Every winter for the past 15 years, adventurous Mongolians and foreign visitors have braved sub-zero temperatures to enjoy an ice festival. The two-day celebration in Mongolia’s far north, initiated by tourist companies based in the capital Ulaanbaatar, strives to boost tourism around Lake Khovsgol and raise awareness about the area’s fragile environment.
Accelerating to 60 kilometers per hour on a frozen lake in Mongolia is generally not a good idea. A light tap on the brake pedal, a quick swerve to avoid a mound of snow, and the Russian-made UAZ minivan starts spinning in circles, the driver struggling to regain control. “We are only two people so the machine is very light,” offers Chimbdorj, the driver, as a form of apology.
Inside a pulmonary ward for newborns in Ulaanbaatar’s bustling Maternity Hospital No. 3, Dr. Tungalag Lodon tends to a day-old infant just taken off his oxygen tubes. With relief, she notes progress in the little boy’s heartbeat. The prognosis for other patients with hypoxia -- a shortage of oxygen reaching the tissues -- is often grim.
Mongolia may be best known for its endless steppe and nomadic culture, but a significant demographic shift is underway in which rural residents are crowding into urban centers, especially in the capital Ulaanbaatar.
Despite Mongolia’s nearly limitless supplies of coal, Ulaanbaatar recently approved plans to set up the country’s first commercial wind farm. The decision is fueling a public debate that aims to strike the right balance between Mongolia’s near-term and long-term economic development interests.
In early September at a small outpost 110 kilometers north of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, four environmental activists armed with hunting rifles opened fire on gold mining equipment owned by two foreign companies.
As they ponder ways to develop Mongolia’s abundant natural resources, political leaders in Ulaanbaatar are opting for more expensive infrastructure options in order to bolster the country’s sovereignty.