Spirituality, Religion and Superstition in Mongolia

I would describe the Mongolian people that I met as quite spiritual, with a close connection to nature, animals and the land. In this way I believe they are similar to the Native American tribes of the USA. I started to realize that all indigenous civilizations probably held similar beliefs.

Traditional Mongolian Horse Decoration
Horse Decor

I learned that horses are a national treasure and highly respected, some Mongolians are against mining (despite Mongolia’s rich natural resources) and have a deep and unbreakable connection to the nomadic way of life.

As I understand there is no official religion Mongolia, as can be understood given the great Socialist influence on the country from the former Soviet Union. In fact,many of the nomadic tribes across Central Asia saw their culture and traditions suppressed and some say ” destroyed” during the Stalin era of the Soviet union. This includes the prohibition of speaking native languages and practicing any form of religion or spirituality.

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Plastics on the Mongolian steppe

“Every piece of plastic created is still on this planet in one form or another”

When you think about it, that statement is rather profound.  Before I left on my trip to Mongolia, I was very curious about what environmental condition I would observe on the steppe/outback/prairie several miles away from any city or urban infrastructure. Myself and generations of my family have been hobbyist fishermen, so preservation of the environment and natural resources have always been a cause of significance. Even as a kid,  I can remember being miles off the coast of California near the Farallon islands and seeing things like an aluminum can or plastic bag float by.

As an adult, my awareness grew after I learned of the great Pacific garbage patch near Guam and the Marianas:

The ocean currents carry much of the trash in the Pacific ocean to eventually accumulate in a patch the size of the state of Texas (268,597 mi²  or 69566303.6 hectare).

Even with the greatest efforts and current technology, the patch can not be cleaned up in our lifetime!

Dead bird with ingested plastics
Photographed near Midway Island (Chris Jordan).

Naturally, of course, the plastics enter the food chain. It is almost certain that you and I have some ppm (parts per million) of plastics in our body.

Chris Jordan is a professional photographer and environmentalist. See his trailer video for the project “Albatross” here.

Getting back to Mongolia, I quickly had my answer less than 24 hours “in country.”  The view from inside of the off-road vehicle on the way to the nomad camp revealed a variety of rubbish along the steppe:




Well as i mentioned in my earlier video “horse transport”, anywhere you find humans you’ll find plastics. Here’s the clip:

So in summary, in the”Land of the Eternal Blue Sky” ( which Mongolia is properly named by the way! 🙂  ) we still can see the effects of modern living and technology  through the spread of plastics.

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Leaving Mongolia

I woke up at 630 AM  to pack up my electronics and laundry. Surprisingly, Altai’s mother and stepfather were already awake! I started to gather my laundry which had been drying for about 7-8 hours. I noticed that my jeans were not there….I was worried about whether or not they would be dry by morning.

Altai’s stepfather had somehow dried the jeans. He handed them back to me and I felt they were warm. I am guessing he ironed them by hand because I couldn’t see how else he could have warmed them up!

My early rising also caused Joseph to wake up. I learned he had arranged with

Amma, Altai’s brother and our driver, to go sightseeing around Ulan Bator that day. I wished I could have arranged the same!  So Joseph was sharing a ride again with me to the airport and then off with Amma afterward.

Altai’s parents had prepared a nice breakfast for us that morning which I wasn’t expecting. I continued to be impressed by the gracious hospitality!

Amma arrived and we left promptly. There was bad traffic as I had anticipated. Amma is an aggressive driver and changed his route a couple of times to avoid traffic. We arrived at the airport a little over 1 hour later ( in what is a 20 min ride without traffic). I was relieved to get to the airport on time with about 1 hour are before boarding time. I thanked and said goodbye to Amma and gave him a 10000 Turgik tip which is only about $4.00.

I checked in to my flight on Turkish airlines and walked around the very small airport a bit. I reflected on not being able to see much of Ulan Bator. There is a famous tourist site with a huge statue of Genghis Khan that we drove past. A lot of tourist like to take their picture there, but I settled for this smaller one in the airport 😛

Well I bought a cup of coffee.Being paranoid the whole time about losing my boarding pass, I sat down and started working on my blog in the airport coffee shop. Now you can loop back  to that post !!!

The route to Pakistan was through Bishkek, Kyrgzstan, then Istanbul, Turkey. I met another Californian in line in Istanbul (we are all over the place) and passed along my blog address.

Well this is my last post for Mongolia. I arrived at 400AM in Pakistan eventually to visit Synergy MMA as a guest coach.

I would like to make some general posts about Mongolia on subjects like “nomad economics” and there is actually quite a bit of material that I haven;t shared (photos and videos) so I will make some short sporadic posts about those.

As always thanks for reading. Please subscribe and share with friends! Your comments encourage me so feel free to do that as well 🙂

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Day 9- Rain!

I woke up to the sounds of rain ( <– Isn’t that a  song lyric? ) early this morning! It’s the first substantial rain since I’ve been here. It is welcome as most of the land is barren and the grass needs to grow so the livestock can feed.

The world doesn’t stop just because it’s raining (or snowing or any other kind of weather). There is still work to be done and animals that need tending. The Nomads have very nice modern rain gear similar to a jumpsuit. The foot portions are extra large so that they can fit over the horseback riding boots the nomads need to wear.  Boots covering the ankle and lower shin are required otherwise the “stirrup” will dig into your shin (leg).

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Evenings in the Ger

The early evening work would usually end between 800-830pm. The very last task of the day was to “hobble” the riding horses (tying three of their legs together) so they could graze but not wander too far. This usually occurred in the dark of night.

As I mentioned in the last post, sometimes we would eat dinner before or after this point. Biyambai usually prepared the evening meal in the late afternoon. She is a skilled and talented cook, and prepared a variety of dishes. With a few exceptions, almost all food in the camp was made from scratch (natural ingredients) even the noodles!

Homemade food- natural ingredients.

One of my favorites was the homemade noodle, meat and vegetable dish called Tsuivan:


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A day in the life of a Mongolian Nomad

Biyambai adding fuel/dung to the stove.

In the early spring, the day begins well after sunrise. At about 645 am, Biyambai, my host Durukh’s wife, would be the first out of bed (although sometimes I would lay awake under the warm covers, well before the others woke). As expected morning is the coldest part of the day, and she would brave the cold to first get the fire started in the stove, then head outside to gather water from the storage barrels next to the Ger. The day’s drinking and cooking water is usually boiled the first thing in the morning. The central and critical portion of the Ger is the stove. It’s most important function is providing heat and warmth.

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