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Mongolia: Fascinating facts about country with more horses than people

Mongolia, a nation bordered by China and Russia, is known for vast, rugged expanses and nomadic culture.

Its capital, Ulaanbaatar, centers around Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) Square, named for the notorious founder of the 13th- and 14th-century Mongol Empire.

Also in Ulaanbaatar are the National Museum of Mongolia, displaying historic and ethnographic artifacts, and the restored 1830 Gandantegchinlen Monastery.

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Horses

It’s traditionally said that “a Mongol without a horse is like a bird without the wings”, so it’s no surprise that horses play a large part in daily life and culture in Mongolia.

An impressive interesting fact about Mongolia is that there are more horses than people here!

It is estimated that there are more than 3 million horses in Mongolia while the human population only just hits the 3 million mark.

Horses in Mongolia are used for riding, mare’s milk is used for drinking and sometimes they are slaughtered for meat.

Religion

The majority of Mongolians practice Tibetan Buddhism which was introduced to the country in the sixteenth century after links were forged with the Chinese Qing dynasty.

Shamanism had been the national religion prior to that and still has an enduring effect on Mongolia’s culture and traditions.

It is still practised today in remote areas.

Islam is the religion of the Kazakh and Turkic people who live in the west of the country.

Golden Eagle festival

The Golden Eagle Festival is held over two days every year, celebrating age-old Kazakh traditions.

It begins with a parade of eagle hunters on horseback, displaying their elaborate hunting costumes and accessories.

The eagles are judged for their speed and agility, as the birds are released from a cliff and swoop down to land on the arms of the hunters below.

The men demonstrate their courage and horsemanship and a variety of traditional games.

Two-humped Bactrian camel

The two-humped Bactrian camel is indigenous to Mongolia.

The annual Thousand Camel Festival is run by a local non-governmental organisation working to protect and preserve the Bactrian camel population, which has been steadily declining over the past twelve years.

At the festival you’ll get an opportunity to interact with the camels and learn first-hand about the camel herders’ nomadic lifestyle.

Wild horse

A very unique fact about Mongolia is that it has the only true wild horse in the world!

Most wild horses, such as the American mustang or Australian brumby, are simply domesticated horses that have turned feral in the wild.

The takhi horse from Mongolia is the only wild horse that has never been domesticated and still exists today.

Also known as Przewalski’s horse, Mongolians call this horse takhi, and it was considered to be extinct in the wild in the late 1960s.

Naadam Festival

In July each year, the Naadam Festival takes over the entire country.

It’s like an annual Olympic Games, the purpose of which is to commemorate the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country.

Much like at the Olympics, the opening ceremony in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the most popular event, which everyone wants to see.

The official Mongolian name for the Naadam Festival is “eriin gurvan naadam” which translates to: “the three games of men”.

The 3 games are wrestling, archery, and horse riding. Therefore, the festival centers around these 3 sports.

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Ethic groups

After the Khalka who are the largest ethnic group of Mongol people at 86%, the second largest ethnic group are the Kazakhs who live in the west of Mongolia.

They are differentiated from the rest of the population by language (the Kazakh language is part of the Turkic language family) and by religion – Sunni Islam.

A small minority of Kazakh people are also eagle hunters, who hunt foxes and hares with their own trained Golden Eagles from horseback.

In September and October, this tradition is honoured with the two Eagle Festivals in or near to Bayan Ulgii.

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