Destination: Mongolia

Genghis Khan and the New Mongolia

The Atlantic has a dispatch from Bill Donahue, who’s been traveling in a changing Mongolia. As Donahue explains, the long-dead warlord is central to the country’s new commercial efforts:

Genghis Khan is Mongolia’s future. After his conquests were downplayed in the history books during seven decades of de facto Soviet rule, the nomad who ruled an empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to Siberia reemerged in 1990, as democracy was being established. Today, he is a poor nation’s avatar of hope—and he’s becoming a major industry.

In Ulaanbaatar, you can drink Chinggis beer at the Grand Khaan Irish Pub. (For obscure reasons, the local spelling differs from the Western.) The Genco Tour Bureau, an Ulaanbaatar-based company, has spent about $7 million on the Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex, a commercially minded homage where the giant steel Chinggis will soon be flanked by an artificial pond, a skating rink, and 200 small gers, or round tents, for paying campers. Nearby, Genco has also built a 13th-century living history museum, sort of a Colonial Williamsburg on the steppes, where artisans make felt by beating wool with wood sticks. And at the Chinggis Khaan Golf Country Club, the greens are tiny, bright patches of artificial turf on the infinite brown.

With a poignant hopefulness, Mongolia, population 2.7 million, is trying to establish a market economy in the deep shadow of neighboring China.

Six Great Women Travelers in Asia


March is Women’s History Month, so this seems a good moment to call out a few of history’s great women travelers. Because so many 19th- and early 20th-century adventurers found themselves drawn to Asia, I’ve narrowed this list to women who made their mark on that continent, fording the Indus River or crossing the Tibetan Plateau, in defiance of social norms and often at great risk. These are the women I wish I’d been in another life. Herewith, my top-six list of the most intrepid Western female travelers to take Asia by foot, camel or donkey.

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In Mongolia, My Yurt is Your Yurt

As a traveler, Tim Wu never liked communing with the locals—or, rather, the contrived experience of tourists “living” local culture. “The problem is that most events billed as a chance to ‘experience indigenous culture’ tend to range from the merely uncomfortable to the downright nauseating,” he writes in the latest installment of Slate’s Well-Traveled series.

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Tags: Asia, Mongolia

Mongolia: ‘On the Trail of the World’s True Last Wild Horses’

On the heels of Deanne Stillman’s story honoring the horses Battle of the Little Bighorn comes another interesting piece, this one from a spot on the other side of the world: Mongolia. The country has more horses—an estimated 3 million—than people. The Telegraph’s Sara Evans ventured to the Mongolian plains to see the horses. She writes of the wild creatures known as takhi: “While takhi may come in confectionary colours, their nature is not so sweet. During the mating season, stallions will kick each other to death to gain dominance; when wolves threaten to take foals, takhi will rear fiercely to protect their young; and no man - except, if you believe the legend, Genghis Khan - has ever been able to ride one. Unknown to Europeans until 1878, takhi are as wild as the landscape they live in.”

Related on World Hum:
* ‘Mongolia Loves Puff Daddy’
* The Horse Spirits of Big Sky Country
* Down by the Buskaschee Field

Photo of a takhi in Hustai Park, Mongolia by jrubinic, via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Japan’s Big Fat Sumo Controversy

Is Japan’s beloved sport of sumo wrestling scripted and fake? A weekly Japanese magazine recently published allegations that the sport’s champion wrestler from Mongolia, Asashoryu, has won so many tournaments lately because he has bribed other wrestlers, according to a story in today’s Los Angeles Times. While plenty of fans apparently don’t buy the allegations, the charges have rocked the sumo world and raised eyebrows at a big tournament now underway in Osaka. Reports the Times, “Many are on the lookout for signs of choreography.” Say it ain’t so.

Tags: Asia, Japan, Mongolia

‘Mongolia Loves Puff Daddy’

Michael Wolgelenter has a terrific, laugh-out-loud essay about music as a travel touchstone in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Honoring ‘Hearing Birds Fly’

Britian’s The Royal Society of Literature has awarded its inaugural Ondaatje Prize for a book that best captures the spirit of a place to Louisa Waugh, for her travel memoir Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia. The Independent has the details.

‘My Parents Didn’t Know How To Behave at Some of the Grandest Sights in China’

When Rolf Potts headed out with his parents onto the vast expanse of the Mongolian steppe, he worried about them. First, they seemed to lollygag on the hike. Then they became obsessed with finding botanical specimens and what looked to be garbage. Rolf was sure their parent-child relationship had suddenly reversed. Before he could scold his mom and dad, however, he came to a realization: Travel hadn’t turned his parents into children.

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