Mongolia is nestled between China and Russia, and only opened its borders to tourists in the 1990s. This is a land that still remembers the caravans of the great tea road, and is one of the rare remaining territories untouched by human hand.
Welcome to an empire of blue skies and white lakes, steppes and forests, high-altitude lakes and volcanoes, and naturally heated springs. A place where wild horses roam alongside wolves, yaks, and bearded vultures. But as well as its rich natural heritage, Mongolia also used to be one of the main stages on the Great Tea Road. Black tea from China was transported across the plains to Russia via convoys of wagons pulled by horses and camels. In 1860, some six thousand tons of the precious leaves were taken along this route spanning some 4,300 miles. The journey took more than year, and ensured a far higher quality of tea than the leaves shipped across the sea. Even today, suutei tsai (“milk tea”) is still the national beverage, and can also be enjoyed as a soup called banshtai, a Mongolian ravioli tea.
Crossing this “ocean of emptiness” (the country is three times bigger than France but only has three million inhabitants) is like slipping out of space and time into a state of true freedom. Adventurer and writer Sylvain Tesson even published a book, L’Axe du Loup, about such experiences in “Tengri” – the local name for the country.
The Mongolian people live an essentially nomadic lifestyle, and are rarely affected by the passing of time. Those racing against the clock are advised to look elsewhere. In this harsh environment, human and beast live in harmony with nature. Existence is founded on the essential, removing accessory elements in a sort of “joyful sobriety.”
In these lands where horses rule the animal kingdom, “a man without a stallion is a bird without wings,” according to a Mongolian proverb. Here, the traces of the past are almost palpable. Mongolia remembers its tea heritage, the relics of old trading posts on the Silk Road, and the still-perceptible remnants of the time of Genghis Khan, the fearsome conqueror who founded the Mongol Empire. This country also contains a vast section of the Gobi Desert – an arid vastness reminiscent of the Jurassic era – and its capital Ulaanbaatar boasts a neighborhood of multicolored yurts. Moving to the north, taiga forests surround the abyssal Lake Khovsgol, home to the Tsaatan reindeer herders and in which 2% of the world’s fresh water is found… The mere mention of Mongolia is enough to inspire a thirst for adventure, conjuring up dreams stepping out of time, if only for a while…
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