Experience nomadic life on Mongolia’s harsh steppes

Southwest Life

Experience nomadic life on Mongolia’s harsh steppes

No-frills trip offers insight into culture
A nomad living on the shore of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, also known as White Lake, in central Mongolia, leads a yak cart stocked with a supply of fresh water collected from a nearby stream. The pastoral lifestyle is still an integral part of Mongolian identity – as much as 30 percent of the nation’s 3.1 million people are considered nomadic.
The sun sets behind a small cluster of nomadic tents, called gers, on the shore of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur.
A nomad stirs a large pot full of mutton, potatoes and carrots cooked with hot stones. The festive meal, called the khorkhog, is the highlight of nomadic cuisine, and its preparation is a group project.
Tourists stop on the roadless desert steppes of southern Mongolia for a lunchtime picnic. Paved roads are found only around the capital city of Ulan Bator, so traveling through the countryside can mean hours of bumpy rides in old Russian vehicles.
iF YOU GO

When to go: Mongolia’s peak tourist season is May to September, when the weather generally is mild and most tourist accommodations are open. By mid-September, many tour companies and ger camps start closing up for the long, harsh winter, though destinations in the warmer south welcome visitors as late as October.
Getting there: There are several flights per week to the capital, Ulan Bator (ULN), from Beijing, Seoul and Moscow. From ULN, domestic airlines such as Eznis, AeroMongolia or Mongolian Airlines will take you to Dalanzadgad (DLZ), which is the starting point for most Gobi Desert adventures. The one-hour flight costs $120-$200 each way. Buses also travel between Ulan Bator and Dalanzadgad for less than $20 each way, but the bumpy journey takes 12-18 hours.
Tours: The lack of English speakers, clearly marked roads and established tourist lodging in the countryside makes do-it-yourself traveling nearly impossible. We found it most practical to hire a private driver and guide, who handled all our lodging, food, activities and transportation. There are a number of tour companies based in Ulan Bator, and we had an amazing experience with Travel Buddies, www.travelbuddies.info.
Tips
Bring small gifts. It’s customary to present your host family with gifts, such as bottles of vodka for men, toiletries for women, and pens and notepads for children. Take photos of the family using an instant camera – they’ll be ecstatic to keep a copy.
Pack layers. A common saying in Mongolia is that you experience all four seasons in one day. In September, we saw everything from sunny skies to howling winds to blizzard on our trip from Dalanzadgad to Lake Khovsgol.
Brace yourself. Paved roads – or any roads, for that matter – are luxuries only found around Ulan Bator. Traveling through the countryside can involve hours bouncing around in old Russian vehicles.

Experience nomadic life on Mongolia’s harsh steppes

SPF
A nomad living on the shore of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, also known as White Lake, in central Mongolia, leads a yak cart stocked with a supply of fresh water collected from a nearby stream. The pastoral lifestyle is still an integral part of Mongolian identity – as much as 30 percent of the nation’s 3.1 million people are considered nomadic.
SPF
The sun sets behind a small cluster of nomadic tents, called gers, on the shore of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur.
SPF
A nomad stirs a large pot full of mutton, potatoes and carrots cooked with hot stones. The festive meal, called the khorkhog, is the highlight of nomadic cuisine, and its preparation is a group project.
SPF
Tourists stop on the roadless desert steppes of southern Mongolia for a lunchtime picnic. Paved roads are found only around the capital city of Ulan Bator, so traveling through the countryside can mean hours of bumpy rides in old Russian vehicles.
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