People and Lifestyle
While urban lifestyle is becoming pretty much the same all over the world, rural life in Mongolia is very different, and is truly the main attraction to visitors.
In rural areas, Mongolian nomads live the centuries-old lifestyle of animal herding. There are five animals from which a living can be made: horses, camels, cows, sheep and goats. Some ethnic people in the north herd reindeer, and in mountain areas there are yaks, which were first introduced to Mongolia by pilgrimages coming form Tibet.
Nomads live in round felt tents, called “Gers”. The fact that the ger structure and design hasn’t been changed for centuries indicate that it is a perfect dwelling for nomadic people. Mongolian nomads move seasonally in search of good pastures for their livestock. In the winter, when they are the longest in one settlement, they live more comfortably with more accessories. Gers are easily dismounted and carried on camel back or a yak or by truck. Once in the new settlement, it takes just a few minutes to assemble the ger with the joint efforts of all the family members.
In winter they live a long distance from their closest neighbor and only in summer months they converge on the stream banks. Accustomed to a kind of secluded life, anyone who passes by is a welcome source of information about what is going in the world. They are hospitable and friendly, ready to help travelers in any way they can.
Mongolians are not time-minded people. Even in urban areas, punctuality is a very scarce commodity. In the countryside, even today nomads measure time by looking at the sun.
Mongolians marry rather early. While in most Asian societies, the gender of the child is very important, for Mongolian nomads it doesn’t matter. Regardless of gender, a Mongolian child learns to ride a horse and helps parents to herd cattle at an early age. Due to the active and healthy lifestyle that nomads hold in the challenging natural environment, rural kids grow up very healthy, fit and smart.
By law every child has to undergo an eight-year primary and secondary education. Children of nomad families live in dormitories in rural areas so they learn to be independent when quite young. While most of the children show an interest in herding during early school years, the incentive to move to urban areas to continue their studies becomes stronger as time passes.
Mongolian women have a quite powerful place in society. It could be said that they have equal rights with men because in the nomadic tradition, women wield huge economic power in the family. Tradition dictates that the work is divided between men and women in this manner: Men are responsible for work done outside and women for inside the house. Women's primary role in raising children also empowers them to have a say in almost everything.
Mongolians feel strongly bonded to their families and these blood ties are generally stronger than marriage ties. Children grow up building strong brotherhood bonds. Those who have higher living standards bear a responsibility to care for close family and other relatives.
Nomadic men, throughout the history, have had the responsibility of protecting the land, property and family in fights and wars. Except in situations where strength is a requirement, the involvement of men in every day rural life tends to get less and less. Mongolian men tend to have a carefree demeanor that may indicate a low level of responsibility. However, the majority are kind and helpful, but they are known for being slow in getting things done, and as such, are diametrically opposed to time-minded and industrious Mongolian women.