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INTRODUCING MONGOLIA
Local Name: Монгол
Mongolia is a beautiful country, but it is very isolated as it is landlocked between two vast countries, Russia and China, and a large part of it is very inhospitable, with the Gobi desert in the south and vast cold mountainous areas in the north.

The rest of Mongolia consists mainly of the Steppes, which are flat and arid grassland plains with some extreme weather, from very hot in the summer 40°C, to very cold in the winter, down to as much as -40°C. However this inhospitable and diverse scenery is also truly magnificent, and much of it still remains completely unspoilt by imposing modern necessities such as roads, traffic and urban developments. Mongolia does have some cities and large towns, but outside of these areas the traditional nomadic way of life still prevails, mainly because it is the only successful way to exist in these extreme terrains and conditions.

The nomadic tribes are herdsmen (malchin) and have preserved ways to live off the land that have been forgotten in many other countries, and one of the highlights of any trip to Mongolia is meeting with these extraordinary folk, and simply observing a way of life that has thrived virtually unchanged for thousands of years.

Mongolia has had a rich and turbulent history, marked by the violent power struggles between internal tribes and invaders from China over the centuries. One of the most famous figures in history, who we now know as Genghis Khan, was the first chieftain to unite the Mongol tribes, and in the early 13th Century he led a series of brutal and very successful military campaigns across Asia, eventually forming one of the most impressive empires in history. The violent makings of this great Mongol empire though caused uneasy victories, and only a century later the Ming Dynasty (China) overthrew the Mongol rulers, and swept up into Mongolia, destroying the various strongholds and cities (including the capital of Karakorum) as they went. This threw Mongolia back to the anarchic state it existing in before Genghis Khan united the tribes, and the country remained under the rule of China (and at times Russia), for many years to come.

These days things have settled down a little, and Mongolia is now a republic, having declared independence from Chinese rule in the early 20th Century. The new government was set up as a democracy and elected by the people, and has over the years been strongly influenced by Russia, with communist parties consistently popular in the polls, although there have been a few non-communist leaders in the recent past.

The official language of Mongolia is Khalkh, but the tribes all have many different dialects and Kazakh is spoken by at least 5% of the population. The main religion is Tibetan Buddhism, and there are a large number of different customs.