June 02, 2014

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

My primary mission today was to buy round-trip plane tickets to Murun for my next adventure. I checked with each of the three domestic airline companies based in Mongolia to accomplish this task. My first stop was Hunnu Airlines; they had seats available for 3 and 8 June, which worked out perfectly for me, but their booking system was down and would not be back up until noon. I therefore took the opportunity to shop around. My next stop was ezNis Airlines; I went to their office, only to discover it was closed; upon further investigation – by interrogating the building’s security guard -, I discovered they were closed indefinitely – they were bankrupt. My next stop was Aero Mongolia, but their flight for the 3rd of June was cancelled; also, based on an internet inquiry, their price would’ve been over 100,000 ₮ more than Hunnu’s price.

After hanging around the guesthouse for a few hours, I headed back to Hunnu’s ticket office and bought my round-trip ticket for 248,300 ₮ to Murun. My plan for this next leg of my Mongolian adventure was to fly to Murun and then catch a bus or ride to Khatgal (the ‘K’ is silent), near Lake Khuvsgul (this ‘K’ is also silent), the largest freshwater lake in Mongolia, where reindeer herders live (the northern nomads who live in teepee-style dwellings that look just like the ones American Indians use, as opposed to gers) and where Shamanism is the dominant religion, as opposed to Buddhism. The lake lies far north in Mongolia, very near the Russian border by Siberia, which means I could escape the daytime heat of Central Mongolia and enjoy cooler temperatures for several days before beginning my sweltering China-to-Bangladesh (five-month) portion of my trip.

The Bogd Khaan's Winter Palace.
The Bogd Khaan’s Winter Palace.

With my itinerary in place, I then walked south to visit the Bogd Khaan’s Winter Palace. It is a beautiful palace with many artifacts from the 8th Bogd Jivzundamba, as well as previous Bogd Khaans (note: Bogd Khaan means ‘Holy King’). In the Palace Museum, there were many silk tapestries, paintings, and sculptures depicting Buddha and a number of ‘deities’ (e.g. Vajravarahi, Pehar, Manxushri, Makhakala, Rahu, Yamantaka). I also learned that artists who create Thangka paintings must follow very strict rules, such as never putting their name on the art work; this makes it hard to identify who created what and historians must go off of their individual styles, which may still shine through the rigid rules. One interesting item on display was the 8th Bogd Jivzundamba’s ger, which was given to him on his 25th birthday and was made out of 150 leopard skins.

Beatles monument in Ulaanbaatar; the State Department store is in the background.
Beatles monument in Ulaanbaatar; the State Department store is in the background.
Mongolian Merlot.
Mongolian Merlot.

After visiting the Winter Palace, I sought out the Tumen Ekh Ensemble to watch a traditional folk music performance. I saw the building clearly from the highway, but could not find the entrance to the park where the theater is located before the 16:00 start time. So I instead walked to the State Department Store (another relic, courtesy of the USSR) to do some shopping. In there I bought some Mongolian Merlot to try out. I brought the bottle back to the guesthouse and poured myself a glass. It was a very light fruity wine with a clear taste of alcohol; it reminded me more of a cranberry vodka mix than a wine, which makes me a little suspicious . . . hmmm; although I did find it entirely drinkable, unlike the North Korean wine I had had earlier. After finishing my glass I offered it to a Portuguese couple and a Frenchwoman to try (there are a lot of French tourists in Mongolia – even my companion on the four-day tour I took complained of this – after all, who wants to visit a foreign country just to see many of their own countrymen).

Predator statue found in the entrance to a building.
Predator statue found in the entrance to the Arizona Center.

Later, the Portuguese couple, Frenchwoman, and I went out for some beers. We then discussed all the topics that complete strangers should always cover upon their first meeting – politics, economics, religion, and abortion. We did all agree that individuals should have freedom to do as they please as long as it didn’t physically harm others. Aside from that, I found that my new acquaintances fit the stereotypical European mindset (individual freedom – yay, economic freedom – nay; after all rich people shouldn’t have the same freedoms as us and should instead be forced to pay for everyone else, right?). Differences aside, we all enjoyed each others company – at least we enjoyed our brewed company.

We then went back to the guesthouse to settle our payments and plans with the owner. Then the Portuguese couple and I went to a Mongolian fast food restaurant where we all had süütei tea, and I had khuushuur (a meat pastry filled with mutton), which was delicious even if wholly unhealthy. After dinner, we went back to the guesthouse, drank some more beers, and talked about our travel plans while an American on business enjoyed drank the bottle of Mongolian Merlot.

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An open journal or an exercise in narcissism.