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Countries Unknown: Mongolia

While Mongolia is known in World History classes everywhere as the epicenter one of the biggest, most magnificent historical empires in the world, the rich, vibrant culture of the central Asian country remains hidden in plain sight. With ancient practices of Nomadism and Buddhism still being very much prevalent, Mongolia embodies what it means to be one with history.

One of the most captivating things about Mongolia is that the majority of the population practices a nomadic lifestyle. Out of their three million population, there are hundreds of thousands of people who continue to live a life similar to that of their ancestors from over a millennium ago. Family life in Mongolia centers around a “ger” which is a large portable tent that goes with the family as it moves to new areas. These gers are equipped to withstand some of the coldest temperatures on earth, while also housing a small kitchen, bed space, and an area to venerate the family’s ancestors. They tend to be ten meters in diameter, making them harder to carry, so the family’s horses play a vital role in moving them around.

Due to a long history and extensive role of of horseback riding and herding in everyday life, many families have their own horses. These animals offer them protection, food, and entertainment through cultural games. In fact, horses are so common that the country has more horses than people. It is safe to assume that they are a national staple. Horses have been symbolic of power long before Genghis Khan’s reign, and having many helps build a good reputation among the community even today.

Horses are also very common in Mongolian folklore. There are over five hundred words in the Mongolian language dedicated to describing horses, so the significance  of horses in Mongolian culture cannot be underestimated.

However, more and more people are choosing to move to cities (particularly the capital, Ulaanbaatar) in favor of nomadism. This is becoming a popular trend among young people, especially those who have been living in the countryside for generations. If a family is well off, they send one of their children to college in the city. Usually, the child decides to stay in the city, embracing both his/her familial history and the modern side of Mongolia. While this trend of “modern living” is controversial to some, cities such as Ulaanbaatar provide a look into the vibrancy of traditional culture from a new lens.

Founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist center, Ulaanbaatar has remained relevant for hundreds of years. With about half of the nation living in the capital, the city is known as the heart of Mongolia. The city holds many cultural events that celebrate its heritage. One group, the Ulaanbaatar Opera House, is known for its unique performances all over the world. Old monasteries stand right by modern buildings, showing Mongolia’s progress—past, present, and future. There is also a “nadaam” held in Mongolia, where all the regions in the countryside compete, with horse fights, wrestling and archery, similar to the U.S’s super bowl. This gives every person in Ulaanbaatar a chance to show their pride in their home provincence (aimag), even if they have been in the capital their whole lives. This demonstrates how closely knit Mongolians are to their roots, showing that history and the present can live in harmony, here and everywhere else in the world.

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