A vast landlocked country made up of desert and steppe, or pastureland, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world, with a population of only 2.7 million. It was once the base of an immense empire which stretched from Poland in the West to Korea in the East. This empire was established by the conquests of Genghis Khan in the 12th century, who was renowned for the brutality of his various campaigns. Following Khan’s death the empire gradually broke up but the exploits of this famous conqueror are still a source of pride in present day Mongolia.
Contemporary Mongolia is currently in a state of economic malaise, as it struggles to develop its economy and utilise the vast untapped natural resources it has at its disposal. The culture of this country is still very much bound by tradition and the nomadic way of life, which remains prevalent in the Mongolian pasturelands, although it is coming under increasing pressure from urbanisation. Along with nomadic culture Buddhism, which is observed by the majority of Mongolians, also has a strong influence on culture and tradition. There are also a small minority of Muslims in Mongolia, mainly in the Kazakh communities in the west of the country.
The wild and seemingly unrestrained nature of nomadic life has proved to be a source of fascination for many foreigners, some of whom have written about this culture and the necessity of preserving it. Jasper Becker’s Mongolia evokes the nomads of Mongolia as the successors of Genghis Khan and depicts the ways in which this country has been left behind by the forces of modernity. Shankar Gauri Gupta’s Mongolia: The Land of Blue Heavens is a similar illustration of the Mongolian way of life and its unique connection to the landscape. Several other books have shed light on the distinctiveness of Mongolian culture; these include Lisa Reisch’s The Cave of the Yellow Dog, Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem and David Treanor’s Mission Mongolia. James Chambers’ Genghis Khan illuminates the life and legacy of this ruthless leader. The Story of the Weeping Camel is a documentary which looks at the precarious nature of nomadic life in Mongolia.