Saturday 15 September 2012

Urban Mongolia

At Ulaanbaatar train station we farewelled Anita, Stefan, Essi, Mari and the Danish fossickers, and were met by our local Mongolian guide, the humbly affable Enkee who greeted us with a shy smile. Nic and Dave met up with their guide as well, a loud boisterous woman whom I will call Oyuun because I cannot remember how to pronounce her actual name. We were bundled into our respective minivans and taken through the busy early morning city streets to a hotel, not to stay at but simply to have breakfast and a much needed shower.

The City - Ulaanbaatar
Awesome, we thought, a hot shower! as the guys headed to the boys room and Nic and I beelined towards the ladies. Turned out to be Japanese style showers, except someone forgot to fill the bathtub. We had only just met, but there was no time for self-consciousness as we shockingly discovered that someone had also forgotten to switch on the hot water. Brr! In contrast, the boys took a long time to rendezvous at breakfast and we wondered what was going on when they finally turned up looking all relaxed after a hot shower and a long soak in a warm communal bathtub. Not fair!

Nevertheless refreshed, we were ready to tackle some sights. We toured Sükhbaatar Square to observe a large group of dignitaries take group photos in front of the glass and concrete Government Palace. Enkee had little to say, except to point out the Genghis Khan statue, and the State Opera and Ballet Theatre where the Rio Tinto supported Australian dance show 'Spirit' was showing. And to comment on the mixed feelings of Mongolians towards the increasing presence of multi-national mining corporations, who provided on one hand a veritable source of income to a bankrupt country, and on the other hand a host of environmental, employment and religious concerns. Shamanism, a common belief system in Mongolia, is opposed to digging holes.

Next stop was Gandan Monastery, a restored Tibetan-style monastery featuring another huge Buddha in a claustrophobic wooden temple. We were taught to enter the temple right foot first, circumambulate (walk around) the interior and spin the prayer wheels in a clockwise fashion, and to exit the temple backwards. "But I am a free thinker!" Oyuun announced, "it does not really matter, we are modern now." We did it anyway. They were also raising money to build another massive gold Buddha, for which only two giant feet had been constructed so far.

Keen to leave the dry and dusty city, we hopped back into the minivans. Foreign-sponsored high-rise buildings soon gave way to the circular white shapes of ger suburbia (big ones, small ones, wooden-picket-fenced ones).

Ger's - Somewhere in Mongolia Click here to find out where

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