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A Gap Year in Mongolia

Why go backpacking in Mongolia?

Mongolia is a land of historic turmoil, nomadic life styles and untouched nature. With the Soviet influence of the capital still present, and the old aged traditions of the Mongolian people still very much alive, this unique country offers a portal into the past for every traveller.

Backpackers who are fascinated by history and politics will find themselves in their element within Mongolia. Situated between the border of China and Russia, past-time Soviet, Chinese and Tibetan culture are showcased around the big cities. In the capital, Ulaanbatar, you can pay to experience a snippet of the traditional Mongolia culture at the Tumen Ekh Ensemble show in the National Recreation Centre. With traditional music, clothes, throat singing and contortionists you’ll surely be entertained and educated for the evening. I mean, who doesn’t love a contortionist!

The backpacking circuit is not as well established as other countries in Asia, meaning suitable accommodation and other needs can be a little harder to fulfill. However, this also means it’s usually budget friendly. Who doesn’t like a bargain?

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What to see in Mongolia

Mongolia, which is twice the size of Texas in the USA, has the sparsest population in Asia with fewer than three million people habiting the country. That’s less than the population of London! And, with 40 % of Mongolian’s citizens in the city, the outback and its people have been allowed to grow and flourish naturally with little human intervention. So, if you really want to experience the authentic nomadic lives of the Mongolian people, then the countryside is the best place to travel to.  The North of Mongolia is where you can witness the sacred practice of the ancient Shamanism religion. Heavily influenced by the Serbia culture, in the area of Khövsgöl Nuur you can enjoy the wonders of cross-cultures and the iconic Tsaatan reindeer herders, as well as spotting elk, bears and all types of fish in the deep Khövsgöl lake.  If you really want to experience the rural lands and the hard core reindeer herders, then take a few days exploring the desolate lands and cold winters of the Darkhad Valley. It sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings, and it looks like it too – but less hobbits.

The Great Outdoors

The pure scale of Mongolia also offers the most diverse and beautiful landscapes for the adventurous backpacker. From volcanic planes, to ice capped mountains, rolling hills and the Gobi desert, you’ll feel like you’ve travelled the world in just one place on your gapyear.  Take a warm sleeping bag and a big coat for a voyage of sightseeing in the stunning, untouched landscape of Altai Tavam Bogd National Park. This is the place of extremes, hosting the highest mountains and largest glacier in Mongolia. Be sure to save that coat for a trip to the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Parks though, which can be warm but, is usually a cold desert. You can also ride a camel, or spot wild ones, on a desert trek before sleeping the night away in a felt tent, known as a Ger.

Festivals and Celebrations

Although Mongolia may appear to be a sleepy corner of Asia, this country loves to throw its fair share of festivals. The main sports in Mongolia are wrestling, horse racing and archery and you can witness all three at the Naadam Festival. Celebrated from the 11th – 13th July, the biggest celebration is in the Capital, Ulaanbatar, but you can also visit smaller Naadam festivals within the country.  The Golden Eagle Festival, held in Ölgii gives travellers the chance to see the wonder of the old aged tradition of Eagle hunting. If you can face the cold, Mongolian winter months then the Tsagaan Sar, New Year Festival is a great way to see in the New Year with a difference.

Experience a country sticking to its true ways, and enjoy the obstacle course of language barriers with the friendly locals. It may not be the easiest country to travel across, but if you wanted easy you’d go on an all inclusive holiday, and where’s the fun in that?

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