Bactrian camels have two humps on their backs.
Photograph by Dedyukhin Dmitry, Shutterstock
The deel, or kaftan, is a traditional Mongolian garment worn by men and women.
Photograph by TonyV3112, Shutterstock
A yurt is a portable home used by nomads.
Photograph by SIHASAKPRACHUM, Shutterstock
Map of Mongolia
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAPS
OFFICIAL NAME: Mongolia
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Parliamentary
LANGUAGES: Khalkha Mongol (official), Turkic, Russian
AREA: 604,200 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Altai, Khangai and Khentii
MAJOR RIVERS: Orkhon
Map of Mongolia
Mongolia is located in Asia between Russia to the north and China to the south. Situated on mountains and plateaus, it is one of the world's highest countries with elevation averaging 5,180 feet (1,580 meters). Mongolia is 435 miles (700 kilometers) from the Yellow Sea.
Mongolia’s temperature can fluctuate as much as 35 degrees in one day. The country is very dry and receives only about four inches of rainfall per year. Southern Mongolia is dominated by the Gobi, which is one of the Earth’s coldest deserts and covers about 500,000 square miles (1,295,000 square kilometers).
PEOPLE & CULTURE
For most of its history, Mongolia was closed off to the world and little was known about the country or its people.
Many Mongolians continue to live in yurts, or gers, which are dome-shaped, tent-like structures. They are furnished with all the comforts of home, including a stove for heat and cooking meals, rugs to cover the wooden floors, beds, and storage. Today gers often have electricity, satellite dishes, and solar panels.
Mongolia’s largest festival, Naadam, is celebrated in summer and focuses on sports, games, and food. Children also participate in some of the sports, including horse races.
Many people still raise animals and eat a lot of meat and milk products.
Bactrian camels are native to Mongolia. They have two humps and are smaller than the Arabian camel. The Mongolian horse is small but tough and can withstand the harsh temperatures of the Mongolian climate.
The Gobi is expanding. Every year, about 1,400 square miles of new desert are added because of changes in land use, including farming, grazing animals, and destruction of the forests. Global climate change may also be a factor.
Wildlife is threatened in Mongolia. The rare snow leopard is endangered, but has a refuge in the country’s nature reserves. As less land is available for wild animals, species such as the musk deer have nowhere to hide from illegal hunters who are killing off most of the remaining population.
The first dinosaur egg ever discovered was found in the Gobi. Many dinosaur remains and fossils from 100 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period, have been found there.
Photograph by Rocich, Dreamstime
Mongolia is led by a president who is elected by the people, but the president doesn’t have much power. Most of the control is in the parliament, which has 76 members and chooses the prime minister and the cabinet officers.
The Mongol Empire gained power as Genghis Khan and his sons conquered much of Asia and Europe during the 13th century.
Marco Polo, his father, and an uncle were the first Europeans to cross the Gobi in about A.D. 1275.
The southern portion of Mongolia, known as Inner Mongolia, is part of China. The northern region became independent from China in 1921 with Russia’s help. Mongolia became a communist country in 1924, but in 1990 multiparty elections were held by the people.