains, in the semi-atonomous province called of Bayan-Ulgii. Physically this region is only separated from Kazakhstan by a 47-60 km but Chinese and Russian territory.  Kazakh families started to migrated to Mongolia around the 1840.

The Kazakhs of Mongolia are different from Mongolians their language come from the Turkish and they are Muslim with a bit of Shamanism. Their yurt/geer is also very different from the Mongolian one. A more complex tent with bended dome and wall poles that allows to avoid to have a central pillar.

After dinner, they love to sing and play music and use a dombra, the national instrument of the Kazakhs.

 Kazakh herding families are considered semi-nomadic, household will move their herds to different pastures for each of the four seasons, most of the time specific inherited pastures and have wooden houses to spend the cold Altai winters.

Man take care of the livestock, go hunting, take care of the fuel source (animal dungs) and women make the tea, laundry, food and milk the animals. They have nice embroidery and weaving skills.

 Kazakh people have great eagle hunting abilities, a traditional Eurasian form of falconry. Every year there are two Eagle Hunting Festivals held in Bayan Olgi with some Kazakh coming from Kazakhstan to compete with the Kazakh of Mongolia.

EAGLE HUNTERS AND FESTIVAL

The Golden Eagles of Altai mountains are superior predators and hunt rabbits, foxes, wild goats and occasionally wolfs. Grown up they can reach a 2.3m wingspan and weight until 8 kilos.

Altai area is very harsh, the temperatures drop under -40 degrees in winter, the food supply is very limited and it is pretty impossible to hunt an animal the traditional way as the valleys are totally open. Golden Eagle’s capacity to hunt on those conditions became valuable for the Kazakhs to survive in this area for the meat and also for the fur that helps them to survive with – 40 degrees. Eagle hunting among Kazakh and Kyrgyz people has a 2000 years history.

Eagle Hunting, requires a lot of commitment. You first have to catch a grown-up and wild eagle with already abilities to hunt. Pretty challenging!  Afterwards, the eagle needs to be trained to follow the voice of the hunter and understand his orders. It takes really 10 to 15 years to become a good Eagle hunter.

Eagle hunting is an art, a moment of communion between the horse, the man and the eagle. The “Berkutchi” (eagle hunter) with his horse standing on a hill, sets the fox and at the same time removes the special cap (tomaga) from the eagle’s head that covered its eyes. The bird falls like bullet from the skies, all the while remaining in total control of its flight and hitting the target with superb precision. The birkut sinks its talons into its prey in death grip.

Eagle festivals are quite recent. Before around that period of the year, the eagle Hunters use to gather together to go for a large hunt to get enough foxes and rabbits to prepare to get dressed for winter.

Started in 1999, the Golden Eagle Festival started gathering more than 70 eagles and hunters and was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

There are different competitions during this event. There is obviously the demonstration of the eagle catching fox skin dragged behind a horse, as well as a camel race, the Tiyn Teru, a Kazakh race to pick up a coin or flower on the ground while on horseback, the Kyz Kuar a couple race, the woman whips the man on the other horse but also the Kokpar (tug of war over a goat carcass while on horseback). They also give a price for the best traditional costume.

Very impressing ! And Lovely !

Eagle Hunters, wide landscapes, no one there … Not even Genghis Khan but a strong trace in the nation.

Extreme temperatures for sure, in September in Altai on that year we went from 30° C to – 35°C… Frozen cheeks and but when it was time to use the (only) toilets, open-air and wild-wide !

Such an adventure. met the wild sheep hunters and had to accept a vodka session that ended up out of the geer/yurt to dance and sing in the immensity of the steppes, assisted to a wedding outside under snow flakes. Collected water to make the salty milk tea, picked up the Yak shits to cook and get warm, milking the animals, did not shower (and had access to internet) for almost 20 days.  Been eagle hunting and butchering foxes, riding horses in the Altai mountains but also during one of the two Eagle hunting festivals I went. Believe me or not, I got invited to participate to the best traditional costume competition and won a medal. This was my last day reward and pride after spending a month with the Kazakh eagle hunters, almost finished married, it was definitively a great immersion ! The sole non-kazakh person to ever participate and win a medal (bronze but still), this was Olgi Golden Eagle Festival 2017!

They have a huge sense of hospitality and courtesy but also a strong explosive temper, things kind of always end up said and it is pretty normal to see a fight arise during a festival or celebration, no good celebration with a little nerve stroke in the Kazakh area ! Funny when you know but bit worrying if you don’t know five minutes after they will hug again!

Best destination ever!

Book a trip with one of my friends, contact me.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

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