Mongolia ranks as the world’s nineteenth-largest country in terms of square miles. Mongolia shares a similar geography with much of Kazakhstan, which is the world’s largest landlocked nation; Mongolia is second-largest. Despite Mongolia’s large land area (slightly smaller than the US state of Alaska or the country of Iran), its population is only about three million, and the country is the least densely populated country in the world. Mountains, high plains, and grass-covered steppe cover much of Mongolia, a country that receives only between four and ten inches of rain per year, precipitation that usually comes in the form of snow. The following video shows just what the Mongolian steppe looks like:
The Gobi Desert to the south, extending from southern Mongolia into northern China, receives even less precipitation. Gobi rangelands are fragile and easily destroyed by overgrazing, which results in the expansion of the true desert, a stony waste where not even Bactrian camels can survive. The arid conditions in the Gobi are attributed to the rain shadow effect caused by the Himalayas.
Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter. A vast front of cold, heavy, shallow air comes in from Siberia in winter and collects in river valleys and low basins causing very cold temperatures while slopes of mountains are much warmer.
The country is subject to occasional harsh climatic conditions known as zud. Zud, which is a natural disaster unique to Mongolia, results in large proportions of the country’s livestock dying from starvation or freezing temperatures or both, resulting in economic upheaval for the largely pastoral population. There are various kinds of zud, including white zud, which is an extremely snowy winter in which livestock are unable to find nourishing foodstuff through the snow cover and starve.
Przewalski’s horse, also called the Mongolian wild horse, is a rare and endangered horse native to the region. Przewalski’s horse has long been considered the only ‘true’ wild horse extant in the world today, never having been domesticated. However, a 2018 DNA study suggested that modern Przewalski’s horses may descend from the domesticated horses of the Botai culture (a prehistoric culture of Kazakhstan and North Asia).
Inner Mongolia is a sparsely inhabited autonomous region south of Mongolia that is governed by the Chinese government.
Mongolia’s modern capital city of Ulaanbaatar is home to about one-third of the people of Mongolia; it has the coldest average temperature of any world capital.
Mongolia’s history includes the great Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, which was established in the thirteenth century.
The Soviet Union used Mongolia as a buffer state with China. Mongolia’s Communist party dominated politics until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. The current government in Ulaanbaatar has to contend with Mongolia’s position between the two large economies of Russia and China.
Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant religion in Mongolia and is practiced by about 50 percent of the population. The Communist influence is evident in that approximately 40 percent of the population considers itself nonreligious. Most of the people are of Mongol ethnicity. Today, about 30 percent of the people are still seminomadic and migrate seasonally to accommodate good grazing for their livestock. A round ger (also known as a yurt), which can be constructed at whatever location is selected for the season and disassembled for mobility, is the traditional dwelling.
Mongolian culture and heritage revolve around a rural agrarian culture with an extensive reliance on the horse. Archery, wrestling, and equestrian events are some of the most popular sporting activities. The music of Mongolia is strongly influenced by nature, nomadism, shamanism, and also Tibetan Buddhism. The traditional music includes a variety of instruments, famously the morin khuur, and also the singing styles like the urtyn duu (“long song”), and throat-singing (khoomei).
Mongolian cuisine is rooted in their nomadic history, and thus includes much dairy content and meat, but few vegetables. Mongolians usually cook in a cast-iron or aluminum pot on a small stove, using wood or dry animal dung fuel. Two of the most popular dishes are Buuz (a meat-filled steamed dumpling) and Khuushuur (a sort of deep-fried meat pie.)
The Mongolian diet includes a large proportion of animal fat which is necessary for the Mongols to withstand the cold winters and their hard work. Winter temperatures are as low as −40 °C (−40 °F) and outdoor work requires sufficient energy reserves. Milk and cream are used to make a variety of beverages, as well as cheese and similar products.
Meat is sometimes cut into long strips that are hung in the shade or under the roof of a ger and air-dried. The dried borts is broken into small pieces or ground to a coarse and fibrous powder. It is stored in a linen bag, which allows contact with air. In the dry climate of Mongolia, this method of storage preserves the quality of the meat over months or even years. Horse meat is often eaten and can be found in most grocery stores.
Mongolia’s economy has traditionally been centered on agriculture, but mining has grown in recent years to be a major economic sector. Mongolia has rich mineral resources of coal, molybdenum, copper, gold, tin, and tungsten. Being landlocked cuts Mongolia off from the global economy, but the large amounts of mineral reserves are in demand by core industrial areas for manufacturing and should boost the poor economic conditions that dominate Mongolia’s economy. China has increased its business presence in Mongolia and has been drawing Mongolia’s attention away from its former Soviet ally to become a major trading partner.
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Additional information and images credits:
Mongolia map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34855180
camels By Severin.stalder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26728486
Inner Mongolia map By TUBS – Own workThis W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Adobe Illustrator.This file was uploaded with Commonist.This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this file: China edcp location map.svg (by Uwe Dedering)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16493683
Steppes By mayanming, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57038300
Ulaanbaatar By Brücke-Osteuropa – Self-photographed, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7298618
Yurt By The original uploader was Adagio at English Wikipedia.(Original text: en:User:Adagio) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.(Original text: self-made), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2190068
Mongolian instrument CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=463984
Przewalski’s horse By Claudia Feh – Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40820924
Buuz By Mizu_Basyo – Cooked by Mongolian Restaurant “Chinggis Khaan”, Tokyo, JAPAN, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14042225
Khuushuur By Sivserver – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11940722
Mongolian cuisine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_cuisine