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Mongolia is a landlocked country in Central Asia and East Asia, located between China and Russia. On the Chinese border, the Altai Mountain ranges, Khuiten peak is the highest point (4,374 metres). The lowest is 518 metres, an otherwise undistinguished spot in the eastern Mongolian plain. The country has an average elevation of 1,580 metres. The landscape includes one of Asia’s largest freshwater lake ( Khuvsgul Lake), many salt lakes, marshes, sand dunes, rolling grasslands, alpine forests, and permanent mountain glaciers. Northern and western Mongolia are seismically active zones, with frequent earthquakes and many hot springs and extinct volcanoes.
The country has a marked continental climate, with long cold winters and short cool to hot summers. Its remarkable variety of scenery consists largely of upland steppes, semideserts, and desert, although in the west and north forested high mountain ranges.
There are three major mountain chains in Mongolia: the Mongolian Altai Mountain ranges, Khangai Mountain ranges (Khangain Nuruu) and the Khentii Mountain ranges (Khentiin Nuruu). The Mongolian Altai in the west and southwest constitute the highest and the longest of these chains. Branching southeastward from the main Altai range at the northwestern border with Russia, the Mongolian Altai stretch southeastward for some 250 miles (400 km) along the Chinese border before turning slightly more eastward for another 450 miles (725 km) in southwestern Mongolia. The Khangai Mountains also lying from northwest to southeast, form a solid mountain mass near the center of the country. Characteristic of the Khangai are gentle slopes covered with fine pastureland.
The alignment of the third mountain chain, the Khentii Mountain range of northeastern Mongolia, is southwest to northeast, extending into Siberia. Ulaanbaatar lies at the southwestern edge of the range.
The Great Lakes region, with more than 300 lakes, is tucked between the Mongolian Altai, the Khangai, and the mountains along the border with Siberia. Another basin lies between the eastern slopes of the Khangai Mountains and the western foothills of the Khentii range. The southern part of it—the basins of the Tuul and Orkhon rivers—is a fertile region important in Mongolian history as the cradle of settled ways of life.
The eastern part of Mongolia has a rolling topography of hilly steppe plains.
The Mongols originally followed shamanistic practices, but they broadly adopted Tibetan Buddhism with an admixture of shamanistic elements—during the Manchu Qing period. On the fall of the Qing in the early 20th century, control of Mongolia lay in the hands of the incarnation (khutagt) of the Tibetan Javzandamba (spiritual leader) and of the higher clergy, together with various local khans, princes, and noblemen. The new regime installed in 1921 sought to replace feudal and religious structures with socialist and secular forms. During the 1930s the ruling revolutionary party, which espoused atheism, destroyed or closed monasteries, confiscated their livestock and landholdings, induced large numbers of monks (lamas) to renounce religious life, and killed those who resisted.
In the mid-1940s the Gandan monastery in Ulaanbaatar was reopened, and the communist government began encouraging small numbers of lamas to attend international Buddhist conferences—especially in Southeast Asia—as political promotion for Mongolia. The end of one-party rule in 1990 allowed for the popular resurgence of Tibetan Buddhism, the rebuilding of ruined monasteries and temples, and the rebirth of the religious vocation. Buddhists, predominently of the Gelugspa (Yellow Hat) school headed by the Dalai Lama, constitute nearly one-fourth of Mongolians who actively profess religious beliefs. Approximately one-third of the population adheres to traditional shamanic beliefs. A relatively small number of Muslims, who are found mostly in the western part of the country, are nearly all Kazakhs, and a much smaller community of Christians of various denominations live mainly in the capital. A significant proportion of the people are atheistic or nonreligious.
III century BC and I century AC– First Empire of Nomad Empire
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