Experiencing the Nomadic Lifestyle in the Mongolian Countryside

January 14, 2014

Known as the land of the Great Genghis Khan, nomadic life-style, barren landscapes, rolling hills and rickety carts, the Mongolian countryside is not your usual tourist stop!

Mongolia certainly seemed like no other place I had ever been, and that’s what made it such an appealing destination to me.

Mongolia Gobi

I spent 15 marvellous days in Mongolia: 3 days in Ulaanbaatar (the capital), 3 days in the Gobi desert and 8 days staying in a traditional yurt (a.k.a. ger) with a Mongolian nomadic family, which included horse trekking across central Mongolia.

The ger stay was arranged and organized locally with local guides in Terelj National Park.

Before travelling to Mongolia

Before travelling to Mongolia, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with basic Mongolian customs, ger etiquette and how to interact with nomadic Mongolians without coming across as rude. For instance:

• There is a proper way to enter a ger, which includes not stepping on the ger doorsill and entering the ger following a clockwise direction.

• It is considered rude to decline a food offering, even if you are not hungry.

• Nomadic Mongolians also do not knock on doors but rather yell out “no-khoi kho-rio”, which literary translates to: “catch the dog or hold the dog”. This is how the let you know that someone is at their door.

• Another ger etiquette no-no is walking thru the two man central pillars that hold the yurt and standing up while drinking tea.

mongolia ger tent

Learn the ger etiquette

Learning the ger etiquette is, of course, just half the fun of experiencing the Mongolian nomadic culture. The other half of the fun is to:

• Sample nomadic food
• Engage in the daily chores of nomads, which included cleaning the poop, herding the livestock, milking the cows and goats, wrestling, sawing and hunting.
• Take part in traditional activities such as archery, horse riding and wrestling.

Just like sumo is revered in Japan, wrestling is hugely popular in Mongolia. Mongolians love wrestling with a passion and one of the best times to experience Mongolian wrestling it is during the Mongolian Naadam Festival, which is one of the events of the Mongolian calendar year.

Before nomadic Mongolians get on with their daily chores, they start off the day with a typical breakfast that consists of fresh cream and/or cheese on freshly made bread, and tea.

For lunch (their second most important meal of the day) they typically eat boiled or fired mutton dumplings (called “booz”), and then get on with more daily chores, though you will also be taught new skills like saddling a horse, horse riding, and even wrestling.

Mongolia Trip Highlight

The highlight of my trip to Mongolia was, without a doubt, horse trekking across Mongolia. The Mongolian terrain and weather are very demanding, and even more so having to get used to standing in the stirrups as Mongolian horses are not used to riders sitting in the saddle.

I enjoyed very much the long trots and canters along the Orkhon valley and the edge of Gobi Desert; while marvelling at beautiful rocky mountain scenery, sand dunes and waterfalls.

Some thoughts…

Mongolia is very much a place for the independent and adventurous traveller, especially staying in the Mongolian countryside with a nomadic family. Experiencing the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle is therefore off the tourist trail but a “must-do” experience nevertheless.

If you are looking for a sense of adventure and to immerse yourself into a fascinating and totally unique way of doing things, staying with a nomadic family in Mongolia is for you. Just remember to leave behind everything you know and keep an open mind.

More information

How to get there: If you are travelling from the US, the best option is to base your flight from Los Angeles or Hawaii in the West Coast and fly with either Air China or Korean Air. Either option you choose, it is not a direct flight to Mongolia so you will need to book a second flight with MIAT Mongolian Airlines for the second leg of the trip.

If you are coming from the East Coast, you can fly from Miami, Florida with Aeroflot Russian Airlines to Ulaanbaatar via Moscow.

Organizing your trip: I organized my trip to Mongolia thru Altai Expeditions, and included a guest house, ger camp and fun activities such as jeep tour, climbing, and bird watching.

About the Author: James Jones is an energetic blogger who loves sharing his travel experiences with everyone. He has travelled and shared his experiences trekking the Amazon forest, touring the Salar de Uyuni and travelling to Mongolia.

Topics: Mongolia, Mongolia Horseback Riding Holidays, Mongolia Horseback Riding Vacations, Mongolia Riding Vacations, Mongolia Travel Tips