Ordos in Inner Mongolia will host Miss World 2012. While Ordos may lie in China, Mongolia has become increasingly popular with tourists. With its pristine grasslands and beautiful terrain, take a trip to the wild west of the far east.
Mongolia is a landlocked country located between China and Russia. It is a vast emptiness that links land and sky, and is one of the last few places on the planet where nomadic life is still a living tradition. A rolling landscape dotted with horses, yaks and camels and a rugged, untamed land. Unmatched geographical diversity, pristine grasslands, crumbling ruins and roaming herdsmen riding tough Mongolian horses, the lands of Mongolia have this and much more to offer. Within these well-watered valleys and wolf-ridden mountains, the mighty Genghis Khan was born, started an empire and now lies buried. But there is much more than just history to this land.
If you thought Mongolia was all rolling steppes and nomadic tribes, visit Ulaanbaatar, the capital and only urban area of the country. The city serves as an excellent base for forays into the countryside and offers an eclectic range of experiences like nightclubs, museums and monasteries. Visit the Terelj National Park, an ideal place for hiking and birdwatching. Migjid Janraisig Sum, a monastery is a another must visit, if only to marvel at the 26m gold-covered statue of Migjid Janraisig. The hollow statue contains 7 tonnes of medicinal herbs, 334 sutras and an entire ger with furniture.
The World Heritage Site of Orkhon Valley lies around 300 km from Ulaanbaatar, along the banks of the Orkhon river. The monuments in the region include the Orkhon monuments, 8th century Turkic memorials from the Gokturk Empire. Ruins of Khar Balgas, an 8th century capital of the Uyghur empire, with remnants of temples, shops and palaces can be found here. The Erdene Zuu monastery, the first established in Mongolia, also is part of Orkhon Valley. A stone phallus can be found on a hill near a monastery, which was erected to restrain the sexual impulses of the monks.
Also in Orkhon Valley is Genghis Khan’s fabled city, Kharkorum. The city was built in 1220 by Genghis Khan and his son Ogedei, but was abandoned when Kublai Khan decided to shift base to Beijing. After the collapse of the Mongolian empire, the city fell to ruin and was ransacked by Manchurian soldiers. What remains of the once-great city are the ruins of Tumen Amgalan, or the Palace of Wordly Peace. Take a look at the two stone turtles near the city walls that once marked the boundaries of Kharkorum and acted as protectors of the city.
The Gobi Desert
Contrary to popular notions, the Gobi Desert is not all sand dunes and desolation. It is a place of vast, immense beauty, with ice-filled canyons, unbelievable rock formations doting the landscape. Visit Khamaryn Khiid and Shambhala, home to the legendary poet-monk Danzan Ravjaa. The best place to find some prehistoric treasures is Bayanzag, or the flaming cliffs, where you can find dinosaur bones and fossilised eggs. Trek to Yolyn Am, a canyon which is filled with ice for most of the year. Apart from the nomadic tribes that live in this harsh land, you’ll hardly come across any other people.
The Khan Khentii mountain range in Eastern Mongolia is what put Mongolia on the map. Genghis Khan was born in these ranges as Temujin, and this is where he set out from to conquer the world. You could literally walk in the Khan’s footsteps, by travelling from Dadal, his birthplace, to Khokh Nuur, where he was coronated. Make a pilgrimage to Burkhan Khalduun, the hill sacred to Genghis Khan. In the south-east is Dariganga, a volcanic area filled with craters, ancient stone sculptures and lava tubes. Also take a look at the war memorials at Khalkhiin Gol.
Keep in mind
Getting there: Malaysia Airlines flies from Hyderabad to Kuala Lumpur and then from there to Beijing, from Beijing, Air China takes one to Ulaanbataar. Other flights available are Air India and Jet Airways with stopovers at Delhi and Peking.
Fares: Starts from approximately Rs.95,000.
Time difference: Mongolia is 2:30 hours ahead of India
Currency: Re 1 = 24.17 Mongolian Tugrik
Best time to visit: The ideal Mongolia travel season starts in May and hits its highest peak in July, during the Naadam holiday, and in August when the weather is most favourable for travelling. This is the best time if you like the culture and can bear the crowds of other tourists.