Steppe by Steppe

The roaming lifestyle

Stretching out from across the vast desolate Gobi Desert in the south, through the seemingly endless grassy steppes of the central plateaus towards the magnificent snow capped peaks of the Altai Mountain range of the northwest, this is Mongolia, “The Land of the Blue Sky,” a land of extremes and contrasts. Although ranked as the 19th largest country in the world at about three times the size of Spain, Mongolia has the lowest population density on earth, with only 1.77 people per square kilometer.

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Traditionally Mongolians have been pastoral nomads, living in small white round yurts, moving seasonally from one place to another as they pasture their herds. Today, about half of the population still practices this nomadic lifestyle. Independent, self-reliant and open-minded, Mongolians tend to be intensely curious about the world around them, with a deep connection to nature. Family, elders and traditions are highly valued in Mongolian society, and Mongolian hospitality is legendary.

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Mongolians are fiercely proud of their connection to Genghis Khan, the 12th century founder of the Mongol empire. His cult status has surged dramatically in recent years with his name being used everywhere: on streets, squares, airports and even many commercial products such as vodka and beer. After landing at Genghis Khan international airport in Ulaanbaatar, many visit the statue of Genghis Khan in front of the parliament building located at Genghis Khan square in the city center.

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Traveling in Mongolia is an adventure, with few highways or roads, so you must rely on GPS or your own navigational skills as you set off on your journey. Gazing into the horizon you can’t help but feel awed by the stunning beauty of the deep blue sky contrasted with the infinite emerald ocean of grass or the vast expanse of sand.

Images by Piers Birtwistle (www.piersphotography.com)

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