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Mongolia

Nomadic and Nature Travel Mongolia

Lifestyle

The simple Secret of DIE-HARD NOMADS 

          Mongolian’s seemingly simple nomadic lifestyle is enriched by the philosophy of living in harmony with the natural environment. Each and every symbolic act of nomads - be it a greeting, paying respect, telling a legend or singing an epic, - inevitably has deep symbolism and meaning.

          Add to that the melodic double tone coming from human vocal cords and the steppes filled with distinct long songs that will send shivers down your spine. Mongolia in the 21st century is a rare and unique land existing in a modern world while managing to preserve a harmonious relationship between man and nature.

Observing THE LIFE OF NOMADS, one rich with symbolism

          The historical roots of Mongolians are best explained in the 1204 AD text The Secret History of Mongols:

“The ancestors of Chinggis Khaan – Burte Chono (meaning grey wolf) and his wife Gua Maral (meaning a beautiful deer), came sailing across the ocean and settled in Mount Burkhan Khaldun, at the spring of the Onon river, and gave birth to a boy named Battsagaan.

Thousands of years later, the existence of Mongolian nomads is as complicated to understand as the myths surrounding their origin.

ORIGINS of MONGOLIANS

          If you asked a Mongolian, “Are you a descendant of Burte Chono and Gua Maral?” They would probably agree with a nod and a vague smile. Of course, they know they are agreeing with a mythological belief, but, these ideas have been inherited from their ancestors. To most Mongolians, a wolf is not just another animal, but a spirit of nature and men. The deer is an aesthetic expression of beauty and has strong ties to early shamanism beliefs.

          These longstanding beliefs can be seen on deer stones that date back to the Bronze Age and still standing today in Mongolia. On many Mongolian and Southern Baikal (an area that includes east Russia) style deer stones, the deer is portrayed as a heavenly messenger flying up to the sky. This style of carving stands out with its intricate detail and vivid fantasy. There are about 700 deer stones in the world. About 600 of those are in Mongolia and are easily accessible to tourists.

Mongolians and THE NOMADIC LIFESTYLE

          There are many stories of tourists being overwhelmed by the unreserved and open-hearted hospitality of the people who are maybe best known for once dominating half of the world. However, if you look deeper into their spirit, you will witness how strong, stern nomadic men can be moved to tears by their race horses rushing to a finish line. How they sing and play music for a mother camel that has rejected her calf until she accepts it once more. How women sing to their domestic animals to calm them while milking them.
          It is astounding how the tough, rustic Mongolian nomads - who survive such harsh climates - show tender care towards animals, plants, and each other. Have you heard of any other people who have designed their boots with soft, wide, curved soles to avoid hurting seedlings?
          These are secrets hidden deep inside the simplicity of their lives. Mongolian nomads have a long tradition of soothing and comforting female animals that have rejected their newborns. To make a female sheep accept its own lamb or an orphan lamb a ritual called “toig” is practiced, a “chuugii” for goats, and a “khuuslukh” for camels. These rituals involve a form of singing technique used to calm the livestock.

Mythological MINDSETof nomads 

          For Mongolians, myths are stories handed down from their ancestors to help them make sense of the world. All Mongolian legends have historical accounts and wisdom about living harmoniously with nature. For this reason, Mongolians value their myths and pass them down from generation to generation. It’s amazing to discover how this culture of dedicating a tale to even the smallest of rocks has merged with their everyday lifestyle. In a sense, the essence of their lifestyle is mythology itself.

Mongolian EPICS

          The epic mindset of nomads was reconsidered with the discovery of a 1500 year old angular Altai harp inside the tomb of a warrior. Mongolian epics are songs that are considered to be the living encyclopedia of the country. Singers perform songs that are hundreds to thousands of lines long while playing an instrument. It is inspiring to imagine, 1500 years ago, a man dropping his weapon and singing about peace while playing a harp he crafted with his own hands. The ancient drawings and runic inscriptions carved on the harp make it even more impressive.
          Some short epics can be sung within a night, while others are sung over many nights. Mongolian epics are listed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List for their spirit of original religious beliefs and expression of the mythological thinking and literature of nomads. It is estimated that no more than 20 epic singers are alive today.

MELODIES of nomads

          Nomads have a musical mindset and their melodies are an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. Nomads have developed various ways of calling, whistling, whooping, and practicing rituals such as “chuugii,” “khuus” and “toig” to communicate with their herds.
          However, the most prestigious forms of nomad music are “khuumii,” throat singing, and “urtiin duu,” long songs. Khuumii and long songs can help you understand the uniqueness of Mongolians as well as their understanding of the world. As they mimic their surroundings, you can hear the mountains, wind and water, the sounds of birds and other animals, the unity of man and nature, and the echoes of inner souls.
          Accompanied by melodies played on a horse-headed fiddle, Mongolian long songs make you feel the timeless freedom and the serene composition of harmony between man and nature. It is not a surprise that any concert hall is too small to fully appreciate khuumii and long songs.

DIVINE GARMENTS and beastly bodies

          This is a common saying in Mongolia. The traditional “deel” and other clothing have been created to be compatible with the climate and lifestyle of nomads. Mongolian traditional costume consists of a hat, deel (a body-length, often wool garment), “uuj” (a long, sleeveless vest worn by women over the deel), coat, vest, underwear, and boots. They have great respect towards these traditional clothing as well. For example, hats and belts worn by men are to be placed respectfully in the honored place of a home.
          Though these items can be extremely beautiful, often in matching colors for husband and wife, they have several functions:  to keep nomads warm in the harsh winters, to be comfortable while horse riding, and cool in hot summers.

A godly WISDOM 

          Mongolians admire blacksmiths’ skills and often praise them with famous saying, “Blacksmiths have godly wisdom.”
Blacksmiths craftsmanship reflects Mongolian symbolism, customs, and mindset in their work, with various shapes and patterns. The work of Mongolian blacksmiths is unique in the sense that only one piece of an item is made.

Mongolian GER

          The Mongolian ger is a classic “building” that expresses Mongolian concepts of symbolism. Although gers have changed over the course of centuries, with the development of new materials for example, it has yet to change in one way.
It continues to exist in harmony with nature.
          Many years ago Mongolians believed that if they surrounded their homes with fences, they would lose their freedom, and if they built their homes with stones, they would lose their connection to nature. No matter where you are in Mongolia – from the high mountains in the west to the hot sand of the Gobi in the south – you will come across a ger of a nomadic family. They will welcome you with hot milk tea and a warm bed. And the next time you travel along the same road, they will probably have moved to another place.
          There is an ancient custom of facing the door of a Mongolian ger south – so it can get as much sun as possible. The interior parts of a ger have their own place per customs as well. For example, saddle, bridle, hobble and airag sack are placed on the right side of the ger. This is also the side where the man’s accessories such as snuff bottles, knife, wrestling costume, and fur are kept indicating it is his side. The left side of the ger is considered the woman’s side with the items such as milking buckets, water tank, and a bedside trunk where fine accessories and clothes, thread and needles for sewing are kept.
          The biggest ger ever built was at Erdenezuu monastery in 1658. It is estimated this ger, named Bat-Ulzii, was 9 meters in height and 20 meters in diameter. The base of the ger remains inside the Erdenezuu monastery walls to this day.

Mongolian NATURE

          The most intriguing thing about Mongolia is its natural environment. Nature has shaped the religion and philosophy of Mongolians. It has inspired the simplified and satisfied way of living. It is also nature, which at times is harsh and formidable, which has inspired the close-knit and respectful relationships of people. Through thousands of years, nomads have passed on their wisdom of worshipping, adapting, and living in harmony with nature instead of being frightened by it or destroying it.
          This knowledge has been passed down through music, songs, costumes, customs, tales and myths that have been told over many nights. The nomadic lifestyle may seem a slightly inconsistent with the modern world. However its harmony with nature is truly unique and powerful to bring out the true nature of a person.
          Discovering this harmony for yourself is one of the first things you should do so. Welcome to Mongolia, the land of ancient history and astounding legends.