The land of pure grasses waving in the breeze,
The land of open steppes full of fantastic mirages,
Firm rocks and out-of-reach places where good men used to meet,
And the ancient ovoos – the cairns dedicated to the gods and ancestors;
This, this is my native land,
The lovely country – my Mongolia.
- Dashdorjin Natsagdorj’s “My Native Land”
Outer Mongolia might be synonymous with places that are “obscure and hard to find,” but the country of Mongolia has never been called “mediocre” or “just another place along the beaten path.” From the distant snow-capped mountains that “shine from afar” to the Gobi Desert that in the spring alternates great sand dunes with “carpets of flowers,” a journey through Mongolia will enliven any travel experience.
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The way to see Mongolia is, of course, by train. The Trans-Mongolian Railway, the country’s main railroad line, was constructed between 1949 and 1961 as a joint project between Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s People’s Republic of China as an important land-link between the three states. This important railroad remains single-track through most of Mongolia. It serves nine stops between the Russian border at Sukhbaatar and the Chinese border at Zamyn-Uud, including the city railway station of the national capital, Ulaanbaatar. In Russia, the tracks connect with the Trans-Siberian at Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, and in China, the railroad connects to the Chinese railway system at Jining in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia.
Mongolia, the country, provides different experiences to visitors that arrive at different times of the year. However, the most colorful time to visit is perhaps during the Naadam festival, which takes place during the three-day Independence Day holiday, starting July 11. Described as the “Festival of the Three Games,” Naadam showcases the prowess of the best athletes of the country in wrestling, archery, and horse-racing - all the traditional skills of the Mongol warrior since the time of Genghis Khan. The event is one of Mongolia’s most colorful and important traditions (regarded as part of UNESCO’s representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity).