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© 2018 by Mia Aegerter.

Mongolia - or: how Genghis Khan once made us shiver

Aktualisiert: 11. Dez 2019


Many tours go through Mongolia in these former Russian military busses...

Like a wild animal he keeps circling our yurt with heavy steps. Shouting at us, he switches languages between Mongolian, English and German. The two of us sit inside, trying not to make any noise, blocking the door with the makeshift of a much too small wooden table. Maybe I should have had more of that fermented horse milk earlier, to drink up some courage? But why exactly is the almost two meter tall hulk outside so ridiculously angry at us at all, when he actually is supposed to be our tour guide? And how on earth did we end up in this absurd situation? On our own, in a cold fall night, somewhere in the midst of Mongolia, on the edge of Gobi desert.


Mongolia is a spectacularly beautiful and diverse country, its raw and pristine nature and its hospitable nomadic inhabitants make it one of the most exciting and fascinating countries on our journey. And actually Mongolia is a pretty rich country as well. It has got a lot of resources, the potential of tourism has only been exploited so far and the population is that of Berlin, but spread on an enormously vast area. There are obstacles though l, climatically for agriculture (short summers, harsh winters, bad soils) and geographically for transporting any goods (not many rivers, no ports, a lot of gravel roads). Nomadic livestock farming is mainly subsidiary. There is hardly any bigger export of agricultural or industrial goods. For the exploitation of its resources Mongolia is dependent on foreign investors, whose interest is in their return, not in the countries‘ well-being.

The Mongols‘ pride for their former empire is still visible on every corner. Arriving at Ulan Bator airport (named „Genghis Khan Airport“!) one is being greeted by large oversize paintings of their most important rulers since the 15th century - yes, we khan!

Pride and honor seem vital to the people here. Generally speaking they are very committed to their traditions. At the same time pride and traditions get under a lot of pressure, being softened by western influences as well as their two dominant and powerful neighbours: China and Russia. A lot of the older folks express fears, that the rich traditional Mongolian culture might disappear bit by bit as a consequence of urbanisation and younger generations adopting western lifestyle and new ideals. Tourism plays an ambivalent role for them: on the one hand it means jobs and income, on the other hand it comes with opening up an changing the country at a pace, that might just be to fast for many people. As usual, tourism carries the risk of changing or damaging precisely what it has been attracted by in the first place. Mongolia‘s wilderness and the absence of man, its cultural uniqueness and traditions, all of that changes through tourism and progress.





Our tour guide has been complaining as well about these changes and the lack of respect for older people and their traditions. His generation has been growing up under communist rule, he lived in East Berlin for a couple of years, and in recent years he has been guiding a lot of younger Western travellers through Mongolia. That seems to be how he has come up with a pretty strong picture of how we young Europeans supposedly are... maybe all of this has led to him being so angry at us right now? Maybe we should not have dared to ask, if we can sleep in the yurt (that is, nomadic tent) 100 meters away instead of the simple tent without proper warm enough equipment - the yurt has an oven and it gets as cold as five degrees here at night. Or maybe he just killed one of the vodka bottles in our bus. Probably all of it has come together... anyway, here we are, feeling trapped, our best option being to wait until that Mongolian storm outside has passed or goes to bed. After a while we hear our driver, who doesn‘t speak any English, trying to calm down our upset guide, talking to him in Mongolian. The shouting attacks become less and sound more tired. After a couple of hours there‘s no more noise from outside. We wait until the sun comes up at 5:30 before we dare to step out of our yurt. The warming morning sun makes it all feel like a very weird nightmare. Walking 50 meters out into the steppe for a pee, I‘m getting a bit paranoid, starting to check my surroundings... finding nothing but the skeleton of a camel‘s head.





Later that morning our guide rises from his tent, denying everything as we are confronting him. From now on he demands everything to go his way, no more extras, he is the elder and we have to follow. For a moment we struggle to retain our composure, then we just turn away shaking our heads.

With much effort we finally manage to organize a new guide through the tour agency in the middle of nowhere. She arrives a few hours later. We feel relieved as we move on with her and our driver, leaving our somewhat weird former guide behind us. Our new guide could not be any more warm-hearted. She gives us a hug right away and we spend some beautiful days together.


Of course we meet so many hospitable and open people and experience so many fascinating things, that the story with the weird guide remains as nothing but a single strange episode of our time in Mongolia. Still it makes us think a lot about, what development and progress do to the people of this great country.


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