Capital City: Ulaanbaatar
Mongolia is a landlocked country located between China and Russia. It is a vast emptiness that links land and sky, and is one of the last few places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition. The Republic of Mongolia consists of historic Outer Mongolia, the province of Inner Mongolia is geographically separate and located to the south in China.
Mongolia is more than twice as big as Texas and even bigger than Alaska. Its area is 1.6 million square kilometers (618,000 square miles), four times the size of Japan and almost double that of Eastern Europe.
This makes Mongolia the sixth-largest country in Asia and 18th in the world, but the population is only 2,727,966 (as of 09 November 2009), which makes Mongolia one of the least densely populated areas in Asia.
If you consider that 40% of the population lives in the capital city of Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar that leaves lots of room for you to travel in the outback. Of course, Gobi is even less dense.
Almost another 40% of population are scattered all over Mongolia with their 56 million head of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels. There are 21 provinces, called aimag. Each aimag has a central city or town and about 15-22 sub-provinces called soum, so you will know which aimag and which soum you are in.
70% of Mongolia is under the age of 35. The gender ratio is close to 1:1. Ethnicity: 84% Khalkha Mongols, 6% Kazakhs and 10% other groups.
More than 50% will say they are Buddhists which is very much mixed with Shamanism, close to 10% will claim to be Christians of all forms and 4% follow Islam, the remainders will say that they are atheists.
Holidays and festivals
Mongolia is home to the "three manly sports": wrestling, horse racing, and archery, and these are same three sporting events that take place every year at the Naadam festival.
Naadam is the National Holiday of Mongolia celebrated on July 11-13. During these days all of Mongolia watch or listen to the whole event which takes place in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar through Mongolia's National Television and Radio. Many other smaller Naadam festivals take place in different aimags (provinces) around the country throughout the month of July, and it is at these Naadam festivals that you are able to get a much closer look at the action.
It is believed that Naadam celebrations started with the rise of the Great Mongolian Empire as Chinggis (a.k.a. Genghis) Khan's strategy to keep his warriors strictly fit. After the fall of the empire, the contests were held during religious festivals, and since the communist revolution it was celebrated on its anniversary.
The legend says that in old times a woman dressed like man won wrestling competition once. That is why open chest and long sleeve wrestling costumes, called "zodog", meant to show that every participant is male. Wrestlers wear short trunks, "shuudag", and Mongolian boots, "gutal". The yellow stripes on tales of wrestlers' hats will indicate the number of times the wrestler became a champion in Naadam.
Only Naadam gives official titles to the wrestlers. Mongolia wrestling tournaments have 9 or 10 rounds depending on the number of 512 or 1024 wrestlers registered for the competition that year. If the wrestler wins 5 rounds, he will be awarded title "Nachin" (bird), 6 rounds - Hartsaga (hawk), 7 rounds - Zaan (elephant), 8 rounds - Garuda (Eagle), 9 rounds - Arslan (lion) and 10 - Avarga (Titan).
In 2006, Zaan (Elephant) Sumyabazar won 9 rounds that made him Garuda but that year 1024 wrestlers had 10 rounds which he won all. This entitled him to Avarga. Or Arslan (Lion) must win 2 in a row to become Avarga (Titan). The titles are for life. If Avarga (Titan) keeps winning at Naadam more and more attributes will be added to his title.
There is no weight categories in Mongolian Wrestling tournaments but there is a time limit of 30 minutes, if the wrestlers can not overthrow each other, referees use lots for better position which often settles the match. One who falls or his body touches the ground loses the match.
Mongolia Wrestling matches are attended by seconds whose role is to assist their wrestlers in all matters and to encourage them to win by spanking on their butts. They also sing praise songs and titles to the leading wrestlers of both wings, west and east, after 5 and 7 rounds. The referees monitor the rules but the people and the fans are the final judges. They will speak and spread the word of mouth about who is who till the next year.
The ideal Mongolia travel season starts in May and hits its highest peak in July, during the Naadam holiday, and in August when the weather is most favorable for traveling. This is the best time if you like the culture and can bear the crowds of other tourists. It is not a good time if you want to get away from your busy lifestyle because you will experience traffic, busy schedules, waiting in lines, etc.
September is also a very good time to visit, and October is not too late to travel to Mongolia. It is still warm during the days but a bit chilly during the nights. In the autumn, Mongolia is not very crowded, and this is time for late-comers and last-minute, unplanned trips. You will get to sightsee, enjoy the culture, and taste mare's milk, a bitter and at first somewhat unpleasant drink, throughout the country.
For visitors not afraid of cold or fermented mare's milk, traveling to Mongolia from November till the Lunar New Year is still an option. Winter tourism is a developing area of the Mongolian tourism industry.
The most rewarding experience will be visiting the nomads, as this is the time when you will experience their culture first-hand during "Tsagaan Sar" or the traditional (Lunar) New Year celebration.
Travellers will have the opportunity to watch lots of cultural activities: singing, dancing, wrestling, and winter horse racing.
Mongolia is known to have 250-260 sunny days throughout the year, so you will need good UV protection. During winter, protect your eyes, and during summer, protect your skin.