A Mongolian Adventure
Photography by Muriel GustavsonMongolia is the world's second-largest landlocked country. It is typically classified as being a part of East Asia, although sometimes it is considered part of Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south. Mongolia's political system is parliamentary democracy. Its capital and largest city is Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolia was the center of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century and was later ruled by the Manchu Qing Dynasty from the end of the seventeenth century until 1911, when an independent government was formed with Russian assistance. The Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed in 1924, leading to the adoption of communist policies and a close alignment to the Soviet Union. After the fall of communism in Mongolia in 1990, Mongolia adopted a new, democratic constitution which was ratified in 1992. This officially marked the transition of Mongolia to a democratic country, making it one of the world's youngest democracies.
At 1,564,116 square kilometres, Mongolia is the nineteenth largest country in the world, but also its least densely populated. The country contains very little arable land as much of its area is covered by arid and unproductive steppes with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Approximately 30 percent of the country's 2.8 million people are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The predominant religion in Mongolia is Tibetan Buddhism, and the majority of the state's citizens are of the Mongol ethnicity, though Buriats, Kazakhs and Tuvans also live in the country, especially in the west. About one-third of the population lives in Ulaanbaatar.
The vast open spaces of the Gobi Desert provide welcome respite to visitors from busy cities. A hike in late August in the Yolyn Am Valley passes large chunks of ice sheltered from the Gobi’s heat by the steep valley walls. Travel along rutted desert trails takes one to Bayanzag where beautiful blue flowers contrast with the red flaming cliffs. This is one of the regions where dinosaur bones are found. Nearby there are sand dunes, complete with locals offering camel rides to tourists.
Gun Galuut Nature Reserve is the home of mountain sheep, marmots and gray wolves. Fishing in the pristine lakes is a popular pastime. Rare cranes, the Siberian white crane and the white naped crane, can be found here as well as a variety of other birds.
Traffic jams are the order of the day in Ulaan Baatar’s streets that show little evidence of city planning. Mongolia is a hotbed of exploration at this time, the early years of the twenty-first century.