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Five Quintessential Mongolian Experiences

 

My stay in Mongolia was rather short considering the size of the country, but at the same time, the majority of the country is rather barren and desolate. We were on a long stopover from the Trans-Mongolian train journey from China to Russia, and it was during this time that we got to experience some of the quintessential Mongolian culture, regardless of our lack of time.

If you’re planning a trip to Mongolia, here are five of the activities you must take part in (or at least watch) in order to best understand what the country has to offer.

Throat Singing:  Mind-blowing. There is no other way to describe the sounds of throat-singing, because half the time I couldn’t tell if the man was making this noise, or if I was hearing some synthesized techno track blurring over him. It turns out that throat singing allows the singer to produce two different pitches at the same time.  I highly recommend watching a throat singing show in Ulaan Bator.

Horse Riding:  Or camel riding, for that matter.  Mongolians love their animals, and the tiny horses there are considered beautiful and important creatures – important for transport and living life in general.  Get out in the countryside of Mongolia and take a horse for a ride or a camel if you’re as lucky as I was, and experience the Mongolian way of life first-hand.

Playing Knuckles:
  You are most likely going to think this is disgusting, but I guess in a barren and remote land such as Mongolia, you are going to make do with what you have. A popular game for kids in the Mongolian gers is called “Knuckles”, and it is called this because the playing pieces are actually made from the bones of sheep knuckles.  Yes, totally disgusting! The cool part, however, was how the knuckles became more like a deck of cards in that many different games could be played with the pieces.

Ger Sleeping:  The ger is the Mongolian form of a yurt, or a round tent-like structure made easily constructible to accommodate the traditionally nomadic lifestyle.  You won’t have to go far to find a ger; there are little villages of them just outside of Ulaan Bator, and ger camps are quite the norm for tourists.

Watch a Contortionist:  Did you know that contortion holds cultural significance to the Mongolian people? In a show I caught in Ulaan Bator, it was actually mentioned that it started in Mongolia, but other countries had done a much better job at selling the act as their own. Many young girls start young in Mongolia to build a career as a contortionist, which provides us with some truly unique entertainment.

What would you consider a quintessential Mongolian experience?

 

Photo: Brooke Schoenman

 

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