|Around 1200, Genghis Khan, an obscure Mongolian chieftain and his his nomad tribesmen swept westward to create the vast Mongol Empire. At its peak, it included China, Central Asia, Russia and part of the Balkans, the largest contiguous empire, ever. Two centuries later, it fell apart and Mongolia pretty much disappeared from world attention.
To retrace some of this fantastic history and experience nomadic life on the steppes, join the half million or so tourists who visit Mongolia annually.
Having advanced from a Soviet satellite to a democratic free economy, Mongolia has opened up to the Western World. The country is sparsely populated, less than three million people, some 30% of whom are nomads. However, there are close to 60 million four-legged creatures, including camels.
Almost half of that population lives in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. That city, originally called Urga and, later, Ulan Bator, received its current name in 1924.
Mongolia comprises five distinct regions:
The Central Region includes the capital and the Orkhon Valley which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There you will visit Karakorum, with Mongolia's prime tourist attraction, the Erdene Zuu monastery. Nearby are the ruins of Genghis Khan's capital.
The Northern Region, a mountainous region, is the homeland of the Reindeer People
Eastern Mongolia: Burkhan khaldun mountain, is very much associated with Genghis Khan. It is said to be his place of birth as well as burial. Another mountain, Altan Ovoo, an extinct volcano, has been proclaimed as "Majestic Mountain to Worship."
Western Mongolia is the home of Kazakhs, Mongolia's largest minority. A number of the mountain ranges are on the UNESCU World Heritage List.
Southern Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, is a prime tourist destination. It is also the site of Oyu Tolgoi, a giant copper and gold mining project, being developed by Rio Tinto.
Finally, we are happy to report, that the 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Bataar, a dinosaur skeleton, is being returned by the United States to its original home, Mongolia.