Mongolia Holdings and Monroad enter into agreement to merge operations

Mongolia Holdings, Inc. (OTCQB: "MNHD") and Monroad, LLC are pleased to announce that they have entered into a Contribution and Exchange Agreement. Upon completion, Monroad will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Mongolia Holdings (the "Company"). In exchange, Monroad will receive preferred shares of Mongolia Holdings convertible into an amount equal to approximately 49% of the outstanding shares of Mongolia Holdings at time of the Closing. Some of the conditions precedent to closing include the conversion of certain debt obligations to equity, a $2.00 per share trading price and capital sufficient to execute the new business strategy of the combined companies.  Additional details are available in the MNHD Form 8-K filed with the SEC on December 29, 2015.

Founded in 2001, Monroad is recognized as one of the largest road construction and earth moving companies in Mongolia. Monroad offers a full range of construction services including the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, railroad lines, drainage work, earthwork, flood protection dams, and heavy equipment rental. Monroad counts the Mongolian government and Oyu Tolgoi LLC (Rio Tinto's Turquoise Hill Mine), as two of its largest completed-project customers. Monroad's most recent audited financial statements report revenue of 36,286,005,641 Mongolian Tugriks, or $19,214,805 USD as of December 31, 2014. Audited results for the year ending 2015 will be disclosed in a subsequent Form 8-K to be prepared and filed by Mongolia Holdings.

The Company's President, Brad Siniscalchi, a 23-year veteran of Hertz Equipment Rental, commented: "This transaction marks a significant breakthrough for our 2016 business strategy. Monroad's existing facilities, capabilities and staff should significantly streamline and expedite the deployment of our Hertz Equipment Rental franchise operation in Ulaanbaatar, while potentially saving significant hard and soft launch costs. Mongolia Holdings will now possess a much wider array of capabilities necessary to meet growing demands for equipment and construction services, driven in part by international infrastructure development initiatives like 'One Belt, One Road' and mega-mining industry projects like Oyu Tolgoi."

Tengis Garamgaibaatar, CEO of Monroad, stated: "Although it has not previously been our core focus, Monroad has operated an equipment rental business in Mongolia for many years. We plan to bring Monroad's facilities, equipment, highly-trained staff, equipment maintenance capabilities, logistics, market knowledge, reputation and enthusiasm to the deployment and build-out of Hertz Equipment Rental operations throughout Mongolia. The expanded platform makes us better prepared to tackle larger projects and to more aggressively execute the growth strategy of our existing road building and earth moving operations. We believe that the systems and efficiencies of Hertz and the talent and experience of the combined management team will create many advantages for Mongolia Holdings for years to come."

Chairman of Mongolia Holdings, Former US Ambassador Michael Ussery, said: "In addition to all the obvious benefits of this transaction, the consolidation of Monroad into Mongolia Holdings facilitates the assimilation of 15 years of market knowledge, experience and relationships, which cannot be easily replicated by other market participants. In addition, with the recent $4.4 billion financing announcement of Rio Tinto's expansion of the Oyu Tolgoi mega-mine, it's not unreasonable to expect greater economic growth for this exciting market, which, in turn could measurably increase demand for Monroad's road construction and earth moving services."

About the Company:

Mongolia Holdings, Inc., through its wholly-owned subsidiary Mongolia Equipment Rental Corporation, is the Hertz Equipment Rental franchisee for Mongolia. This exclusive franchise allows the Company to operate a business of renting, selling, and maintaining equipment for use in construction, mining, materials-handling, commercial, and industrial activities in Mongolia under the unique plan and system of Hertz Equipment Rental Corporation and Hertz Equipment Rental System. In 2014, the Company formed two wholly-owned operating subsidiaries in Mongolia called HERC, LLC and Equipment Rental, LLC. When qualifications are met, Mongolia Holdings intends to apply for an up-listing to the NYSE Markets, NASDAQ, or another US national securities exchange. While the Company is confident in its plans, it can offer no assurances that it will be successful in listing on an exchange of its choice. Upon closing with Monroad, it will also be one of the largest road construction companies, and best-known brands in Mongolia.

About Mongolia:

Mongolia has recently been one of the fastest growing economies in the world, led by the extraction of vast deposits of copper, gold, uranium, iron ore, coal and other commodities. Its proximity to four of the largest economies in the world -- China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea -- creates trade and cross-border investment opportunities that are distinct from those available to competing resource-rich countries. Management believes that these natural advantages, along with recent pro-business changes in foreign investment rules, securities laws, and mining regulations, have the nation poised for sustained growth of construction, infrastructure development and industrialization. Mongolia is an independent democracy of approximately three million people dedicated to becoming an important economic hub and transportation corridor of Eurasia.

For more information, please visit : http://www.mongoliaholdings.com
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Family exists in far-off places, related or not

Genghis Khan is a little like George Washington, except he went a little crazy with the ax
A father of countries, Khan spread his seed across Asia and into Europe
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Merry Christmas to all our readers from Mongolianviews.blogspot

Dear our readers,

We at Mongolianviews.blogspot.com would like to wish our readers around the world a Very Happy Christmas and New Year.

Шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе!
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N.Korean workers in Poland, Mongolia face ‘rights violations': panel

Workers labor under extreme hours, poor conditions, having 90 percent of salary confiscated

Jiwon Song 

North Korean laborers in Poland and Mongolia have 90 percent of their income expropriated by the regime while they face poor, isolated working conditions.
Lee Seung-ju, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, told a press conference at the Seoul Press Center on Wednesday that North Korea’s overseas laborers in Mongolia and Poland are working under conditions that constitute “human rights violations.”
“They have no access to much information about their working state and are virtually isolated from the outside world,” said Lee.
“90 percent of their wages are ‘contributed’ to the regime. Most of projects involve subcontracted jobs, which means the laborers have to pay expenses to brokering managers again. The laborers work a part-time job to make up their living.”
While North Korea’s authoritarian government receives the “contributions” from overseas workers for the homeland’s benefit, its people suffer from not only poor working environments, but “mutual surveillance.”
Laborers in Mongolia are put into groups of 15 people as a mutual control measure, Lee said, while for housing they live in containers located at construction sites or in slums.
The workers in Poland are put into groups so that they can be “controlled in an easier manner,” even when they go to the market. Furthermore, they face competition for income from Polish laborers and those from other European countries.
North Korean laborers work from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with no breaks while Polish workers go home at 3 p.m, Lee said, adding that the DPRK laborers also work on Polish holidays.
But despite an ongoing surge in reports on the conditions North Korean laborers endure overseas, recently published data and defector testimony suggests competition for foreign work opportunitiesremains high, with profits still relatively considerable even after “contributions” to the government.
In response to the problematic issue, panelists at Wednesday’s event called on South Korea’s government to raise the issue.
“The Park Geun-hye administration has stressed North Korea’s human rights improvement,” said Kim Jin-ho, a journalist with the Kyunghyang Shinmun.
“The South Korean government’s role is to address the human rights issues faced by North Korea’s overseas laborers to the international community.”
Kim Kyu-nam, a panelist from Warsaw University, also stressed the South Korean government’s role.
“The South Korean government has recently had a good relationship with Poland. On this occasion, they can ask Polish government to set up a control tower for foreign workers. It will be also helpful to raise Polish public awareness about the North Korean laborers’ situation.”
North Korea’s overseas labor population in Mongolia exceeds 1500, while the one in Poland 800, it was said at the event. The laborers are engaged in diverse fields of work, including in the fields of construction sites, shipping, agriculture, textiles and restaurants.

Source:www.nknews.org
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Mongolian military chopper crash kills 1, injures 10

ULAN BATOR, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- A Mongolian Mi-8 helicopter crashed during night training on Wednesday, killing one and injuring 10 others, a military source said.
The crash took place about 50 km east of the capital, according to the source.
Local media reported that the ill-fated helicopter might be making an emergency landing when the incident happened.
The Mongolian military has launched an investigation.
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N.Korean workers in Poland, Mongolia face ‘rights violations': panel

Workers labor under extreme hours, poor conditions, having 90 percent of salary confiscated
By Jiwon Song


North Korean laborers in Poland and Mongolia have 90 percent of their income expropriated by the regime while they face poor, isolated working conditions.
Lee Seung-ju, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, told a press conference at the Seoul Press Center on Wednesday that North Korea’s overseas laborers in Mongolia and Poland are working under conditions that constitute “human rights violations.”
“They have no access to much information about their working state and are virtually isolated from the outside world,” said Lee.
“90 percent of their wages are ‘contributed’ to the regime. Most of projects involve subcontracted jobs, which means the laborers have to pay expenses to brokering managers again. The laborers work a part-time job to make up their living.”
While North Korea’s authoritarian government receives the “contributions” from overseas workers for the homeland’s benefit, its people suffer from not only poor working environments, but “mutual surveillance.”
Laborers in Mongolia are put into groups of 15 people as a mutual control measure, Lee said, while for housing they live in containers located at construction sites or in slums.
The workers in Poland are put into groups so that they can be “controlled in an easier manner,” even when they go to the market. Furthermore, they face competition for income from Polish laborers and those from other European countries.
North Korean laborers work from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with no breaks while Polish workers go home at 3 p.m, Lee said, adding that the DPRK laborers also work on Polish holidays.
But despite an ongoing surge in reports on the conditions North Korean laborers endure overseas, recently published data and defector testimony suggests competition for foreign work opportunitiesremains high, with profits still relatively considerable even after “contributions” to the government.
In response to the problematic issue, panelists at Wednesday’s event called on South Korea’s government to raise the issue.
“The Park Geun-hye administration has stressed North Korea’s human rights improvement,” said Kim Jin-ho, a journalist with the Kyunghyang Shinmun.
“The South Korean government’s role is to address the human rights issues faced by North Korea’s overseas laborers to the international community.”
Kim Kyu-nam, a panelist from Warsaw University, also stressed the South Korean government’s role.
“The South Korean government has recently had a good relationship with Poland. On this occasion, they can ask Polish government to set up a control tower for foreign workers. It will be also helpful to raise Polish public awareness about the North Korean laborers’ situation.”
North Korea’s overseas labor population in Mongolia exceeds 1500, while the one in Poland 800, it was said at the event. The laborers are engaged in diverse fields of work, including in the fields of construction sites, shipping, agriculture, textiles and restaurants.

Source:/www.nknews.org 
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Mongolia seeks Iran's investment in energy sector: FM

TEHRAN, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- Mongolia is looking for the investment of Iranians in its energy and oil sectors, the visiting Mongolian foreign minister Lundeg Purevsuren said here on Wednesday.
Beside cooperation on historical, cultural and scientific areas, Iran and Mongolia can cooperate in mining, agricultural and energy sectors, Purevsuren said.
As regard with the economic cooperation with Mongolia, the outlooks of investors should go beyond mere local market of the country, since Mongolia is a gate for big market in the region, he said.
His country is an exporter of oil to its neighbors, therefore the Iranian investors can invest in drilling and extraction of oil and finance in its energy industry, Purevsuren said.
Also, the agricultural and animal husbandry sectors of Mongolia have the capacity for the Iranian investments as it is in possession of some 70 million herds, he added.
For his part, Zarif said that economic areas are not the only focus of Iranian government in its relations with the neighbors and with the regional states, Iran and Mongolia have also held good talks for expansion of mutual cooperation on scientific, cultural and common heritage.
Heading an economic delegation, Purevsuren arrived in Iran on Wednesday for talks with Iranian economic and trade officials.
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Over 2,500 N. Koreans forced to work in Mongolia, Poland

SEOUL, Dec. 23 (Yonhap) -- More than 2,500 North Korean workers have been forced to work in Mongolia and Poland under poor working conditions with their human rights being violated, a South Korean civic group said Wednesday.
About 1,800 North Korean workers are being forced to work mainly in Mongolia's construction sector or in sewing factories while around 800 North Koreans are employed in Poland in the shipbuilding and construction sectors, according to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights.
Marzuki Darusman, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in North Korea, said in his report that more than 50,000 North Koreans have been forced to work abroad, mainly in China and Russia, as the North seeks to earn hard currency.
The civic group said Mongolia has had close ties with North Korea for a long time and a distinctive geographical location bordering Russia and China where thousands of North Koreans are forced to labor.
Poland had friendly relations with North Korea during the era of the former Soviet Union and it is known as one of two European Union nations including Malta that has hired North Korean workers.
The agency said that North Korean workers in the two countries have repatriated about 90 percent of their salary to North Korea while earning less than $100 per month while working around 12 hours per day.
The center said that North Korean workers are dispatched to labor-intensive sectors in about 20 countries.
"The North's purpose is to earn hard currency to avert economic hardship under heavy U.N. sanctions and $200 to $300 million is presumed to be sent to North Korea annually," it said.
North Korea has long been branded as one of the worst human rights violators with widespread cases of rights abuses such as public execution and torture. Pyongyang has bristled at such criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

Source:yonhapnews.co.kr
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Mongolian herders face record-low meat price due to tough winter

ULAN BATOR, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- For 146,000 Mongolian herder families, the winter has become increasingly tough, not only because of the low temperatures and deep snow, but also because of the resulting record-low meat price.
According to the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency, 90 percent of the country's land surface has been covered with heavy snow six to 40 cm deep. Meanwhile, temperatures in some regions have plummeted below minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Tough cold has threatened the 56.2 million livestock the Mongolian herders have raised. The rearing of livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats and camels, has traditionally been the only means of livelihood for the people of the landlocked nation.
The severe winter has also made the country's meat price slump to a record low. Herders wishing to make more money have slaughtered more livestock to sell meat in major cities like Ulan Bator and thus increased the supplies there, leading the price to drop to the unexpected low.
The beef price in the market is around 4000 tugrik, or 2 U.S. dollars per kg, and 1 kg of mutton costs 3500 tugrik or 1.7 U.S. dollars, both lower than in the same period last year.
"The price of animal fodder is very expensive and I can just afford 5 bags of feed, but I have 500 sheep and 10 cattle," said Ganbayar, a header from Arkhangai province.
"I have two teenagers, a son and daughter, studying in universities in Ulan Bator and at this low price, I can no longer afford their studies," he added.
The Mongolian government predicted that the situation would further deteriorate soon and has begun to take action, including the allocation of 150 to 250 million tugrik (75,000 to 125,000 U.S. dollars) to help the 21 affected rural provinces.
In a bid to promote meat sales, Mongolian herders desire to export their meat to other countries like China and Russia. However, exports remain low due to the nation's poor veterinary service and low livestock vaccination rate.

Source:Xinhua news agency

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EBRD supports Mongolia’s micro and small businesses with local currency loans

The FINANCIAL -- EBRD lending programme boosts MSMEs’ access to scarce local currency finance in Early Transition Countries thanks to international donors.
The people of Mongolia are very attached to its long history and many of their old traditions are still very much alive. Gulmaira Akim is so proud of its folklore that she created a business out of it. Her micro enterprise produces handcrafts and souvenirs based on ancient designs.
“I started working during my university, when I used to sell traditional fabrics to tourists and pay for my studies,” she explained.  “Then, in 2006 I got married and I started producing small goods such as purses and ornaments together with my husband”.
Today Ms Akim employs dozens of people, mostly women, in the rural Nalaikh province where her workshop is based. When she receives large orders she reaches out to more embroiderers who work from home.
“For me it is important to give back to the community and employ elderly people or women with no formal education,” she said.
Mongolia’s wealth derives mostly from under its rich soil, through a large mining sector. Most finance and business operations are concentrated in the capital Ulaanbaatar, home to half of the country’s population.
So micro and small businesses such as Ms Akim’s are key for the development of rural areas as well as contributing to diversifying the economy and expanding the private sector.
But without adequate financial support, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) would not be able to survive, let alone thrive.
On the other hand, Mongolian financial institutions are often not in a position to assume more risk and provide tailored products for this segment of potential clients.
One of the issues of lending to MSMEs is the high level of dollarisation, which, according to the latest Transition Report 2015-16, is significantly higher in the region where the EBRD invests than in other emerging market economies.
Loans denominated in foreign exchange expose small companies to the risks of depreciating local currencies. That is why the EBRD and its donors, including the Early Transition Countries (ETC)  Fund*, the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO and the US Department of Treasury, are partnering to extend local currency loans to local participating banks to lend to MSMEs in local currency at affordable interest rates.
This special Local Currency Programme, which provides long-term EBRD finance to small businesses through local partner financial institutions, is active in Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Mongolia and Tajikistan.
The EBRD financing is combined with policy dialogue with national governments to improve domestic financial intermediation in local currencies, with the lending now replicated by other International Financial Institutions.
Through the Programme, partner banks have an opportunity not only to reach out to underserved markets but also to develop the skills required to manage foreign exchange risk.
So far, around 300 thousand micro and small companies in the six countries have been able to borrow a total of around US$ 325 million thanks to the donors.
Thanks to the Programme, Ms Akim obtained a loan of 10 million Mongolian Tugrik (worth about US$ 5,000) through XacBank. She used it to upgrade her sewing machines, EBRD said.
“As a result of this improvement, the quality of our product is higher and we could better meet our clients’ needs, so our sales boosted,” she said. Thanks to the loan she secured a Fairtrade shop in Ulaanbaatar as a fixed client.
Now she has many fewer worries about repaying her loan. And, for a change, the depreciation of the tugrik against the US dollar is a blessing for her business, since most buyers are foreigners visiting her stunning country, happy to buy relatively inexpensive and beautiful souvenirs.

Source:Financial
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An Unlikely Partnership – Shared Experiences from Poland and Mongolia

Image
The World Bank in Poland is committed to a knowledge sharing agenda - sharing lessons and best practices in areas such as pension reform with other countries around the world.

In the first week of December, 2015, a parliamentary delegation from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, visited Poland in order to learn from this country’s experience in reforming its social insurance system.
Despite the vast distance between Poland and Mongolia, the two countries actually share many similarities. Mongolia, like Poland, had a centrally planned economy and an extensive social protection system for many years. Both countries faced the challenges posed by a legacy of financial obligations following the liberalization of a once centrally planned economy. The populations of both countries are also both ageing - which raises enormous challenges for achieving fiscally affordable - yet adequate - pension and social insurance systems.
One of the World Bank’s mandates is to facilitate international contacts and enable an exchange of experiences.


" Through a carefully designed study-tour, our counterparts learn not only the results of reform efforts but the impressions of those who implemented these specific reforms "

Mark Dorfman

World Bank Senior Economist and organizer of the visit by the Mongolian delegation in Poland

In 1999, both countries conducted fundamental reforms, moving from defined benefit system to defined contribution schemes, meaning that a direct link between contributions and pension benefits was introduced.
“We see a role for the World Bank to support an evidence-based approach in decision-making. Linking country policymakers with comparable experiences is a useful means of considering design options and parameters for adequate and sustainable pensions, for example,” says Mark Dorfman, World Bank Senior Economist and organizer of the visit by the Mongolian delegation in Poland.
“Through a carefully designed study-tour, our counterparts learn not only the results of reform efforts but the impressions of those who implemented these specific reforms,” he added.
One contrast between reforms in these countries came in the realm of communications. While Poland made a substantial effort to communicate with the public about the nature of the reforms and substantially increase the transparency of the benefits for contributors, Mongolia did not - creating confusion over the objectives of these reforms and the mechanics of notional accounts.
“The reforms in Poland were accompanied by a broad information campaign and social consultations. As a result, Poland may be seen as a country whose experience can be an inspiration to others,” says Marina Wes, World Bank Country Manager for Poland.
Learning objectives
The Mongolian delegation expressed its satisfaction with this learning experience. In particular, they noted a sharpened view of the key tradeoffs, risks, and enabling conditions needed to support a funded pension scheme in Mongolia. Furthermore, they now have a better idea of the institutional and communication requirements needed to support a defined-contribution scheme, following this exchanges. They also took away ideas about how to approach a raise in the retirement age, including for special groups of workers subject to early retirement.
Finally, the also noted their appreciation for learning from Poland’s experience with Farmer Pensions, including some of the potential risks and costs associated with the establishment of a subsidized program for similar kinds of beneficiaries in Mongolia.
Polish experience
Much can be learned from Poland’s experience over the last 25 years of transformation in areas such as social insurance reform. Currently, experts from the World Bank are working on a report, titled “Lessons learnt from Poland,” which summarizes the most important structural reforms in Poland, starting from the systemic transformation in 1989. The objective of the report is to assess Poland’s achievements and to draw lessons for other countries undergoing their own structural reforms. The report also aims to identify a policy reform agenda for Poland that can help the country converge to development level of Germany, Finland, and Australia, for instance.
In 2013-2014, the World Bank office in Poland also conducted the “Poland as Global Development Partner” project. Within the framework of this project, the Bank organized debates and conferences on key development topics, initiated a knowledge exchange between Poland and a number of other countries, and prepared a number of publications summarizing Poland’s accomplishments over the past quarter of a century.

Source:World Bank
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Mongolia by camel: On the hoof in the Gobi Desert

The camel is the preferred mode of transport here, but in the capital things are changing fast


Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar
Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar Rex

This was surely the ultimate answer to armchair travel. Moving through a fantastical landscape of sand dunes strikingly corrugated by the wind, I gloried in bizarrely comfortable transport. Camel-back had not previously struck me as offering scope for hedonism but then I'd never before taken a trip on a bactrian camel. Sitting snugly between the double protrusions on the back of one of these weird-looking desert victors, you feel as if you're being carried on a cross between a snoozy old sofa and a shaggy magic carpet.
As I gazed over to a mirage, shimmering like a fairy-tale lake in the distance, I thought of those iconic camel riders celebrated every year on Christmas cards: what a pity the Three Wise Men apparently travelled on dromedaries, perched atop the one awkward hump of those large-eyed ungulates. Bactrian camels would have been wonderfully deluxe alternatives.
I was in the Gobi Desert, sole preserve of the two-humped creatures, taking in a micro-slice of this amazing expanse of sand, mountains and sparsely vegetated plains with a camel herder called Erdene. About twice the size of France, the Gobi encompasses a big chunk of northern China's provinces of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, as well as the southern belt of independent Outer Mongolia. Erdene and I were in the latter region (indeed “Gobi” effectively means “desert” in Mongolian), in the Moltsog Els dunes, a regular summer base for the herds of Erdene – a nomad like most Mongolians, he retreats to the shelter of the nearby Altai mountains during the bitter, windy months of winter.
Erdene gave me a Mongolian nomad's big-hearted welcome, ushering me into his ger, a circular, yurt-like tent of a home, and as is the custom, presenting me with a snuff bottle to sniff and lip-puckering fermented camel's milk to drink. Then, donning his flamboyant herder's hat topped with a golden spike, he strode out to his animals, saddled up and we set off for our morning's excursion. The surreal world of the Gobi looked ever more spectacular from the vantage of a cosy camel – whose mutterings and imprecations added a moody soundtrack.
I had arrived in Mongolia a couple of days earlier, starting my trip in the capital, Ulaanbaatar – commonly known, without those daunting vowels, as UB. Throughout my Cold War-dominated childhood, Soviet-controlled Outer Mongolia had seemed as inaccessible as outer space. In 1990, the Russians withdrew from the country and multi-party democracy was established, since when Mongolia has opened up, with tourism gradually increasing. Wealth, too, probably rather more swiftly: post-Soviet Mongolia has (largely) thrived thanks to its mineral resources and to its free-market mining activities. Nowhere is this more evident than UB, now a rich and strange mix of temples and shopping malls, skyscrapers and timeless-looking gers. It contains about half the three million population of this enormous little country, and its remnants of the Russian era range from an opera house presenting superb classical music and ballet, to billboards in Cyrillic script which is still the national alphabet.
Underlining Mongolia's growing stature as a place both for business and for upscale (if off-beat) travel, the first major five-star hotel in the country opened in June. The 21-floor Shangri-La, complete with magnificent lobby, ballroom, two much applauded restaurants and 290 spacious bedrooms, makes a sleek base from which to explore the city.
I spent an absorbing morning visiting the glorious Gandan monastery, one of the few Buddhist establishments to survive (by a whisker) the Soviet purges of 1937. Meanwhile, the National History Museum engagingly distils Mongolia's heritage, from the Hunnu Empire of 3BC and Genghis Khan's 13th-century victories to the present day. I ended my city tour at the dinosaur museum (Mongolia is eye-poppingly rich in fossils), which is intriguingly set in a shopping mall otherwise lined with chic stores selling stylish cashmere products – the country is the world's second largest producer of top quality goat wool, after China. 
mongolia-yrts-rex.jpg
Traditional gers
Visually, Mongolia is very weird and very wonderful in both town and countryside. Yet because people here are remarkably genial and open-minded, visitors rarely feel culturally dislocated, instead enjoying a tremendous sense of warmth and hospitality. I was fortunate, too, in travelling with one of Mongolia's most environmentally and socially sensitive companies, Nomadic Expeditions, which was founded as the country was establishing its brave new world of democracy, and has done much to pioneer tourism. My guide, Anand, enlightened me with captivating insights such as how Mongolian women have for centuries enjoyed equal rights, and how a ger is so well designed it can usually withstand winds of more than 60mph, despite being principally constructed of felt.
“From five-star hotel to 5,000-star sky,” Anand remarked with a grin on our short domestic flight to the Gobi. Arriving at tiny Dalanzadgad airport, we jumped into a waiting 4x4 and set off across a beautifully, eerily open landscape, a dance of sky and clouds emphasising the enormously wide perspective and producing ever-changing bands of colour. Solitary round felt tents and distant herds of horses, cows, sheep and goats appeared and then melted into the horizon as we drove about an hour and a half to Three Camel Lodge, an encampment of gers (each now with its own bathroom – a new development) which was set up in 2002 by Nomadic Expeditions. They have developed their own solar energy here; they employ and train locals from the nearby oasis village of Bulgan – and provide a ready market for their vegetables; and they have been particularly astute over the choice of location. 
mongolia-ulaanbaatar-getty.jpg
Ulaanbaatar's skyline
The encampment lies in the shelter of a small volcanic outcrop and has two wells on its land. Local herders are welcome, so there's a constant visual feast as animals are driven to drink here throughout the day. Anand explained that the scrubby grasses covering the plains in this part of the Gobi are rich in minerals and make particularly good grazing. On my first evening I watched the antics of about 30 horses against a pinkening sky, and in the ensuing darkness I made out at least some of those 5,000 stars (the Three Wise Men would have been navigationally challenged in the Gobi). That night, I fell asleep to the gentle sound of equine snorts outside. 
If you can tear yourself away from watching the natural ballet of hoofed herds moving in and out of view in front of the encampment, there is plenty to do here, quite apart from taking a tour on a bactrian camel. We drove to Havtsgait valley, about half an hour away, and hiked vertiginously up to a series of phenomenal rock drawings, the work of early settlers 15,000 to 40,000 years ago.
As I examined the petroglyphs of outrageously long-horned goats, I caught sight of a trio of camels looking just as wondrous far below us. Later, we made a sunset visit to Bayan Zag, an escarpment also known, with much justification, as the Flaming Cliffs because of its glowing colour, particularly in the early evening light. In 1923, fossilised dinosaur eggs were discovered here by the American adventurer and naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews, said to have been the inspiration for Indiana Jones. 
Yet perhaps best of all, we went to school. My trip to the Gobi took place at the start of the Mongolian academic year, which is marked with gusto across the country. At Bulgan village, children arrived at school immaculately dressed, some small girls with white bows in their hair, some small boys sporting polka-dot bow ties. They sang the national anthem and raised the Mongolian flag. Juniors played the Mongolian horse head fiddle; seniors gave a display of break-dancing. The atmosphere of enthusiasm was palpable. How much more sensible to celebrate the beginning of the learning process rather than the release from it, as we do. You learn a lot from the wise men and women of Mongolia. 

The easiest way to reach Mongolia is via Beijing, served non-stop from Heathrow by British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com) and Air China (020 3275 0200; airchina.co.uk). Onward flights to UB are offered by Air China and Mongolian Airlines (00 976 11 333999; miat.com). No visa is required for British citizens.
More information 

Source:http://www.independent.co.uk/
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Nicolas Cage Returns Stolen Dinosaur Skull to Mongolia

cage
Nicolas Cage was ordered to forfeit a 67 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar skull he bought at auction back to Mongolia. Nomi Ellenson/FilmMagic

Over the weekend, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 
ordered the return of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skull to Mongolia after the fossil was smuggled illegally into the United States and sold for auction in 2007. While initial reports did not specify who exactly was in possession of the 67 million-year-old skull, it has since been revealed that actor Nicolas Cage purchased the fossil for $276,000 at a Beverly Hills auction house.
While the actor was absolved of any wrongdoing in the incident – Cage was unaware that the fossil was smuggled into America illegally – Reuters reports that he was ordered to forfeit the Tyrannosaurus bataar skull back to the Mongolian government, which Cage agreed to do last week. (Cage reportedly outbid Leonardo DiCaprio for the skull.)
The skull's recovery is part of a larger effort to return ancient artifacts and fossils to Mongolia; paleontologist Erik Prokopi was sentenced to three months in prison in December 2012 after pleading guilty of taking fossils – including Cage's Tyrannosaurus bataar skull – out of the Gobi Desert and selling them for profit. Following his conviction, Prokopi has assisted authorities in reacquiring nearly 20 fossils.
"Each of these fossils represents a culturally and scientifically important artifact looted from its rightful owner," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told The Associated Press, adding that Prokopi was a "one-man black market in prehistoric fossils." It's unclear whether Cage knew Prokopi, who managed to pass the 32-inch skull into the U.S. by labeling the cargo as "fossil stone pieces." Exporting dinosaur bones out of Mongolia has been outlawed since 1924.

Source:http://www.rollingstone.com/
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Mongolian dog tradition revived to protect sheep, leopards

TUV AIMAG, Mongolia (AP) — Through three decades of marriage, they have wandered together across the rolling hills of Mongolia's northern Tuv Province, accompanied by their herd of sheep and stalked by the wolves and snow leopards that threaten their livelihood.
Five months ago, Chulunjav Bayarsaikhan and Tumurbaatar Davaasurenwere joined by a new partner, Hasar, a shaggy, 11-month-old bankhar dog that a hundred years ago would have been a far more common sight outside the country's tent homes known as gers.
"Now, nothing comes near our herd at night," Tumurbaatar said. "If anything does, she barks in an alarming way, so we come out before it can attack. She learned to patrol all night and is protecting them well."
As years of overgrazing increasingly push Mongolian nomads into the territory of their oldest foes — snow leopards and wolves — a group of researchers and herders are trying to reinstate the bankhar, a close relative of the Tibetan mastiff, to its historic place beside their masters. The dog is native to Mongolia but nearly disappeared over the course of mass urbanization drives during the Soviet era.
DNA analysis conducted by Cornell researchers and released this year points to Mongolia as the location where domesticated dogs first appeared some 15,000 years ago. That makes the bankhar even more of a Mongolian icon.
For thousands of years, the giant dogs roamed the Mongolian steppes with their nomadic masters, so much a part of the landscape that they featured in Chinese Qing Dynasty paintings of Mongolia and the 13th century travelogues of Marco Polo.
Now experts are hoping to revive that legacy.
At the small nonprofit Mongolia Bankhar Dog Project outside the capital, Ulaanbaatar, biologists and breeders say the shaggy, intelligent bankhar could help conservationists convince herders that they need not aggressively trap and hunt endangered predator species.
The center raises bankhar, which can grow as large as a small bear, and hands them over at 4 or 5 months old to herders like Chulunjav and Tumurbaatar, who must continue to train them under a strict regime aimed at developing their bond with livestock rather than humans. The center is a result of efforts to revive the bankhar launched in 2004 by U.S. biologist Bruce Elfstrom.
Hasar now follows sheep day and night and wards off, but doesn't attack, predators that once decimated the couple's herd.
"I have high hopes for my dog as a herder, because she has learned a lot so far," Chulunjav said. "I hope in the future she can be my good friend and partner in my nomadic life."
Although the country of less than 3 million people is rapidly urbanizing, mostly around sprawling Ulaanbaatar, roughly one-third have held on to their traditional nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle. Cattle or sheep losses can spell catastrophe for households.
Using dogs to protect herds also can help protect snow leopards as their population falls below 1,000, mostly in the western Altai mountain range and in the south, near the Gobi Desert, according to WWF Mongolia director Batbold Dorjgurkhem.
"The habitat that is needed by snow leopards is shrinking, due to increasing livestock numbers in Mongolia," says Batbold. "Because of this, there is a conflict between herders and this top predator."
Falling numbers of snow leopards are also unsettling Mongolia's ecosystem, Batbold added. Among the snow leopard's prey are disease-carrying marmots, whose numbers are proliferating as their chief predator's population declines.
Greg Goodfellow, a scientist at the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project, said larger herd sizes and the ensuing demand for grazing land are key factors behind the shrinking snow leopard habitat. With fewer livestock lost to predation, the group hopes herders will be able to reduce livestock numbers, easing the need to push further into leopard territory.
The dog project is seeking grants to set up regional breeding centers throughout Mongolia.
There are now 10 adult dogs at the group's first breeding center. A further 15 dogs already have been placed with qualified herders, including in the Gorkhi-Terelj and Hustai national parks where wolves reside, and in South Gobi province, where snow leopards prowl.
If trained correctly, the bankhar's large size and intelligence makes it especially suitable for guarding livestock, said dog project caretaker Davaasuren Munkhsuld.
"Mongol bankhars know how to act in difficult situations. They know how to take control," Davaasuren said. "They sense if a person or other animal has come with good or bad intentions, then decide whether or not to attack. They are very intuitive."

Source:AP
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