Mongolia is more than Chinggis Khaan and gers

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By Laura Bub "I will go to Mongolia." Surprised looks, speechless silence and confused faces. That is what you get when you tell Europeans that you will go to a country that nobody really knows a lot about. At least that is what I got, followed by a whole bunch of question why on earth I would do that.will go to Mongolia.” The name Chinggis Khaan is the first thing that comes to mind, followed by the picture of a nomad family. And that is basically all what most Europeans know about Mongolia: people worshiping a long-gone emperor, following their herds through the countryside, living rather behind the times. With slogans like “On the traces of Chinggis Khaan” western travel agencies advertise their tours to the far away, yet to discover country in central Asia, supporting the limitation of knowledge about Mongolia by drawing the attention to the obvious tourist attractions. Even though people from around the world slowly start to show more interest in Mongolia, it is still a mystery to most of the Western world. Despite its enormous size, Mongolia gets overshadowed by its even bigger neighbors, Russia and China, both popular tourist destinations. But when it comes to breathtaking scenery, heroic history and decade-long traditions, Mongolia has everything it needs to offer what people are looking for in an eventful vacation. In their vacation time, Europeans like to flee from the well-known culture or familiar surroundings of their home country and fly across the globe to lie on the beach in Thailand, visit the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, hike through the Grand Canyon in the USA, or explore the Machu Picchu in Peru. Vacation is mainly a time of relaxation, leaving the stress of the workday behind and enjoy your free time. But it also means time for adventure, visiting beautiful and fascinating places you have never seen before, exploring and experiencing countries, cultures and life, so different than what we are used to. Mongolia is exactly that, and even though Europeans might not know much about the big mysterious land between China and Russia, once they dare to travel there, it will be an unforgettable experience. The first place that probably every tourist has to stop at when coming to Mongolia is the capital Ulaanbaatar, a constantly growing city which is home to half of Mongolia’s population. A place that offers a great variety of impressing historical architectures, such as the State Palace at Sukhbaatar Square, statues of nation’s heroes all around the city, or the Chinggis Khaan Equestrian Statue complex a few kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar. Of course, beautiful architecture is nothing new to Europeans but still it is a completely different experience to visit those places, which one by one tell their own little bit of Mongolian history. A place that will connect modernity with tradition, something that can not be seen in many places. Still, the city is not what catches tourist’s attention. What attracts people most to Mongolia is what you can only get in very few places in the world: Its endless land, silence and freedom. When asked about what in Mongolia they are interested in, Europeans mention the nature and landscape first. Huge lakes, like the Khuvsgul Lake, or the Altai Mountains are desired places to visit. Just standing in a quiet deserted place, looking left, looking right and seeing absolutely nothing. A feeling someone like me who grew up in a country where it is impossible to not see a house or a person for the next few kilometers can not understand and therefore seek to experience. “The expanse, the feeling of freedom of using the steppe. I mean, I could just put my yurt anywhere anytime I want,” tells a 25-year old archaeology student from Germany, who has been to Mongolia for an excursion before. Also, being interested in archaeology, Mongolia is a big attraction since the Mongolian Gobi Desert is the largest dinosaur fossil reservoir. There are barely any big deserts in the world, and when we think of them, usually Africa comes to our minds first. What we do not take into account is the fact that the third biggest desert is actually part of Asia. The Gobi Desert is a place for tourists to feel close to the untouched nature like they never did before. Furthermore, history is something that most European countries like to proudly look back on and who could offer a more exciting and successful history background than Mongolia? Just the imagination of the Mongolian empire ruling over large parts of Asia, even reaching to Europe itself, leaves history fanatics like me in pure admiration for the country. Same goes for the culture. The Mongolian culture is probably what tourists are most curious about. The way people behave or treat each other in Mongolia is very different from what Europeans are used to. Most surprising for many tourists is the Mongolian hospitality, which is a key aspect of the culture. Since we Europeans are rather calm and showing politeness through reservation, the affectionate behavior of Mongolians can scare us at first, but soon we learn to love and appreciate the warm welcome. Even with language barriers, it is possible for foreigners to learn about the culture and tradition just by listening, watching and sometimes even participating. Especially an experience with a traditional nomadic family is an adventure that will get tourists very close to the culture. Learning about herding, watching the stars in the night sky or sitting in a yurt in the middle of nowhere, watching the Mongolians sing, dance or tell stories can be an incredible moment that will show Europeans that there is more to know about Mongolia than just the name Chinggis Khaan and people living in gers. A factor that might keep people from even considering Mongolia as their next travel destination is the constant worry about the safety in particularly Asian countries. Visitors, that travel alone, especially women, may be concerned about traveling to an unknown country. About this, it can be said that Mongolia has one of the lowest crime rates in Asia. It even took the 46th position in the Global Peace Index in 2017, making it a much safer place then China, Thailand, the USA, Greece or Russia, all countries that established themselves as popular travel destinations but took a much lower place in the ranking in safety and peacefulness. Even though pickpocketing is a big problem that tourists will face, it usually occurs without any violence and you will barely or maybe never meet a person carrying any kind of gun or weapon due to strict regulations on the use and ownership of firearms by law. While you should be aware of the typical incidents like theft, which are the case in probably every tourist destination, you will not have to worry much about your safety, as long as you use common sense while traveling. It is still a long way to go until Mongolia will be seen as a popular travel destination but with globalization, the minds of the Western world keep opening and the interest in mysterious places is growing constantly. So maybe at some point in the future, when you tell a European person, “I will go to Mongolia,” you will not be met with irritated faces like me but with a big smile and the words, “I’ve been there. It is an amazing place to go.”

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan