Democracy has given foreign investors enough confidence to stick with Mongolia during the hard times in the last 20 years. Attractive investment laws have lured some huge investors from the mining world but despite their progression, Mongolia still faces enormous economic and social challenges and remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Since the fall of communism, Mongolia has done just about everything in its power to open itself up to the world to show that what is truly unique about this gem of Asia. It is not often you can visit a country where ancient traditions survive and the unbridled nature is still mostly intact and extremely accessible.
Tourism, along with mining and cashmere, have become a key feature of the economy. Unfortunately the poor infrastructure and short travel season have kept vacation revenues small. But a growing network of ger camps that cater to travellers seeking ecotourism adventures is growing and gives hope for tourism dollars.
Without the presence of private property to restrict a traveller’s movement, Mongolia is a perfect destination for photographers, horse trekking, long-distance cycling and hiking, and especially for camping out under a sprawling mass of stars. With such minimal light pollution, one feels like they can reach out and touch stars that, until a visit here, they never knew existed.
Most travellers come for Naadam, the two-day summer sports festival that brought me there earlier this month. The Naadam festival is held in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar during the National Holiday from July 11 – 13. Naadam begins with an elaborate ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians dressed in traditional ware. After the ceremony, the competitions begin.
Naadam is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another. Its origin in the activities, such as military parades and sporting competitions such as archery, horse riding and wrestling originated in the beginning of the 13th century when the Yuan Dynasty was established.
As early as 1206, Genghis Khan held big gatherings on the grassland in order to inspect his army and to maintain and allocate the properties. The chief leaders of all the tribes were assembled, and the gatherings were held as a sign of solidarity and hope for an abundant harvest.
I brought a group here to spend 8 days in Mongolia. We are currently visiting numerous areas in the countryside and thoroughly enjoying the sights and the people before we head back to enjoy the Naadam festival. With special passes to allow us down on the floor where the athletes are, we are sure to capture some spectacular images.
But Mongolia’s unique charm will always lie in the countryside where, rather than being a spectator to the wrestling, you may find yourself in a vast expansive land, void of travellers, in the awe of an untouched landscape. One cannot help but feel humbled!
Outside the villages nomad families still roam and their relentless sense of hospitality can at times be nothing short of overwhelming. And it is genuine… and as uncomfortable as it may make some people, the generosity and decent human spirit is refreshing for someone like me that has traveled to many parts of this world.
Think of Mongolia as an Ice Cream Sunday made up of everything you want a photographic adventure… “Mix together the vast landscapes of one of the greatest deserts on earth with the dramatic gorges and sparkling fresh water lakes of Khövsgöl, apply the topping of the snow-capped mountains of Bayan-Olgi and sprinkle the ger tents and nomads with the odd cry of a Golden Eagle and you have a recipe that you will not ever forget. “
I am sorry you couldn’t make it for the 2013 Naadam festival… but I am headed back in 2014. Jim Zuckerman and I will be leading a group of photographer’s on a workshop to witness the Golden Eagle Festival and the Gobi Desert… and i will also be going back in 2015 for the Naadam festival again. Please visit this page for more information. http://northof49photography.com/photo-tours/