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Published: August 6th 2007
Turning prayer wheels
Gandantesgchenling monastery, Ulanbaatar
Highlights of Ulanbaatar:
Surviving crossing the road When the green man shows that's the signal for the pedestrian vs car battle to commence. Mongolians drivers take no prisoners - you in the road just gives them something to aim for. My normal way of crossing roads is new places is to watch what the locals do and then follow suit. In Mongolia, they mostly scream and run, with or without their eyes closed. Change the car for a horse and add a scary helmet with a horsehair tail and witness the Mongol Horde, on a road near you.
The Natural History museum - love the dinosaur exhibition, especially amazing fossils of 2 small dinosaurs frozen mid-fight, one on its back, clawing upwards, the other standing over it, jaws wide. Apparently they were covered by a sudden, massive sand storm which held them in suspended animation until their discovery at the start of the 20th century. Totally amazing. Also like the room on Mongolian achievements - first Mongolian in space, first Mongolian on Everest, first Mongolian to the poles and so on. As for the stuffed animal collection, as I am now an expert in this area having seen every
Mongolian fast food
That'll be mutton then. And plenty of butter and salt in the tea. Yum.
taxidermied creature from the Baltic to the Mongolian steppe I can say with confidence that this is one of the best sets out there. The all-to-realistic vulture even manages to scare the bejaysus out of Nico. Slightly sceptical about penguins having made it to Mongolia though, stuffed or not...
The National History museum - one of the best ever, with fascinating objects and excellent, informative captions. The Mongolian Empire room is, predictably, the biggest draw. Especially love the 13th century threatening letter from Guyuk Khan to Pope Innocent IV in response to the Pope's suggestion that he convert and which was unearthed in the Vatican archives in the 1920's. Equally, extracts from the writings of various foreigners who travelled to Kharakorum, ancient Mongolian capital, are thrilling - describing a cosmopolitan city with a mix of mosques, churches and temples and the chatter of many languages heard over the sound of galloping horses. Standing in front of the statue of the fiercesome but surprisingly corpulent Genghis himself, swarms of children, teenagers, adults swirl around us whispering 'Chingis Khan, Chingis Khan'.
The Grand Khaan Irish pub Sad, but true. Nothing like a cold bottle of Chingis Khan and a plate
of fried dumplings to transport you straight to the emerald isle. We had many good times here - from the night of Kim's birthday where we watched a string quartet performing Lionel Ritchie’s greatest hits and a few Stevie W numbers thrown in (our Niall would have loved it) to the afternoon spent watching as the fabulous dressed and beautiful Mongolian girls and slightly less fabulously dressed and beautiful Mongolian guys, having just graduated, ordered bottle after bottle of vodka and dowsed each other in champagne and a diamond-studded belly-dancing cabaret show belted out hit after hit. Fantastic atmosphere and absolute carnage in the ladies loos. Have to mention too the night when Bernd and Nico tricked Daphne and I into watching a football final match (FA cup?), Chelsea vs Manchester United (or Arsenal), where pretty much the entire barful of Mongolians were decked out in football kit and going absolutely out of their minds with excitement. Try to get my head round the old enigma of why they care but the craic is great anyway and it’s tragic to see the supporters of the losing team (not Chelsea) slumping out dejectedly at the end of the match.
Gandantesgchenling monastery, Ulanbaatar
and trad dance show How do they do that?! Sounds brilliant if very weird and I now have a favourite Mongolian song which consists mainly of the word 'Chingis'.
The Shoe Shine Man This guy is an absolute professional, responsible for the shininess of each and every shoe in Ulanbaatar. The shock and outrage in his voice as he spied - on his very own patch! - Nico's disgracefully dirty, dusty, mud-covered boots of shame would’ve taken your breath away. Nico legged it in a vain attempt to hide his dishonour but on the way back there was no escape so he is now the proud owner of the shiniest boots in all of Asia and, more importantly, the shoe shine man's reputation has been 100% restored. A happy ending for all concerned.
Silk Road cafe Drinking milkshakes on massive, comfy sofas with a perfect view onto the mystical temple opposite. Bliss.
Gandan Monastery Fine collection of temple buildings and 4 story high golden buddha. V cool.
Not so good:
Sad old grandas sitting on street corners selling a go on ancient weighing scales.
Ger-filled 'suburbs' around Ulan Baatar - pretty but am sure
they don’t have running water, toilets? Perfect in the countryside where they have all the space in the world, are moving and have access to rivers etc. Not so good crammed together in city slums.
Street children Forlorn, dirty faced little boys singing their hearts out on Peace Avenue.
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