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More Mongolians are moving to the cities, and living in Russian-style apartment buildings, but the old nomadic lifestyle is still a way of life for many Mongolians.

In the country, families move with the seasons to find food for their animals. They live in a large circular tent, called a ger, which has been cleverly designed to provide warmth in the bitterly cold winter, and cool shade in the summer. Gers are strong enough to withstand the fierce winds which sweep the steppe, yet they can be packed onto a single cart and reassembled in a few hours when the family reach their new grazing grounds.

Even in the city, many families prefer to live in a ger in the “suburbs” on the outskirts of the cities. Others live in Russian-style apartment buildings, or in baishin – homes made of wood, mud and cement.

The predominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism, with small numbers of Christians and Sunni Muslims. During communist rule, all religions were outlawed and thousands of Buddhist monks were arrested. Many were never seen again. Freedom of religion was restored in 1990, and since then, there has been a dramatic resurgence of interest in Buddhism and in many other religions.

Breakfast and lunch are the most important meals of the day. Both usually consist of a soup made from boiled mutton with lots of fat and flour with perhaps some rice or yoghurt (fresh or dried). The main drink is salty tea, but men also drink either vodka or a home-made drink called airag, which is made from fermented mare’s milk.

In the countryside, people use animal dung as fuel for their cooking fire. It’s the daughter’s job to collect the dried dung from the paddocks. In the cities, there is electricity and gas in most homes, but poor families would collect fallen coal from near the railway tracks and use that for cooking and heating.

Every year in July, Mongolians celebrate the anniversary of the 1921 Mongolian Revolution by holding the Naadam festival, a series of sporting events featuring Mongolia’s three “manly” sports – wrestling, archery and horse racing. The other major festival is Tsagaan Sar, or “white month”. Held in January, it celebrates the lunar new year with three days of eating, drinking and singing.

 

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