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If we are very honest to ourselves, Mongolia came into our plans because of the combination of two priorities: the Trans-siberian railway experience and China. After 15 days in this massive country (draw a circle connecting Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Kiev and Milan and the surface between these cities is still smaller than Mongolia) we got a lot more than we expected. Squeezed in between the two superpowers Russia and China, Mongolia has it’s own identity and rich history.

In our previous post (Gobi desert trip) we showed the beauty and diversity that the Gobi desert has to offer; here we’ll go a bit deeper into a general impression of Mongolia and it’s noisy, chaotic and small capital Ulaan Bataar (UB). In summary we enjoyed our 4 days in UB, but we also understand why the general recommendation is to mainly use it as a springboard for a trip in the countryside.

During our visit to the Ghandan Khiid monastery, we walked into one of the smaller temples where young monks were preparing themselves for a Sunday morning buddhist ceremony. IMG_0358We took of our shoes and sat in the back waiting for it to start. People that came in would all follow a similar routine: take off shoes, greet friends/acquaintances and perform a small ritual to ‘say hi’ to Buddha. Especially the small senior ladies took this very seriously and would do up to 5 burpee type of praying-exercises before finding a spot to sit. Quite impressive considering they looked to be over 80 years old. Like in many other countries it seems that the elderly take the rituals more seriously than the younger community members as these would often only kneel down briefly before joining their friends. We saw part of the ceremony which involved a lot of humming and a dialogue between a main person sat in a sort of preacher-seat and other monks. Apart from this ceremony a 26.5m tall buddha statue and a square full of pigeons were the two main attractions in the monastery. No pics of our own of the buddha as there was a photography fee, but here’s someone else’s pic. The pigeon-feeding seems a popular thing to do as you could buy bags with seeds across the temple grounds to feed the thousands of birds.  

While having an expensive beer at the 36th floor bar in the centrally located Blue Sky hotel, we enjoyed the view of UB and it’s mountains at sunset. Great spot to get an idea of the size and lay-out of the city. Together with Gunnar (who would later join us on the Gobi tour), the next morning we flagged down a random car on the street. Apparently everyone is a taxi in UB officially or unofficially. IMG_0389This might be the reason why we were told Mongolians don’t understand the concept of hitch-hiking. We were heading for the black market where you can buy anything ranging from cigarettes to Puma t-shirts to suitcases to stoves for your ger. After purchasing socks, hats and scarves made of either yak- or camel wool, our attention was drawn to a group of older looking men sitting around some ‘goods’. They were showing each other their ‘snuff’ and the flasks/bags that come with it. IMG_0387One friendly older gentleman saw our interest and offered our first sniff of snuff. This tobacco is to be put anywhere at the lower part of your thumb after which you snort it down like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. After acknowledging the tingly sensation in our nose, the old man was mainly interested in two things: pulling Mark and Gunnar’s facial hair (not much hair on Mongolian faces) and pinching Mark’s butt (couldn’t really explain this one). Gunnar bought a flask which came in handy with locals during the Gobi trip in the week after.

There is a wide variety of museums in UB worth visiting. We went to the National Museum of Mongolian History and the International Intellectual one. The Chojin Lama Temple Museum (Museum of religion) seemed very interesting as well, but was closed on the day we wanted to go. Visiting the National History museum gives an insight into how Mongolia came to be what it is now. Chinggis Kahn is the big man in Mongolian history. In the 12th a and 13th he and later his sons conquered massive areas ranging from China all the way to Vienna. IMG_0875No other dictator, field-marshall or other self-proclaimed leader has been able to even get close. He did this based on three principles: his war tactics, his political know-how and his great care for his own people. He took less care of the people in the countries he conquered as he was know for slaughtering everyone on his way. The opera Chinggis Khan we went to see in the National theatre tells the story of this legendary man. Although we didn’t understand anything, the theatre, costumes and singing made it an enjoyable evening. 

On a couchsurfing gathering on Saturday evening we were told that many artists (music and art) have started to pop up in UB lately. We believe we found a very promising one in on of the stands on the main square (were the theatre is located). Below you’ll find her sitting next to her(?) work. We suggest you look very carefully at the painting :-).

IMG_0862

IMG_0372Although there are a few things to do, Ulaan Bataar didn’t make an amazing impression on us. Four days of walking or bussing the same road (Peace Avenue), avoiding cars on zebra-crossings (very strange traffic rules, mainly enforced by loud honking), eating average food (lots of lamb, noodles and dumplings), viewing most of the sites and having beers from bottles (majority of pubs have draught on their menu, but none on offer), were just enough for us. 

For people looking to stay in UB on a budget, we would recommend the place where we stayed: UB guesthouse run by Bobby. You’ll find some more details and our review here. We also had our Gobi tour organised here.

On our last day we spent a considerable time organising our train-tickets to Beijing as they only become available around 4pm the day before departure. Mongolia left a great impression, especially the Gobi, now it’s time for even a bigger country… China!

For pictures of Ulaan Bataar have a look here.

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Na uvod uprimne priznavame, ze Mongolsko sa ocitlo v nasich planoch hlavne vdaka kombinacii dvoch inych priorit: Trans-sibirskej magistraly a Ciny. Po 15 dnoch stravenych v castiach tejto ohromnej krajiny (rozloha vacsia nez plocha medzi Amsterdamom, Kodanou, Kyjevom a Milanom) mozeme povedat, ze realita prevysila nase ocakavania.

V blogu o nasom vylete do Gobi popisujeme krasu a rozmanitost, ktoru ponuka a v tomto clanku budeme hovorit trochu viac o Mongolsku ako krajine a o jeho hlucnom, mierne chaotickom a malom hlavnom meste Ulaan Baatare (UB). Celkovo sa nam 4 dni, ktore sme v UB stravili pacili, ale zaroven sme pochopili, preco prirucky doporucuju  pobyt v tomto meste len ako kratkodobu zastavku pred cestou do mongolskej prirody.

Navstivili sme budhisticky klastorny komplex uprostred mesta – Ghandan Khiid – kde sa mladi mnisi pripravovali na ranajsie ceremonie. Vyzuli sme si topanky, posadili sa dozadu saly a cakali kym zacne program. Ludia prichadzajuci na ceremoniu sa riadili rovnakym ritualom: vyzut topanky, pozdravit sa s priatelmi ci rodinou a pozdravit buddhu jednoduchym ritualom opakovania uklonov. Starsie panie isli o level dalej a miesto uklonu urobili zo pat cvikov podobnych klikom predtym nez sa usadili, co sme si velmi uzivali, kedze tetusky mali minimalne 80 rokov ale nechybala im flexibilita strnastrocnej gymnastky. Podobne, ako v inych krajinach ci kulturach, zdalo sa, ze postarsi brali ritualy i ceremoniu vaznejsie nez mladez, ktorej stacili naznaky uklonu. Ceremonia pozostavala z mnohych hm-kacich zvukov a rozhovoru medzi knazom a mnichmi usadenymi pred nim. Okrem ceremonie sme navstivili dalsich niekolko chramov. V jednom z nich sa majestatne tycil 26 a pol metrovy buddha postaveny z darov ludi, po tom, co komunizmus znicil chram predchazdajuci. Dalsou atrakciou pre nas boli namesticka posiate holubmi, ktore dostavali nazrat z ruk navstevnikov klastoru. Krmenie holubov isto prinasa stastie alebo su povazovane za posvatne zvierata, myslime si, kedze na mieste bolo niekolko predajcov so sackami plnymi zrna.

Vecer sme si dali nelacne pivo v hotelovom bare s vyhladom na mesto, ktory ale bol k nezaplateniu. Pri zapade slnka sme si uzivali pohlad na zasnezene hory obklopujuce rozsvietujuce sa namestie. Spolu s Gunnarom (nemeckym cestovatelom, ktory sa k nam pridal i na vylet do Gobi) sme sa vydali na druhy den na znamy cierny trh. Isli sme ‘taxikom’, co je v UB v preklade hocikto, kto vam na ceste zastavi, dohodnete sa na cene a odvezie vas kam chcete. Toto je isto jeden z dovodov, preco, ako sme sa dozvedeli, v Mongolsku stopovanie nema ziadny vyznam. Nikto vas nevezme bez toho aby ocakaval zaplatene za sluzbu sofera. Na ciernom trhu – akejsi burze noveho i pouziteho tovaru – je dostat cokolvek: cigarety, Puma tricka, pouzite topanky, batozinu ci piecku do geru. Potom, co sme nakupili poozky, ciapky a saly z jacej ci tavej vlny (vybava na vylet), zaujala nasu pozornost skupinka postarsich panov sediacich v kruzku nad zvlastnym tovarom. Ukazovali jeden druhemu (snad i vymienali a predavali) male flasky na snupaci tabak. Jeden priatelsky dedusko videl nas zaujem a podelil sa s nami o ‘snup’. Sypky vonavy tabakovy puder sa nasype v malom mnozstve na zapastie ci palec a snupe tak ako to robi Uma Thurman v Pulp Fiction. Potom ako si chlapi vymenili uznanlive pohlady po steklivom pocite v nose, stary pan dostal chut potiahnut si za Markovu a Gunnarovu bradu, aby sa snad presvedcil, ze chlpy su ozajstne a z nejasneho dovodu stipat Marka po zadku. Gunnar si kupil flasticku a tabak, co sa ukaze velmi prakticke pri nasich navstevach oyvatelov gerov pocas naseho vyletu.

V UB najdete niekolko muzei, ktore stoja za navstevu. My sme navstivili Muzeum Narodnej Historie a Medzinarodne IQ Muzeum. Chojin Lama Temple Muzeum (a Muzem Nabozenstva) nas lakalo, ale, bohuzial, v den, ked sme sa ho rozhodli navstivit, bolo zatvorene. Muzeum Narodnej Historie ponuka mnozstvo informacii (niektore i v anglictine) o tom, ako sa Mongolsko stalo velmocou a tiez o kocovnom ci modernom zivote jeho obyvatelov. Dzingischan je urcite hlavnou postavou mongolskych dejin. Bol to on a jeho synovia, ktori dobyvali krajiny od Ciny az po Vieden v 12. a 13. storoci. Ziadny iny vodca v historii neovladal tak velke uzemie. Podarilo sa mu to vdaka: vyvinutym vojenskym technikam, diplomatickemu know-how a tiez vdaka jeho laske ku svojim vlastnym ludom. Uz trochu menej mu zalezalo na ludoch v krajinach, ktore dobyl, kedze bol znamy tym, ze nesetril nikoho, kto mu vosiel do cesty. Opera Dzingischan, na ktoru sme isli do Narodneho Divadla vyprava pribeh tohoto slavneho muza a toho, ako sa dostal k moci. I ked sme toho vela nerozumeli, divadlo samotne, kostymy a spevacke vykony prispeli k peknemu zazitku.

Na stretnuti ‘couchsurfingu’ v sobotu vecer sme sa od miestnych dozvedeli, ze vela umelcov (hudobnych i inych) zacina presadzovat moderne umenie v Ulaan Baatare. Zda sa nam, ze i my sme objavili niekolko nadejnych v stankoch na hlavnom namesti. V anglickej verzii clanku najdete fotku umelkyne i jej prace, ktora nam padla do oka. Doporucujeme pozorne prestudovat dielo :-).

I ked je v UB co robit a vidiet, nezanechalo mesto v nas nijaky zvlastny dojem. Styri dni kracania a vozenia sa v autobuse po tej istej hlavnej ulici (Peace Avenue), vyhybanie sa autam na prechodoch (vdaka zvlastnym dopravnym (ne)pravidlam, pri ktorych ide o trubenie a o zivot), jedenie nevyrazneho jedla (jahnacie, rezance a knedlicky), navsteva pamatihodnosti a flaskove pivo (vacsina restauraci ma capovane v menu, ale len tam), boli pre nas az-az.

Pre tych, ktori sa chystaju do Mongolska a planuju prenocovat v UB predtym, ako sa vydaju do narodnych parkov, doporucujeme hostel, v ktorom sme my stravili nas cas: UB Guesthouse ktory menezuje Bobby. Detaily mozete najst v nasom Tripadvisor hodnoteni tu. Nas vylet do Gobi sme organizovali tiez cez tento hostel.

Nas posledny den v UB sme stravili povacsine zlozitym vybavovanim listkov na vlak do Pekingu, kedze je ich mozne zakupit jen den predtym po strvtej hodine poobede (a to po oredcasnej rezervacii). Mongolsko v nas zachovalo skvele dojmy a zazitky, predovsetkym Gobi, no uz je cas na krajinu este vacsiu a este plnsiu prekvapeni – Cinu!

Fotky z Ulaan Bataaru najdete tu

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2 thoughts on “UB: The Mongol capital

  1. Pingback: Gay in Taipei | Take it and go

  2. Pingback: 11 months in a single post | Take it and go

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