5 (Surprisingly Modern) Things You Didn’t Know About Mongolia
It is true that for most travellers Mongolia is a distant land – unfamiliar, unspoilt and largely unchanged for thousands of years. All of which we consider good things! Another good thing is Mongolia’s unfailing ability to surprise.
Mongolia manages to be at once a place of tradition and a place of innovation, proud of its heritage and its future. If you thought it was stuck in the dark ages, think again! Here are 5 surprisingly modern things you didn’t know about Mongolia:
1. Fast Food
It could be argued that Mongolia is the home of fast food. Genghis Khan’s Mongol army used to put strips of raw lamb or mutton under the saddles of their horses as they rode about their conquering business in 1200. After a long day’s riding the meat would be tender and the hungry hordes devoured it uncooked – like a kind of 13th Century Steak Tartare. After all, when you’re occupied with building the largest empire the world has ever seen, you haven’t got time for fancy complicated cooking.
2. Girl Power
Long before Emily Pankhurst championed the Rights of Women, the ladies of the Mongol Empire were busy in the corridors of power. And not because they were doing the cleaning, these women were in charge. While the men were off fighting and eating saddle-squashed steak, the women ruled the roost. They held together the entire subsistence economy and occupied the most senior religious posts, as well as enjoying marital and property rights only recently won by women in the West. After the death of Genghis Khan, women took up the political reins and controlled three-quarters of the empire.
3. Wait a minute Mr Postman!
In such a vast empire – and one populated by nomadic people – it might have been understandably tricky to send a message. Not a great situation to be in when striving for world domination. However, the Mongols had an incredibly efficient postal system called Yam – a vast network of staffed postal stations with dedicated messengers taking intelligence information, mail and important news from station to station. With 50,000 fresh horses at their disposal, it was a quick and reliable way to send a letter. The Yam is also the inspiration for the modern Mongol Derby, the toughest horse-race in the world.
4. Living in perfect harmony
One of the secrets of the Mongolian Empire’s success was that they accepted the most important cultural habits and religious practices of the people they conquered. They figured out very early on that as an occupying force, it was easier to control nations if they were happy and contented, so they actively adopted a policy of religious and cultural tolerance.
5. Waste not, want not
Another consequence of living a nomadic lifestyle in a subsistence culture is that a high value is placed on every edible morsel of food. Nothing is wasted. Mongolians still use traditional methods to butcher, cure and store food, without refrigeration. The United Nations Environmental Programme are using Mongolia’s example to address the world’s problem of food shortage and wastage.