… a travel photography blog


The Mongolian Yurt: Ger Sweet Ger

Recently, I re-discovered my 2010 Mongolia trip photos while searching my archives for images to submit to stock agencies. I’m now motivated to publish a few more blog posts about this intriguing country.

The traditional portable home for nomadic herders roaming the vast grassy steppes of Mongolia is the yurt, or ger as it’s called in Mongolian which literally means home.

Ger pepper the landscape throughout Mongolia and today between 30-40% of the country’s population (Source: Wikipedia) live in a ger, not only on the steppe but many in city suburbs.

Due to the nomadic nature of its occupants, a ger is designed to be dismantled easily and moved, so construction only takes about 2 hours.

A collapsible wooden lattice wall with a door frame supports long, roof poles and a circular crown leaving an opening for the central chimney. The entire framework is covered with layers of wool felt for warmth then ropes secure waterproof canvas over the top.

These photos show the stages of ger construction: the bare skeleton of wall lattice and roof poles, the entire framework covered in layers of felt, and the completed ger with the outer cover of waterproof canvas.

Contructing a Mongolian ger. Wooden wall lattice, roof poles and door. Khutag Ondor, Central Mongolia

Constructing a ger. Wooden wall lattice, roof poles and door.

Contructing a Mongolian ger. Layers of wool felt cover the framework. Khutag Ondor, Central Mongolia

Layers of wool felt cover the framework.

Fully constructed Mongolian ger alongside partly constructed ger. Khutag Ondor, Central Mongolia

Fully constructed Mongolian ger covered in waterproof canvas and secured with ropes alongside partly constructed ger.

Aryapala: A Modern Mongolian Meditation Center

A path snakes its way through scrub and sparse trees over a rickety wooden footbridge and upwards to a trunk of steep steps. The tranquil, gaudily painted Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Center perches on a hillside backed by a rock face, overlooking a valley and gently undulating hills draped with conifers and rocky outcrops. Turtle Rock or Melkhi Khad as the locals call it, crouches in the distance.

We headed there while staying in a ger camp in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, about 55 km from Mongolia‘s capital Ulaanbaatar known affectionately as UB, for a couple of days relaxation after my younger brother’s wedding in the city.

After visiting Turtle Rock, we bumped along a dirt road (the norm in Mongolia) to the entrance gates of the meditation center and strolled along a path to its hilltop lookout. The hills of central Mongolia swept out to the horizon, greenness sloshing against the shore of blue sky.

From the arrival of Soviet communist rule in the 1920s until the 1990 democratic revolution, when freedom of religion was restored, the official “religion” in Mongolia was atheism.

During this time, particularly during the purges of the 1930s, communists destroyed most of the nation’s temples banning and almost wiping out Buddhism in Mongolia. Nowadays between 50-80% (depending on sources) of Mongolian people are Mahayana Buddhist.

Established in 1998 the Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Center is now visited by Buddhists worldwide.

Prayer wheels line the sides and rear of the center. According to Buddhist custom, to gain merit believers spin prayer wheels clockwise to follow the sun while rotating the syllables of the mantra in the direction they should be read.

The Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum written in Tibetan script (considered the classical language of Buddhism) adorns the outside of prayer wheels and prayers penned on pieces of paper fill the hollow interior.

Four different alphabets cover this sign. Along the left and right reading from top to bottom swirls the Classical Mongol Script.  Abolished by the Mongolian government in 1941 due to Soviet pressure, since 1994 it’s been making a comeback although mostly for artistic decoration. The average modern-day Mongol has little knowledge of this beautiful script.

In the center is the now commonly used Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Adopted in 1937, there is a high literacy rate throughout the country.

Along the top is Tibetan and finally, an English translation lies at the foot of the sign.

Throughout Mongolia, Buddhist traditional ceremonial scarves known as khadag hang inside temples or flap in the wind on ovoos (stone shrines). Each color holds a different meaning but the use of blue khadag is very particular to Mongolian Buddhism. The color of respect, it symbolizes the sky, its roots dating back to the Mongol ancient shamanic worship of the Eternal Blue Sky (Tenger). Present day Mongolian life combines both shamanistic and Buddhist beliefs.

Inside the meditation centre, paintings and wall hangings portraying Buddhist teachings, painted sacred symbols and shelves containing money offerings and prayers wrapped in orange cloth smother the walls in splashes of color.

Intricate paintings decorate the exterior roof eaves on three levels. Scenes from everyday Mongolian nomadic life lie below heavenly flowers while on the belly side rage gory depictions from hell.

Swastikas (a holy symbol of good fortune in Buddhism) and Yin Yang (a symbol representing perfect balance) also adorn the outside.

A Mongolian National Park: Turtle Rock, Landscapes and a Camel

During our short stay in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, not far from the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, we visited Turtle Rock, named for its resemblance to a turtle when viewed from a certain angle. Known locally as Melkhi Khad, this giant rock formation is a popular spot for visitors to the area.

Here are some photos I shot of scenes around Turtle Rock and the surrounding landscape.

Turtle Rock Melkhi Khad Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia

1. View of Turtle Rock

Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Sheep Old Hut Landscape

2. Sheep and goats grazing near Turtle Rock

Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Sheep Old Hut

3. Goats and sheep lick the walls of this derelict hut

Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Horse Riders

4. Two riders on a horse. A common sight in Mongolia

Turtle Rock Melkhi Khad Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Old Hut

5. Another view of Turtle Rock

Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Sheep Landscape

6. Landscape near Turtle Rock

Turtle Rock Melkhi Khad Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Family Friends

7. Group shot of family and friends in front of Turtle Rock. My older brother Matt is far left and younger brother Mike far right.

Turtle Rock Melkhi Khad Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Family Friends Close Up

8. My younger brother Mike (left) and friends Andy, Mark and Kerry from England

Some shots of a friendly camel for hire near Turtle Rock

Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel 1

9. My new sister-in-law Anna petting a camel near Turtle Rock

Close ups of the friendly camel

Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel 2


Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel 3


Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel 4


Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel 5


Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel 6


Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Camel Saddle

15. Close up of the camel's saddle

Turtle Rock Melkhi Khad Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Ger Camp

16. Ger camp near Turtle Rock

Turtle Rock Melkhi Khad Gorkhi Terelj National Park Mongolia Horses

17. Horses and riders hang out near Turtle Rock

Also check out my series on Mike and Anna’s weddingMongolian contortionists and other posts about Mongolia.

A Mongolian Ger Camp: Terelj Lodge

Mongolian ger camps are like campsites with gers instead of tents and the quality of amenities vary from camp to camp. Both local and foreign tourists visit them for a night or a few days.

After my younger brother Mike’s wedding in Ulaanbaatar, family and friends, a mixed Anglo/Mongolian group, all piled into vehicles and headed out of the capital to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park for a couple of days relaxation together.

We stayed at the serene Terelj Lodge 55 km northeast of the city. This was the first time that some of us, including my older brother Matt and our friends from England (all still in our first week in Mongolia) had stayed in a ger and was an experience we’d all been looking forward to. It was the most upscale of any ger camp I stayed at during my travels in Mongolia.

After relaxing, walking and eating lunch we all headed to a few local sights including Turtle Rock (Melkhi Khad) and the Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Centre which I’ll post about next. Later we returned to the ger camp for dinner and at night we sat around chatting while some downed beer or the traditional Mongolian shots of vodka.

Following are a few images of the ger camp.

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Sign

1. Entering Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia View Of Gers

2. View of the ger camp with my younger brother Mike walking towards me

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Gers

3. Close up of gers

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia View Of Interior

4. Looking inside a ger

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Interior Of Ger

5. Typical layout of a ger with woodburning stove, painted table and stools in the center and painted beds around them

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Painted Bed

6. Close up of paintwork on a bed

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Painted Tono

7. Close up of typical painted wooden roof framework inside a ger. The circular "tono" in the roof allows light in and an exit for the stove pipe

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Painted Door

8. Weathered paintwork on outside of ger door

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Painted Stool

9. Close up of painted stool

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Animal Hide View Of Gers

10. View of ger camp and a hide hanging to dry

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Lone Ger

11. View in another direction with a lone ger

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Close up Gers Exterior And Cow

12. Inquisitive cow outside gers in early morning light

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Close Up Ger Exterior

13. Our ger

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Gers Restaurant

14. Path leading to the restaurant

Terelj Lodge Tourist Ger Camp Gorkhi-Terelj National Park Mongolia Gers Exterior

15. Final early morning image as we left the ger camp

Mongolian Countryside: Kazakh Eagle Hunters and Travel Rituals

As we headed out into the Mongolian countryside from the capital Ulaanbaatar we passed by modern colorful houses clashing against simple traditional gers in a landscape of sun splashed undulating hills and open steppe.

1. Landscape of colorful houses and undulating hills

2. Modern brightly colored houses

Not far from the city we stopped on the roadside for a close up look at a majestic golden eagle with its Kazakh eagle hunter.

3. Kazakh eagle hunter with golden eagle

Kazakh Eagle Hunters

Many Kazakhs fled over the border to western Mongolia several hundred years ago during the advance of the Russian empire into Kazakhstan bringing with them the ancient tradition of eagle hunting.

These eagle hunters usually train the larger, more aggressive female golden eagles, hunting with them from horseback during the extreme winter months, when the pelts of rabbit, marmot, fox and wolf are most luxuriant, before turning their prey into the famous Kazakh fur hats.

During summer, some offer passing tourists the chance to hold these giant weighty yet noble birds for a fee.

4. Magnificent golden eagle

5. An ovoo dominates the landscape


Throughout our travels in the countryside we passed ovoos. At crossroads, mountaintops and other high places, these piles of rocks and stones crowned with prayer flags fluttering in the wind color the landscape.

Mongolians customarily stop at ovoos during their travels, circling clockwise three times on foot and adding a rock to the pile believing this ritual would grant them a safe onward journey. Hasty travelers on four wheels suffice with a passing honk on the horn.

Ovoos are spiritual sites for worshiping the mountains, the sky and the revered sky deity Khokh Tenger (translating to “Blue Sky”). They’re also used for Buddhist ceremonies and act as landmarks in a terrain with almost no signposts. Worshipers insert sticks tied with traditional ceremonial blue (symbolizing the revered sky) silk scarves called khadag into the ovoo, chant prayers and leave food offerings.

6. Close up of khadag atop an ovoo

7. Another ovoo

Ulaanbaatar Suburbia: Apartment Blocks, Houses and Gers

Suburbia in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar is like no other. Bleak Russian-style apartment blocks give way to a patchwork of modern, red brick, matchbox-like houses.

Tidy lines of vivid crimson, azure and jade roofs contrast starkly against the chalky curves of Mongolian traditional gers. Intermingling, they compete for space tucked away behind wooden and rusty tin fences splashed with painted symbols.

Driving out of the city, I captured a few images from the window of our moving van.

1. Russian-style apartment blocks

2. More Russian-style apartment blocks

3. Not sure who this graffiti was aimed at. Hopefully not photographers!

4. Houses hidden behind painted fences

5. Painted symbols on fences

6. Rusty tin fences

7. Jumble of gers and brick houses

8. Patchwork of colored roofs and gers

9. A giant gas pipe frames gers further out of the city

10. A lone ger against cityscape and backdrop of hills

11. Crimson roofs stain the landscape

My other Mongolia posts include my brother’s Mongolian wedding, Nadaam festival and Mongolian contortionists.

Mongolian Contortionists: Extreme Flexibility

The art of contortion is a path taken by many young girls in Mongolia, offering a global lifestyle and an income to help support their families back home. A tough and disciplined life, training rigorously every day from an early age to achieve extreme flexibility and balance, contortionists perform solo, duo or in group acts.

I have been very fortunate to have a close up view of the incredible world of contortion artists through my talented sister-in-law.

Anna started training as a contortionist when she was seven years old. She traveled around the world with the Mongolian State Circus then worked for Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas productions “O” and “Zumanity”. In the latter show, she was part of a “Water Bowl Contortion” act performing inside a water-filled giant glass bowl and on its rim.

1. Anna hanging out in Trafalgar Square, London.

Anna met my brother Mike in Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show where he was performing as a fire artist. Since becoming freelancers they’ve both toiled to create a nine-girl contortion team called “The Blue Sky Girls“, named after the revered Mongolian deity Khokh Tenger translating to ¨Blue Sky¨.

Sourcing the best young talent from Mongolia, together they coach, create fresh, original acts and negotiate international contracts for the girls to perform worldwide.

In 2010, the team won the coveted Bronze Clown trophy (there are Gold, Silver and Bronze “Clowns”) and a special prize, the Prix Du Kobsov Circus, at the annual International Monte-Carlo Circus Festival (Festival International du Cirque de Monte-Carlo) in Monaco.

The Academy Awards of the circus world and the most prestigious circus festival on the planet, it’s one of the glitziest events in Europe, attended by international celebrities and royalty. A Monte-Carlo “Clown” is the dream prize among circus performers and to them is like winning an Oscar!

The team also won a bronze cup and special prize at the 2010 Wuhan International Acrobatic Art Festival of China then landed a winter contract in the captivating “Salto Natale” show in Switzerland.

Two of the contortion artists from “The Blue Sky Girls“, Gerlee and Tsetse, performed at Anna and Mike’s wedding reception in Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar. Following are some of those moments captured.

Check out Anna’s performance photos and videos on her website.









Music From the Steppe: Horse-head Fiddle and Throat Singing

Horse-head fiddle or morin khuur

Varied local legends tell of a man’s love for his dead horse breathing life into Mongolia’s national musical instrument, the morin khuur or horse-head fiddle. Now its distinctive violin-like sounds permeate Mongolian culture and resonate throughout the country.

Historically a nomadic nation, the horse still plays a beloved and integral role in life on the steppe and many Mongolian songs and poems extol its virtues. (See Nadaam Festival – Horse Racing on the Steppe.)

The scroll of this prized, traditional instrument is carved into the shape of a horse’s head while the bow and two strings are made from horsetail hair.

1. A morin khuur alongside a yatga.

More than a musical instrument to the nomads, the morin khuur remains an intrinsic part of everyday life and rituals, accompanying songs, dances, ceremonies, folkloric tales and daily tasks including the taming of animals.

“Weeping Camel” is an insightful documentary into the nomadic world, showing Mongolian herders playing the morin khuur whilst serenading a mother camel to entice her back to her rejected foal.

2. Musician playing the morin khuur during the traditional wedding ceremony. Part of the rite involves downing shots of vodka and the empty cups litter the table in front of him.

Last year my brother Mike married his bride Anna in her motherland, Mongolia and during the traditional part of the wedding ceremony, a musician played the morin khuur. (See Getting Hitched in Mongolia – Local Flavor.)

During the wedding reception, Anna’s cousin Khongor Khuurch gave an extraordinary performance of throat singing known as khoomei while playing the morin khuur. A famous musician in Mongolia, his music videos air on national TV channels. (See also here.)

3. Khongor Khuurch playing the morin khuur and throat singing during the wedding reception.

4. Close up of Khongor playing the morin khuur showing the horse head shaped scroll.

5. Khongor happy to pose for a photo.

After Khongor finished performing, his father, Anna’s uncle Toroo, presented an honored Mike and Anna with the morin khuur as a very special and prestigious wedding gift.

Sacred in every Mongolian home, the people believe a ger with a morin khuur is complete whereas one without is like a widow. A ger is a traditional Mongolian felt, tent-like dwelling that is home to a huge part of the nation’s population both in the countryside and the city.

6. Anna’s uncle Toroo, Khongor’s father, presenting Mike and Anna with the morin khuur.

Throat singing or khoomei

Mongolia is the most renowned country for khoomei (can be spelt differently), the ancient and otherworldly art of throat singing, although it is an esteemed musical tradition in neighboring areas too.

While in Kharkhorin, now a ramshackle town but once the ancient capital of the Mongol empire, an old musician called B. Baasandorj visited our ger camp bringing with him an array of traditional instruments.

7. B. Baasandorj proudly showing off his book.

He indulged us to a mellow evening of melodious playing and khoomei, a welcome treat after spending two weeks of long days on the road out on the Mongolian steppe, or more accurately on bumpy tracks and completely off-road.

8. B. Baasandorj playing the morin khuur and throat singing.

To hear the unique sounds of khoomei and learn more check out the following:

  • video of a Mongolian musician’s explanation and performance of morin khuur and khoomei.
  • short video demonstrating and explaining the origins of the different khoomei tones.
  • the documentary “Genghis Blues”.

9. A close up of the morin khuur.

10. A close up showing the carved horse head scroll of the morin khuur.

Zither or yatga

Another traditional Mongolian instrument is the yatga, a kind of zither with a wooden body and strings played by finger plucking.

11. B. Baasandorj playing the yatga and throat singing.

12. Playing the yatga.

Check out B. Baasandorj playing the yatga and singing with some khoomei here.

13. A yatga and a morin khuur.

Flute or limbe

The Mongolian flute, called the limbe, was traditionally made from bamboo and is a very popular folk musical instrument. It produces a delicate sound in stark contrast to the gruff tones of throat singing and flautists use a form of circular breathing to play it.

14. B. Baasandorj playing a limbe.

Nadaam Festival – Horse Racing on the Steppe

Horse racing was the Three Manly Games event of the Nadaam competition that I had most looked forward to since arriving in Mongolia and it proved to be the most raw and authentic.

It took place on the steppe a few kilometers out of the capital Ulaanbaatar and to get there two uncles of my newly wed sister-in-law Anna drove us in 4WDs. The roads were so congested, as this was a national holiday and such a popular event, that we cut across country which was an adventure in itself.

A muddle of unmarked dirt tracks crisscross this barren, open landscape, splitting off in various directions and enough to confuse the most skilled orienteer. We weren’t the only ones out there. Lines of cars streamed along behind each other but everyone seemed to know where they were headed.

We were tossed around in the back seat over ruts and potholes until we almost reached a traffic choked, paved road where police forced us to turn back. Then it was mayhem for a while as all the cars tried to maneuver out of a tight dead-end while still more arrived.

We cut back across the steppe partly on dirt tracks and the rest of the time off-road. Finally we reached our journey’s end, the race finish line, which was a flurry of activity with droves of people walking or riding around on horseback, many in traditional Mongolian costumes. There was an excited buzz in the air as they waited for the race finale.

In Mongolia, horses far outnumber the human population and, despite their small size, are horses not ponies. Mongolians are so deeply proud of them that a traditional gift to a three-year old male child is a horse. They are extremely tough, surviving out on the steppe during the harsh winters and are an essential part of daily life. Nomads use them to herd their huge flocks, sometimes they eat the meat and they use the mare’s milk to drink or ferment it to make airag, the national alcoholic beverage. The best they train to race and winners are highly prized.

Everyone lounging around on horseback waiting for the race to come in.

This kind man let me sit on his Russian horse which is bigger than the Mongolian. It was the first time I sat on a horse in Mongolia but not the last.

Exquisite saddle on the Russian horse.

Nadaam horse races are long distance, cross-country events held on the open steppe with no set track or course, ranging usually from an exhausting 15-30 kilometers long depending on the age class of the horse. Up to 1000 horses compete from all over Mongolia.

Jockeys are from 5-13 years old as the main purpose of the race is to test the speed and endurance of the horse and not the rider’s skill.

Before the race starts spectators sing traditional songs and jockeys sing a special song called a gingo. As the winning horse crosses the finish line, everyone dashes to touch its lucky sweat and they sing to the last horse in the two-year old class wishing him luck. Prizes are awarded to both horses and jockeys.

The race coming in fast across the steppe.

Everyone cheering and standing up on their horses to get a good view.

Standing up on their horses to get a view of the race.

Unusual attire for riding but here there was a mix of everything.

Closing in fast almost at the end of the race.

A view of the race trailing across the vast steppe.

Horseman wearing a brightly colored deel, the national costume. This robe-like garment is daily wear for many Mongolians. Here there was a real mix of traditional Mongolian and western style clothing.

Selling Mongolian flags.

Climbing for a better view.

Everyone gets around on horseback.

Selling drinks out of a shopping cart.

Taking a break.

Watching the screen on horseback.

Gers in the background.

Hanging out.

The two uncles waiting for lunch.

Mongolian flag. The yellow symbol on the left is the national emblem or the Soyombo seen everywhere. It has representations of fire, sun, moon, earth, water and the Taijitu or Yin-Yang symbol.

Nadaam poster showing the Three Manly Games of archery, wrestling and horse racing.

Food stalls.

Stopping by at the store.

Billiards on the steppe.

Also check out my blog post Nadaam Festival: Mongolian Wrestling.

Nadaam Festival – Mongolian Wrestling

When in Mongolia someone told me an old tale about a woman who disguised as a man, competed in the wrestling competitions, thrashed all the male competitors and became the champion, disgracing them all. Since then the tight vest or Zodog purposefully exposes the chest avoiding another impostor repeating this shameful event.

Traditional Mongolian wrestling competitions are all male and are full of ancient rituals. There are no separate weight classes and no time limits and the wrestler whose knee or elbow touches the ground loses the match.

After the opening ceremony for Nadaam the wrestling contests began.

National Sports Stadium, Ulaanbaatar

Wrestlers psyching themselves up while waiting to compete.

Before and after each match the wrestlers perform the Eagle Dance or Devekh, a ritual symbolizing power and invincibility.

Several fights occur at the same time.

Judges and assistants watch the competitors.

Also check out my blog post on Nadaam horse racing on the steppe.

Nadaam Festival – Opening Ceremony

Nadaam or the “Three Manly Games” is the most important festival of the year in Mongolia and is held throughout the country during the national holiday from 11-13 July. Its roots lie in Mongolian warrior traditions and includes competitions in wrestling, horse racing and archery.

The National Sports Stadium in the capital Ulaanbaatar holds the biggest celebrations and opens with an extravagant ceremony of horsemen, athletes, musicians, dancers and the military. Then the contests begin.

My brother Mike planned his wedding in Mongolia to coincide with Nadaam, giving guests visiting from other countries the chance to see this unique festival too.

National Sports Stadium, Ulaanbaatar

Officials in the stadium dressed in the national costume. This robe-like garment called a deel is daily wear for many people in the city and out on the steppe.

Old woman in national costume arrived before the crowds.

Waiting archers.

Beautiful costumes everywhere.

Horsemen displays.

Colorful deels.

The President of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, gave a speech during the ceremony which broadcasted to everyone on the big screen.

Spectators sheltering from the harsh sun under umbrellas.

Archers gallop on horseback.

Archery display. Both men and women compete in Mongolian archery and wear traditional costumes.


A multitude of film crew and photographers record the event.

Horsemen show their skill galloping into the stadium in a cloud of dust.

Military display.

Synchronized military display.

Parachutists landed in the stadium closely missing dancers. It was mayhem.

Colorful parade.

More parades.

A full stadium.

More horsemen.

Horseman carrying the Mongolian flag. The yellow symbol on the left is the national emblem or the Soyombo seen everywhere. It has representations of fire, sun, moon, earth, water and the Taijitu or Yin-Yang symbol.

Horses galore.

Check out my article Mongolia’s Three Manly Games in International Living Magazine and my other Nadaam festival blog posts Horse Racing on the Steppe and Mongolian Wrestling.

Getting Hitched in Mongolia – Facing Chinggis Khaan

One of the stops on our wedding party city tour was the Sukhbaatar Square named after Damdin Sukhbaatar who led the Mongolians to independence from the Chinese in the 1921 revolution.

Walking across Sukhbaatar Square. My older brother Matt is on the left.

Here Mike and Anna came face to face with the immense bronze statue of Chinggis Khaan (pronounced Chinggis Han in Mongolia and known as Genghis Khaan in the West) commanding a view of the square from the top of the steps of Government House.

Government House.

Chinggis Khan statue.

Chinggis Khan united many of the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia, founded the Mongol Empire and conquered most of Eurasia in the 1100 and 1200s. Nowadays this Mongol warlord is a source of great national pride. They have written songs about him, named hotels, restaurants and the international airport after him and his image appears everywhere from money to vodka and beer bottles.

Going to meet Chinggis Khaan. They rope off the area in front of Government house and only Mike, Anna and the photographer climbed the steps.

Stopped by security.

The security guard stopped the photographer. This statue of Chinggis Khaan is so important that they only allow newly weds on their wedding day to mount the stairs and approach it.

The photographer waits while Mike and Anna stand in front of the statue showing the scale of it.

Everyone is happy but especially Mike. He has a strong interest in Chinggis Khaan and made a documentary about the search for this great leader’s tomb.

The descent to the waiting wedding guests.

English friends Kerry, Mark and Andy and my older brother Matt with Chinggis Khaan peering out between their heads.

Getting Hitched in Mongolia – A Temple, a Ger and a Buddha

After leaving the Wedding Palace the entire party went on a tour of the city’s main tourist sights starting with Choijin Lama Temple Museum just around the corner.

Entrance to Choijin Lama Temple Museum.

Anna in front of a ger temple souvenir store.

Kissing outside the temple.

Anna and her niece.

Mike with Anna’s niece.

Old and new.

Mike and Anna kissing again!

Inside the temple.

Inside the temple.

Anna’s cousin and niece.

English friends Kerry, Andy and Mark.

My older brother Matt and my younger brother Mike.

Matt, Kerry, Andy and Mark.


Visiting buddha.

Close-up of buddha.


Wedding car.

In Sukhbaatar Square.

Mike and Anna in Sukhbaatar Square.

In the car.

Getting Hitched in Mongolia – A taste of Tradition

After the two ceremonies we had a photo shoot in the Wedding Palace then piled into the cars to go just around the corner to a temple for more photos.

Wedding Palace Photo Shoot

The happy couple.


Mike’s Mongolian wedding ring depicting the male symbol.

Mike and Anna leapt at the opportunity to dress up in traditional Mongolian costumes for the photos.

With Anna’s parents.

With Anna’s sisters, nieces, cousins and brother-in-law.

Anna’s oldest niece Deglii.

Anna’s youngest nieces.

Anna’s sister Boroo and her daughters.

Getting Hitched in Mongolia – Local Flavor

After the official service we all followed the bride and groom out to another room for the traditional ceremony. This part was totally unexpected.

Traditional Mongolian Ceremony

Preparing for the traditional Mongolian ceremony.

Anna lighting the fire, signifying the first fire of their marriage.

Everyone chanted and moved their hands in a circular clock-wise direction.

Preparing to give the cup of milk tea to Anna’s father.

Anna’s father with the milk tea.

Anna’s father taking a sip of the milk tea before handing it ceremoniously to Mike.

Mike taking a sip of the milk tea.

Mike offering Anna a sip from the cup.

All the guests now have small cups filled with neat vodka.

Offering Mike a cup of vodka.

Then offering Anna her cup of vodka.

Ready for the toast.

Listening to the toast. Of course the foreigners in the group didn’t understand anything except for Mike who is learning Mongolian. At 11.00 am it was a bit early to down shots of vodka, especially cups of it. Culturally it’s considered polite to accept the cup then take a sip or just a sniff of it before passing it back to the host.

The musician played the morin khuur or horse-head fiddle during the entire length of the ceremony. This is one of the most important traditional musical instruments of the country. The strings are made from horse-tail hair and the top of the neck is carved into the shape of a horse’s head. Empty vodka cups litter the trays on the table in front of him.

At the end of the ceremony after the vodka toast.

Clearing up the empty vodka cups.

Getting Hitched in Mongolia – Tying the Knot

When we entered the Wedding Palace I had no idea that there would be two ceremonies. Firstly the official tying of the knot, plush western registry office style, then a traditional Mongolian ceremony.

Official Wedding Service

The only foreigners at the wedding except for my brothers and me. Anja (left), a Cirque du Soleil performer, flew in from Las Vegas. Mark, Kerry and Andy are all friends from England.

Inside the Wedding Palace just before the ceremony starts.

Listening to their vows in Mongolian which Anna translated to Mike. A few words directed at Mike were in English but the lady’s accent was so thick it was hard to recognize she was speaking English. I understood only a few words from the ceremony.

The bride’s family and friends stood on one side of the room and the groom’s on the other. As there were so few of us on Mike’s side, some of Anna’s family and friends stood with us. Not many could make the long trip from England and Las Vegas to Mongolia. Matt my older brother and best man stands on the far right.

The registrar.

Mike putting on Anna’s wedding ring.

Anna has two wedding rings. On her left hand is the western style ring and on her right hand a traditional Mongolian ring. Her parents presented both of them with rings on the morning of their wedding. Anna’s has the female symbol and Mike’s the male symbol.

Anna putting on Mike’s wedding ring.

Kissing the bride.

Anna signing the register.

Matt my older brother and the best man signing the register. The matron of honor was Anna’s aunt.

The registrar presents the couple with their wedding certificate and a replica of the Wedding Palace.

Anna’s niece giving the couple a bouquet of flowers

After family and friends had presented them with bouquets of flowers.

The knot is tied and the ceremony is complete.

Getting Hitched in Mongolia – Run-up

Cirque du Soleil’s mind-blowing show “O” at Bellagio in Las Vegas set the stage for their romance. Once ignited there was no dousing it. An Englishman and a Mongolian. A fire artist and a contortionist.

Mike and Anna in London

Anna hanging out in Trafalgar Square, London

Now that would’ve aroused my interest under any circumstances but this was my brother getting hitched. Location Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. There’s no way in the world I would’ve missed that wedding.

The following posts are a photo documentary of the day.

The Bride’s Family Apartment – The Morning Before the Wedding

We arrived to collect the bride, Anna. Her parents greeted us with traditional Mongolian milk tea and breakfast while her sisters helped her get ready in the next room. Mike my younger brother is the groom (right) and Matt my older brother is the best man (left).

The bride appears and Anna’s father offers the groom Mongolian milk tea according to tradition. During formal occasions food, tea or vodka is given and received with the right hand extended and the left hand supporting the right elbow. Also they roll down the sleeves first to show respect.

The same cup is then passed around ceremoniously so everyone gets a sip of the milk tea. After receiving the cup each person hands it back to the groom to offer to the next person.

The first shots of the bride and groom together.

Anna’s mother offers her a cup of milk tea.

The bride and groom. Still waiting to leave the family’s apartment.

The bride’s father helps her into the car.

Outside The Wedding Palace

A photo shoot outside the Wedding Palace while waiting for their allotted time. Each couple has half an hour for the ceremony so punctuality is crucial. That day the traffic was worse than usual and we thought we weren’t going to arrive on time but there were still a few minutes spare to take photos.

Various family members pose for photos.

More family photos.

Time for the bride, groom and best man to enter the Wedding Palace.

Anna’s niece.

Anna’s niece watching the preparations to decorate the car.

Some of Anna’s family while waiting to go into the Wedding Palace.

Anna’s uncle posing in traditional Mongolian costume.

Mongolian registration plate on the wedding car. The red symbol on the left is the national emblem or the Soyombo seen everywhere including on the Mongolian flag. It has representations of fire, sun, moon, earth, water and the Taijitu or Yin-Yang symbol.

Family members decorating the wedding car before the ceremony.