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Ecotourism in Mongolia: living the nomads life

By elena, 08/04/2011 - 21:50

If you are visiting Mongolia, don't forget the idea of ecotourism and nature based tourism. You can also go trekking, mountain biking and climbing but the most exciting experience, and even the closest to the population's traditions, is horse riding and even camel riding.

Mongolia is the second largest landlocked country in the world after Kazakhstan, with less than 3 million of inhabitants, 30% of which are nomads or semi-nomad, part of different ethnic groups. Mongolia is a country of extremes - from the northern river and lake regions where Tsaatan herders live the ancient way, to the western mountainous regions where Kazakhs hunt with their eagles, to the southern Gobi desert regions where nomadic herders struggle to survive in vast and epic desert landscapes, to the eastern regions where open steppe's Buriat cowboys herd their livestock not far from the largest gazelle herders of Central Asia, to the central mountainous pasture regions where nomadic life is easy going and families enjoy making homemade dairy products from Yak and Mare's milk near scenic rivers valleys.

Most of traditional Mongolia can be explored nomadically by making use of horses, camels, horse-carts or even camel carts. Horses are deeply embedded within Mongolia's culture; they are an indication of a man's wealth. The pace of life is governed by the speed of the horse and horses are woven into Mongolian song, verse and history.

Ger to Ger is a local agency that offer you the possibility to explore with the Nomadic families the wonders of their ancient nomadic culture. Your ecotourism trip starts in a Ger, the nomads' tent, being hosted by a nomadic family. Then you will move from Ger to Ger, following nomadic travel routes, having the chance to observe northern steppe animals (takhi, wild ass, gazelles) that cannot be observed in other parts of the world, where this type of ecosystem has largely disappeared. Traveling over wide geographic ranges are environmentally friendly and incorporate the best ecotourism practices such as walking, trekking, horse riding. Moreover, over 95% of all Ger to Ger's nomadic families that have access to electricity generate it via solar panel instead of fuel burning generators.

Traveling on a horse is also the perfect way for an ecotourism holiday in the Terelj National Park, 80 km from the capital Ulaanbaatar, an area of endless slopes and valleys with mountains covered in dense forests, and carpets of perennial wild flowers. To the northeast, the park joins the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area, almost completely uninhabited by humans, and home to endangered species of moose, brown bear, and weasel, to name but a few, and to over 250 species of birds. There are opportunities for ecotourism adventure activities such as rafting, horseback riding, hiking, skiing, camping, and mountain biking.

Horse racing, archery and wrestling are Mongolia's most popular sports. Nadaam festival, usually occurring in July, is the biggest festival of the year for Mongolians. This festival has been held for centuries as a form of memorial celebration, as an annual sacrificial ritual honoring various mountain gods or to celebrate a community endeavor. The festivities kick off with a colorful parade of athletes, monks, soldiers marching in perfect uniformity, musicians performing powerful military tunes, and Mongolians dressed in Chinggis-style warrior uniforms.

Some of the best ecooturism trek routes are in the Altai Tavan Bogd National park in Altai mountains, the largest and highest mountain range. This area is inhabited by the Kazakh ethnic group and by a number of wild animals including real ibex. This is the right place for climbing the snow capped mountains and breathe the fresh Mongolia air while taking in the eternal blue sky.

Adventure and ecotourism lovers cannot miss to ride camels through the canyons and sand dunes of the Gobi Desert, spending the night in tents along the way. Mongolian nomads say that it's much closer to the sun from the top of the tallest animal of desert - so while you are riding a Mongolian camel you will always have a panoramic view of the Gobi Desert.

Our trip to Mongolia ends in Karakorum, the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire of the famous Genghis Khan, still considered a symbol and a myth by Mongolians.

Photo credit: cratzy, missmei, Bayar's Photo Mongolia, Arcadia Abroad Ecotourism

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