By PARIS O’ROURKE
My flight finally takes off towards Mongolia, a country where nomadic life still thrives across the vast landscape.
I had just spent an agonising 24 hours in a South Korean airport due to a Typhoon.
Flying over the sparse land of Mongolia towards the capital city Ulaanbaatar, a sense of adventure of the unknown comes over me.
I am about to explore a mysterious foreign country containing deserts, mountains and plains which stretch for days.
However, Mongolia is also a place which thrives on tourism, and it is increasingly becoming influenced by the modern technological world.
Arriving in Ulaanbaatar, a bustling city of travellers, laden with Soviet-style concrete buildings and constant construction, I head to UB Guesthouse, a small hostel situated in the centre of the city.
Ms Bolormaa, the general manager of the hostel, has been working in the tourism field for more than 19 years.
She welcomes me into the cosy guesthouse, which will be my home for the next three weeks as I travel in and out of the countryside.
Mongolia has a vibrant cultural and political history where nomadic culture, religion and communism have all shaped the country. The Gobi Desert is known as the place with the richest collection of dinosaur remains in the world.
Mongolia has a booming travel industry, with its yearly tourism rates being equal to one-sixth of the total Mongolian population.
“According to the statistics from Mongolian tourist office, Mongolia accepts approximately 500,000 tourists per year,” Ms Bolormaa said.
I set off on a 10-hour bus ride in hope to meet other travellers for a 7-day trip to the Gobi Desert.
I gaze out the bus window. A city of high-rises and crumbling Soviet flats quickly fade to the background, and a landscape of dry grass and low hills become my view for the next 10 hours.
Herds of wild horses gallop in the distance across the plains, and goats, sheep and cattle wander close to the rocky road.
The bus passes 'gers', a traditional nomadic home often constructed from felt covers, wooden columns and animal hide.
A large proportion of the Mongolian population still call these gers ‘home’.
“Approximately 25% of the total Mongolian residents are still considered nomadic,” Ms Bolormaa told me.
While I’ve come to Mongolia to see the beautiful nature and experience a different way of life, there are still many problems facing the country today, such as the deteriorating natural land from tourism infrastructure and plastic pollution.
While tourism has contributed money to the economy and created a stable work system for many Mongolians, Ms Bolormaa said she has witnessed first-hand the substantial effects tourism has had for the Mongolian landscape.
“Many grasslands have been spoiled due to new roads being built, and the sheer amount of people travelling through the countryside,” Ms Bolormaa said.
Ms Bolormaa said she recommends tourists see Mongolian nomadic life first-hand, and to respect Mongolian nature, as it is one of the only countries where nature is so vast yet accessible for tourists.
Arriving at Dalanzadgad town, I meet a few other tourists, all with the aim to see the Ice Valley, Bayanzag, Tsagaan Suvarga and the Gobi Desert, a few famous places in Southern Mongolia.
Inga Mahle, a German aircraft engineer who is a few months into a three-year backpacker trip, wanted to travel Mongolia because she was curious about the nomadic lifestyle.
“I also wanted to see the landscapes that Mongolia is famous for, mainly the green grassy hills and the Gobi desert,” Ms Mahle said.
Nomadic lifestyle involves staying in gers, moving around, caring for livestock and producing self-sufficient food.
Being welcomed into a nomad’s home always involves being gifted a cup of airag (fermented horse milk) and hard biscuits made from goat or camel milk, depending on the region.
Ms Mahle said this traditional nomadic world has now collided with the “modern world”, where motorbikes, solar panels and televisions can be found in the nomad’s homes.
Travelling through this contrasting culture with the world’s “smallest population density really interested me”, Ms Mahle said.
While the Mongolian nomads maintain traditional family roles as a part of their culture, tourism has transformed their ways of life.
Nomads have adapted to tourist's interests, and offer tourists ger accommodation and camel and horse tours in efforts to make more income.
Mongolia remains a country where tourism still promotes a non-exploitative culture in most aspects, however this may change in the future.
Terelj National Park, one of the most heavily visited areas in Mongolia, currently has a large hotel complex under construction.
This was one of the only hotels outside of Ulaanbaatar that I saw.
“Most of the tour companies are run by local businesses despite the large amount of tourists, therefore the money from the tourists stays in the country,” Ms Mahle said.
After spending a week travelling south of Mongolia, I was keen to arrive back in Ulaanbaatar and have my first shower in five days.
After experiencing traditional life, I was excited to see more of Mongolia as I planned my next trip to Khovsgol Lake in the North.
While there is a contrasting culture of tradition and modernity within Mongolia, it remains a place where families have lived in the same ger for four generations, where hospitality remains a priority, and they adapt to the changes surrounding them.