Off the beaten track
The land that time forgot
The word Mongolia often conjures images of fierce Mongol hordes under the great Genghis or Kublai Khan sweeping down into Europe with carnage and plunder their only bedfellows.But that's because very little is known to the lay traveller about this vibrant and beautiful country, almost hidden between the huge masses of Russia and China. Gereltuv Dashdoorov, of Nomadic Expeditions, a tour operator to Mongolia, says, "Mongolia has been regarded as 'buffer zone' because of its geographical location, sandwiched between two giant nations. The country was literally unexplored until 1990 when communism collapsed. Its main charms include unique horse-based culture, open and vast grassland, unspoiled places such as the Gobi desert, wild rivers teeming with fish, thousands of years-old nomadic way of living and genuine hospitality." Mongolia, a vast and beautiful nation in the heart of Central Asia, beckons with a rare glimpse into an ancient culture with a significant history. Discovering this land of horse-mounted nomads, Buddhist temples, ancient volcanoes, and prehistoric fossils is as much a journey back in time as an expedition of exploration. Descendants of the mounted horsemen whose conquests affected the lives of millions still roam the steppe, practicing their nomadic, pastoral lifestyles in one of the last surviving horse-based cultures. To accept an invitation to visit a nomadic family in their traditional gers (felt tent) and witness the making of the national drink of fermented mare's milk is to be transported hundreds of years into the past. A highlight of any trip is the beautiful artistry of 'hoomi' (throat) singing and the enchanting melodies of the traditional Mongolian 'long' songs. Mongolia is also a country of mountains, forests, rivers and lakes, and the expansive Gobi. The countryside is unscarred by industrialization or intensive agriculture and the population is only 2.5 million people. With an area approximately the size of Western Europe, Mongolia boasts one of the lowest population densities in the world. One tenth of Mongolia's territory has been set-aside into a system of protected areas, which provide habitat for plant and animal species that have all but disappeared from the rest of the continent. Additionally, the government has pledged to increase the system of protected areas to 30 per cent of the country, resulting in the largest national park system in the world. "It has not been that long since the country opened up to the outside," says Gereltuv. According to Gereltuv, ever since the country shaped itself to free market economy, the government has looked at tourism as one of the most potential sources of income. In fact it has declared 2003 as Visit Mongolia year. Nomadic Expeditions deals with everything from trekking and canoeing to special interest trips such as bird watching and palaeontological expeditions led by world-renowned palaeontologists. "Our popular departures include Naadam Festival, overland trips, horse/camel treks and cultural adventures. Our generic trips such as Mongolian Classic Odyssey: The Naadam Festival, Yak to Kayak (active adventure), Mongolian Vistas (active cultural), Epic overland adventure are more attractive," says Gereltuv. Nomadic Expeditions is also launching a trip designed to explore Tibet and Mongolia in 19 days. All registration forms are available at wwwnomadicexpeditions.com.