Mongolia is a large nation that, until recently, was out of reach of tourists and the trappings of civilisation. Even now, getting between the few ‘existing’ locations may be challenging. There isn’t much interesting architecture in the nation. With the exception of the Mongol Empire’s short-lived capital at Karakorum, Genghis Khan’s descendants did not leave much trace of their dominance in their motherland. Genghis Khan, who razed towns from the Yellow Sea to the Caspian, is believed to have only constructed one permanent structure during his lifetime: a storehouse to hold his vast wealth.
Though this building is no longer standing, his son Ogedei’s capital, as well as numerous items at the National Museum in Ulaanbaatar and hundreds of stone monuments and drawings scattered throughout the country, some going back thousands of years, do. Following the Mongol Empire’s slow collapse, a significant number of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were constructed, serving as the most conspicuous reminders of Mongolia’s past. After Stalin’s religious purges, just a handful remain today. The Amarbaysgalant Monastery in Selenge, the Erdene Zuu Monastery in Karakorum, and the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, all active religious locations with a high number of resident lamas, need special mention. More recently, during the communist period, the Russians assisted in the establishment of huge modern towns and modern enterprises, which aren’t very attractive but are interesting, notably Erdenet, Asia’s largest open-pit copper mine.
Mongolia had approximately 750 monasteries and was a theocracy until the religious purges. Many were demolished, while others were converted into museums by the communists to showcase Mongolian art or the luxury of previous religious leaders. The Choijin Lama Monastery and the Bogd Khan Winter Palace are now museums dedicated to the Lamas’ art and the previous king’s toys. Other old monasteries, like as the Amarbaysalant in Selenge Province and the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, are slowly reopening and recuperating. The majority of monasteries now are tiny, freshly constructed temples in communities that did not exist before to the purges.
Apart from the monastery museums, Ulaanbaatar has a number of fascinating and notable museums worth seeing before heading to the countryside. The National Museum of Mongolia is by far the finest, with extensive collections of items dating from the Mongol Empire through the 1990 Democratic Revolution. If you plan on staying in the city for a long period of time, there are many more excellent art museums as well as lesser known historical and nature museums. Outside of the capital, every provincial city has a modest museum, most of which were constructed by communists and haven’t been renovated since they departed. These museums are inexpensive and offer interesting exhibits on local cultures and history.
The pristine environment of Mongolia seems to be much the same as it has always been. Because of its very low population density, which is among the lowest in the world, it is possible to drive for days without seeing anything except endless undulating steppes, the enormous Gobi desert, or the snow-capped Altai Mountains. Up north, in Hövsgöl province, Siberian woods surround the 2nd biggest freshwater lake in Asia by volume, Hôvsgôl (or “Hövsgöl”) lake, which is extremely attractive. The Flaming Cliffs in Dalanzadgad are not only beautiful to look at, but they also house some of the most significant dinosaur discoveries.
The people will undoubtedly be the most unforgettable aspect of any vacation to Mongolia, regardless of what brought you here. Mongolians are extremely welcoming to visitors. No journey to this region is complete without dining with nomadic herders or spending the night with them. Around a third of the population still lives in gers (yurts) on the open steppe as semi-nomadic herders. While their diets are limited to meat, wheat, and dairy, they will attempt to offer a feast of boiled or fried meat and hot milky tea to visitors, along with traditional entertainments such as music, singing, and perhaps dancing. There is some variety depending on the tribe or area you are in, with Kazakhs around lgii having the most distinct language, cuisine, and clothing, as well as the tradition of eagle hunting. While the Tuvans have a lovely, spooky singing form known as Throat singing, and the Tsaatan people herd reindeer near Lake Hövsgöl, the Tuvans have a beautiful, eerie singing style known as Throat singing. Then there are the Lama Monks, who are becoming more popular in monasteries and elsewhere, and the Shaman priests, who follow old animist religions of nature and earth worship and are well-respected in Mongolia.