We took an overnight train to Ulan Ude , the capital of the Buryat republic, in order to catch the connecting bus to Ulaanbaatar. With only an hour to spare, it was just enough time to visit the world’s largest Lenin head, even if it was 6.30am and still pitch black. Whoever crafted this Lenin head has decided to give him more Asian features, it was more like coming face to face with the Wizard of Oz. All Lenined out and not needing a brain, a heart or any courage, we strutted down the yellow brick road and onto the bus to Ulaanbaatar.
The bus was more like an ice box on wheels, luckily I was wedged in next to a twenty stone Russian woman for warmth. Stopping at a service station I decided to have my first taste of Mongolian cuisine, the same old problem occurred of not being able to understand the menu. The cheapest thing was 1000 Tugrik ( there are 2202 Tugrik to one pound) so I just went for that. Turned out to be a bowl of lettuce covered in that old foe ‘dill’, not a good start.
Ulaanbaatar (literally red hero) is the world’s coldest capital, this was apparent as soon as we stepped off the bus. UB is also the second most polluted city I have visited (Middlesbrough is obviously the first). The whole city has a putrid burning smell that that is caused by traffic and construction, but mainly garbage being scorched outside the city in the ger camps.
Sukhe Bator square in the centre of the city, is a site of patriotic celebrations and a main meeting point. A giant statue of Ghengis Khan over looks the square where George Bush made a speech on Mongolian freedom in 2005, no one understood a word of it.
A walk through the suburbs took us to Gandan Khiid, a monastery complex home to the spiritual head of Mongolia, the Khamba Lama. I was was shocked to learn that in the 1930’s, almost all of Mongolia’s 700 monasteries were destroyed and over 14000 monks executed by Stalin’s communists for refusing to give up their vows.
We paid a visit to the black market, which sells absolutely everything, including kitchen sinks for dirt cheap prices. I tried to buy a pair of pink Calvin Klein kegs, which the lady wanted 3500T for. I went in with an offer of 1000T, the kegs were abruptly snatched out of my hands and returned to the stall. I take it they don’t do bargaining here…
The Zaisan memorial perched on the top of a hill on the southern edge of town, has good panoramic views of the city, albeit clouded by the smog. Looking forward to getting out into the country to see some nomadic life….