GENGHIS KHAN, a fearless warrior of the 12th century, laid the foundation of what would become the great Mongol Empire. A mere fraction of the original size of that empire, Mongolia today is landlocked between Russia and China and is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
The landscape of Mongolia consists of rivers, streams, towering mountains, rolling grasslands, and vast stretches of grassy steppes. In the south lies the Gobi Desert, renowned for its well-preserved dinosaur remains. Perched at an average elevation of 5,200 feet (1,580 m) above sea level, Mongolia is referred to by the locals as the “Land of Blue Sky.” The name is well-deserved, as Mongolia has more than 250 sunny days a year!
Mongols live in a climate of extremes. In summer, temperatures can soar to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40°C), while in the winter they can plummet to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40°C). Nearly one third of those living in Mongolia are nomads. The day begins early in the morning for the men and women as they milk their goats, cows, camels, and mares. The Mongolian diet usually consists of dairy products and meat, mutton being a favorite.
Mongols are a hospitable people. They keep their round gers, or portable tentlike dwellings, unlocked so that any passerby can rest and eat the treats left there for them. Warm milky tea with a little salt is often served to guests.
Buddhism retains a strong foothold in Mongolia today. There are traces of shamanism, Islam, and Christianity among the population, while many are nonreligious. In Mongolia, there are more than 350 of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are currently teaching the Bible to well over 770 people.