Whether it's snowy winter landscapes or scorching desert summers, Mongolia is a country that really has it all. In the West lie the Altai mountains, where the locals have trained eagles to help them hunt down animals, in the south is the Gobi, a vast desert with towering sand dunes and camels. Scattered around the country are majestic Buddhist monasteries and temples, and a host of intriguing endangered plants and animals. Despite its natural beauty Mongolia is not often captured on camera, the sheer vastness of the landscape and harness of its environment means that it can be quite a logistical challenge; however with proper preparation and our local knowledge Panoramic Fixers makes sure everything runs to plan. Panoramic Journeys can fulfill all your film and media production needs in Mongolia.
When to go
Mongolia is one of the highest countries in the world, with Ulaanbaatar, at 1,350m above sea level, being one of Eurasia's highest capitals, the average altitude across the country is 1,580m. The highest point is Khuiten Peak (4,653m) in the west and the lowest is Khokh Nuur Lake (532m) in the east.
Mongolia is known as the "Land of the Blue Sky" and enjoys around 250 sunny days a year, often with clear cloudless skies. The high central Asian mountain ranges protects the country against the humid air masses which move in from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans creating an extreme continental climate. The climate is arid with the humidity at zero. Despite the published average temperatures Mongolian weather is known for its sharp fluctuations due to changes in wind direction. Daily temperatures may fluctuate by as much as 20°c-30°c. Southern Mongolia (the Gobi Desert) has the hottest temperatures at 40°c in the summer while Khovsgol in the North has the coldest winter temperatures at -45°c-52°c.
Snow and rainfall are very low. The mean annual precipitation is 200-300mm of which 80 to 90 per cent falls within the months May to September. However, enough rain does occur in July and August to swell rivers and snow blizzards can occur in winter. The highest peaks have small glaciers. Mongolia is the land of spring winds. In the Gobi and steppe areas winds often develop into devastating dust storms, reaching a velocity of 15-25 metres per second.
The Altai Eagle Festival begins with an impressive parade of the competitors, the hunters and their horses and birds in colourful array. Dressed in full eagle hunting regalia and mounted on groomed decorated horses, the entrants compete for the awards of Best Turned Out Eagle and Owner. Then there are contests of speed and agility, horse racing, archery and traditional Kazakh games like the highly entertaining Bushkashi – a goatskin tug of war on horseback.
The Naadam Festival is the biggest event of the Mongolian year. Naadam, which means "games", is celebrated in every town and village across the country. It features the three manly sports: wrestling, archery and horse racing, with some of the jockeys as young as six years-old. The strongest wrestlers, fastest horses and expert marksmen come together to compete for the National title.
The Ice Festival is held over two days at Lake Khovsgol. In winter the lake freezes over, with ice around 1.5m thick, and forms the venue for the Ice Festival’s events, including ice skating races, ice sumo, tug-o-war, ice rally-driving, and horse sled races. Temperatures below -20°c are common, dropping to up to -40°c at night, so a warm Mongolian deel (coat) comes in handy.
Officially billed as the "Thousand Camel Festival", this annual celebration in the heart of the Gobi is organised by a local organisation whose remit is to protect and preserve the Bactrian camel population, which has been steadily declining over the past twelve years. Visitors of the Camel Festival get the chance to interact with and learn about these intriguing animals and the camel herders' nomadic way of life. The festival begins with a colourful parade – which visitors can join in on camelback – before the competitions; including camel races and camel polo.
One of Mongolia's national images is that of a short round yurt, called a ger, which can easily be transported from one location to another. It is made of a lattice style wooden frame covered with felt and canvas.
There is nothing more eerie or spellbinding than the sound of Mongolian throat singing. The voice is divided into different sounds, meaning that one singer will sound like two or three. The local people also make their own instruments including the two stringed fiddle, or Morin Huur, and traditionally sing unaccompanied long songs of family, nature and epic stories.
In Mongolia there are three manly sports: wrestling, archery and horse riding, with the best competing in the annual Naadam Festival. Some of the jockeys are as young as six years-old, favoured for their small frame and light body weight.
Traditional food is a simple nomad fare primarily based on meat and vegetables, especially those available in the surrounding countryside. Dishes include Khorkhog (goat meat steamed in an urn with hot stones), Buuz (meat dumplings) and Tsuivan (fried meat with noodles).
The Mongolian religion has strong foundations in Buddhism, with some villages holding shamanistic (where a person will enter a trance-like state during traditional rituals to contact the spirits) or animistic (where non-human entities such as plants or animals hold a spiritual essence) beliefs.
Mongolia is the habitat of 140 mammal species, 390 bird, 20 reptile and 76 fish species. Because this zone has been spared from harmful human activity, it provides habitats for representative and often rare species. There are over 150 endemic plants and an estimated 28 species of endangered mammals living in Mongolia, including the snow leopard, saiga antelope, argali sheep, Gobi bear, wild ass and white-napped crane, as well as various wolves and jerboas. There are also 59 species of endangered birds including many species of hawk, falcon, buzzard, crane and owl.
Keen fishermen will have heard of the elusive Hucho taimen, a species of Salmon found in Mongolian and Russian rivers. The team at Panoramic have joined forces with our friends at Fish Mongolia several times to locate the species for productions, including Extreme Fishing with Robson Green and Journeys of a Lifetime with Vinnie Jones.
Prey can often be hard to find in the vast open landscapes of the Altai Mountains, but the locals have enlisted the help of Eagles to make their hunting easier. We have helped many stills and film productions, including the BBC's BAFTA award winning Human Planet, across the tough terrain to document this extraordinary partnership.
Mongolia's culture is inextricably linked to horses, with nomads learning to ride as soon as they can walk. Martin Clunes' Horsepower featured the Takhi, an endangered species of horse native to Mongolia, of which there are only 250 left in the world. The endangered Przewalski's horse has been successfully reintroduced into the wild after an extensive breeding programme overseas.
The camel's evolutionary advantages make it the perfect mode of transport through the Gobi desert. The remarkably intelligent Bactrian camel, famously depicted in The Story of the Weeping Camel and Genghis Khan's vital companion on his journey to China, is now critically endangered and believed to be extinct in the wild.
The legendary Mongolian deathworm of the Gobi Desert is an acid-spitting, fire-breathing killer annelid that has been eluding hunters for centuries. We have helped numerous productions in their quest to locate the legend, digging out eye-witness reports, recreating sightings, and linking this controversially mythical creature to more recognised species of land animals such as dinosaurs, snakes and lizards.