Mongolia

Thursday July 25 – Sunday July 28

I arrived in Mongolia late in the evening on Thursday, July 25th, and was greeted by my friend Angara from the Humphreys Fellowship program and her father Sukhee, a retired colonel and professor at Mongolian National Defense University. 

They were so kind to pick me up at Chinggis Khaan International Airport, taking me to Choijin Suites in downtown Ulaan Baatar, where I would be staying for the long weekend ahead.  Once there, I was treated to Angara’s famous dumplings served with a lovely red wine — such a warm welcome and reflection of the hospitality and kindness of my dear host family.

Friday July 26th: In Search of Khaan

With the weather proving to be spectacular the next day, we decided to set out for the Mongolian countryside:  not the Gobi desert which lies to the southwest, but rather the area east of the city which features rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. 

Before leaving the city of Ulaan Baatar, Angara’s father took us to the Zaisan Memorial, a monument honoring the alliance of Russian and Mongolian soldiers during World War II. The site also offered an expansive view of the city, where construction and development can proceed at a rapid pace, given the very short period of agreeable weather (3 months).

As we drove into the countryside, I noticed that the grass was full, low and even — oddly resembling the most manicured of lawns, and yet there we were, somewhere out in the wild. We drove for roughly two hours, passing very small provinces with homes whose rooftops featured every color of the rainbow.  I observed people walking down local roads with mobile devices occupying their attention. Life looked fairly comfortable in the countryside, or so I thought, until I was told that many of these homes have no running water.

In-between provincial towns, the landscape was dotted with “gers” (yurts) of present day countrymen, who were tending to their herds and living not too unlike nomads of centuries past. We saw cows and other livestock coming fairly close to the road, so careful driving was the order of the day:

Our goal was to reach the larger-than-life statue of Chinggis Khaan (Ghengis Khan). This enormous statue seemed appropriately sized, given that he was leader of the Mongol Empire which at one time occupied over 20% of the earth’s land mass.

Note: In the first photo below, the small dots in the horse’s mane are people; you can climb stairs within the statue (or take an elevator) and then walk up the horse’s mane for a closer look at the man himself or a wonderful view of the surrounding area.

You can see amongst the photos below that the Chinggis Khaan monument hosts a beautiful restaurant on the second level. The first level includes souvenir shops and costume rental, and the level below ground houses a museum featuring the history of ger architecture, pictures illustrating Ghenggis Khaan and his descendents, and lifesize replicas of people and animals from various periods of Mongolian history.

We could not leave without stopping at the park outside to see the camels. I never imagined that there would be a time in my life where I could say these words: “here I am, riding a camel in Mongolia…”!

We later went exploring in search of a ger for lunch. I would say that this area was definitely worth the drive from UB (Ulaan Baatar); just remember to take your time and watch out for the local animals crossing the road.

Saturday July 27th: Modern Living in UB

To go from one extreme to the other, we spent Saturday in downtown Ulaan Baator for a day of shopping, dining and a performance of traditional Mongolian music at the national theatre. The #1 store to visit in UB is Gobi for their selection of cashmere articles, not to mention the fun, impromptu runway shows.

… and a quick lesson on tying the perfect knot:

We enjoyed a lite lunch at the Choijin Temple, followed by hearty fare at the Belgian Cafe in this truly international city… There was a nice feeling of familiarity as I found one of my favorite Belgian Beers there, Westmalle.

At the Mongolian Grand Theatre of National Art, we were able to experience a wide selection of traditional song and dance as well as a special performance by contortionists. As we were not allowed to take videos of course, I will include some snapshots of posters and promotional pictures to provide a hint at the wonderful spectacle from that very special evening:

Sunday July 28th: Last day in Mongolia

On Sunday morning I was met by another Humphrey Fellow, Tsatsaa, who recently returned from her year at Boston University. She was kind enough to give me a brief walking tour as well as assistance in finding some last minute items from the shops as I prepared for the next segment of this journey. We finished with a hearty lunch of Mongolian beef, and talked about the Humphrey Fellowship program and what it has meant to each of us.

A weekend in Mongolia is clearly not enough, but when I think back on all that we managed to accomplish I must again give credit and thanks to my host Angara.

The last day’s agenda included a brief stop at her winter residence for a final meal and the chance to catch up with her son Enerbel, who I hope will be among the next generation of Humphrey Fellows. All too quickly it was time to leave, and Angara and her father Sukhee took me back to the airport. Until next time!

Bonus pictures can be found in the Journals menu — see the blog post on Mongolia

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