By Jan Goodwin. Published: May 8, 2005
ONE thing to keep in mind if you ever go to Mongolia: Watch what you say about Genghis Kahn. Westerners may think of him as a marauding savage (albeit the ruler of one of the largest empires the world has ever known), but to the people of Mongolia he is a visionary leader who created international law, abolished torture, granted religious freedom and developed the first and a highly efficient international postal system. A brilliant military strategist, his innovative fighting techniques were still being studied well into the 20th century, more than 800 years after he was born.
So in Mongolia, Genghis Khan is a revered hero. Speak ill of him at your own risk.
If you can avoid doing that, you’ll find that Mongolians are unfailingly hospitable. After all, this is a country where a powerful insult, ”Shaar!” translates as ”old tea!” It’s customary for pastoralists to feed and house other nomads on the move, including — as I found out on a two-week trip to northern Mongolia last June, to go kayaking on Lake Khovsgol — the occasional foreign tourist.
”Sain baina uu!” (”Hello! Are you well?)” a young girl in a bright red jacket greeted our tour group of four, as she collected water at the lake’s edge. She was about 10 and stared at our kayaks curiously, the sole boats on the enormous lake.