Culture and People


Mongolia is more than twice as big as Texas and nearly the same size as Alaska. Its area is 1.6 million km² (603,000 mi²), four times the size of Japan and almost double that of Eastern Europe.

This makes Mongolia the sixth-largest country in Asia and 19th in the world, but the population is only three million, which makes Mongolia one of the least-densely populated areas in Asia.

40% of the population lives in the capital city of Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar leaving much room for travel. Of course, Gobi is even less densely populated.

Almost another 40% of population are scattered throughout Mongolia with their 56 million head of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels. There are 21 provinces, called aimag. Each aimag has a central city or town and about 15-22 sub-provinces called soum.

70% of Mongolia is under the age of 35 and the genders are pretty well balanced. 84% are Khalkha Mongols, 6% Kazakhs and 10% other groups.

90% of Mongols follow a mixture of Tibetan Buddhism and shamanism while the remaining 10% follow a diverse range of different faiths, mainly Islam and Christianity.


Holidays and festivals

Naadam festival celebrations.

Mongolia is home to the "three manly sports": wrestling, horse racing, and archery, and these three sporting events take place annually at the Naadam festival.

Naadam is the National Holiday of Mongolia celebrated on 11-13 Jul. During these days all of Mongolia watches or listens to the whole event which takes place in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar through Mongolia's National Television and Radio. Many other smaller Naadam festivals take place in different aimags (provinces) around the country throughout the month of July, and these Naadam festivals provide a closer look at the action.

It is believed that Naadam celebrations started with the rise of the Great Mongolian Empire as Chinggis (also known as Genghis) Khan's strategy to keep his warriors fit. After the fall of the empire, the contests were held during religious festivals, and since the communist revolution it was celebrated on its anniversary.

The legend says that in old times a woman dressed like a man won a wrestling competition once. That is why open chest and long sleeve wrestling costumes, called "zodog", are meant to show that every participant is male. Wrestlers wear short trunks, "shuudag", and Mongolian boots, "gutal". The yellow stripes on the tails of wrestlers' hats indicate the number of times the wrestler was a champion in Naadam.

Only Naadam gives official titles to the wrestlers. Mongolian wrestling tournaments have nine or ten rounds depending on the number (512 or 1024) wrestlers registered for the competition that year. If the wrestler wins five rounds, he will be awarded the title "Nachin" (bird), six rounds - Hartsaga (hawk), seven rounds - Zaan (elephant), eight rounds - Garuda (Eagle), nine rounds - Arslan (lion) and ten - Avarga (Titan).

In 2006, Zaan (Elephant) Sumyabazar won nine rounds, making him Garuda, but that year 1024 wrestlers had ten rounds, each of which he won. This entitled him to Avarga. Or Arslan (Lion) must win two consecutive championships to become Avarga (Titan). The titles are for life. If Avarga (Titan) keeps winning at Naadam more and more attributes will be added to his title.

There are no weight categories in Mongolian Wrestling tournaments but there is a time limit of 30 min, if the wrestlers can not overthrow each other, referees use lots for better position which often settles the match. One who falls or his body touches the ground loses the match.

Mongolian Wrestling matches are attended by seconds whose role is to assist their wrestlers in all matters and to encourage them to win by spanking on their buttocks. They also sing praise songs and titles to the leading wrestlers of both wings, west and east, after the fifth and seventh rounds. The referees monitor the rules but the people and the fans are the final judges. They will speak and spread the word of mouth about who is who till the next year.

The Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii on the first weekend of October is the largest gathering in the world of eagle hunters. The event typically has 60 to 70 Kazakh eagle hunters displaying their skills. The events include having their golden eagles fly to them on command and catching a fox fur being pulled by a horse from a perch on a nearby mountain. The event also features traditional Kazakh games like Kokpar (tug-of-war over a goat carcass while on horseback), Tiyn Teru (a timed race to pick up a coin on the ground while on horseback), and Kyz Kuar ("girl chase," is a race between a man and woman where the woman whips the man while he tries to hold on). The festival also has a traditional Kazakh concert, camel race, and displays of Kazakh art. A smaller eagle festival is held on 22 Sep in the nearby village of Sagsai.

Nauryz Festival, also in Ölgii, is the traditional new year's celebration of Kazakhs held on 22 March. There is a parade, concert, and horse races during several days of celebration. Though most of the celebration involves visiting friends and relatives to eat Nauryz Koje (soup) and boiled mutton and horse meat.

The camel festival is an annual celebration held in the southern Gobi organised by a local NGO to help protect the Bactrian camel and the essential role it plays in the lives of the nomadic herders in the region. Highlights include camel races, camel polo competitions and traditional performances of Mongolian music and dance. Those who want to will be able to travel to the festival by camel, dressed in their Mongolian best including a traditional deel.