Try changing gear before arriving in Ulaanbaatar, and adjusting your expectations. This is a country where anything can – and often does – change. Mongolia is as beautiful as it is remote and still largely untouched by tourism.
The few people who live outside Ulaanbaatar are welcoming and friendly. We came across a Nomadic ger and “dropped in” as is customary, to meet a very shy husband and wife, with daughters aged 10 and 5 years – and a baby son just one month old! Remarkably she still produced biscuits to welcome us. We were the first tourists they had met. Fortunately, the tiny baby boy will be nearly three months old before they have to move (which they do at the beginning of spring, summer, autumn and winter) and so will be stronger. Infant mortality is still high amongst these Nomadic people as conditions for much of the year are incredibly harsh.
Although it was a short visit to Mongolia, much was packed into this trip: horse riding, camel riding, trekking, camping and sightseeing all along the way. Cocktails were also briefly enjoyed before being enveloped in a severe sand storm! It is one of a very few countries left in the world where you can look in all directions and still see no sign of habitation whatsoever. However, look carefully and you will begin to appreciate the wildlife: we saw rare Argali sheep, the endangered wild Przewalski horses, native to the Mongolian Steppe as well as herds of yaks (not to be approached!) and goats, Steppe eagles, golden eagles (which are still used for hunting in western Mongolia), vultures and many hawks and smaller creatures such as marmots. Wolves were about, but not within sight during the day. Also, hiding were snow leopards, easier to track when snow is on the ground.
Riding in a remote area to the east of Ulaanbaatar was another treat. It is a fantastic way to see more animals and explore. We found ourselves wading through deep streams and boggy marshland, leaving herds we passed undisturbed. We saw a horse in the distance unusually on its own: unusual because they are very much herd animals. Our guide galloped over to investigate and returned with news that it had a broken leg – probably having put its foot into a marmot hole. This served as a very stark reminder that we are visitors to this amazing country. Horses are working animals, not pets, in Mongolia and we cannot change or influence the culture or way of life here. Nature takes its course in the wild, even if it does mean leaving with a heavy heart.
I felt privileged to have visited – and cannot wait to return.