After a very welcome cooked breakfast at the hostel in Ulaanbaatar, I set off to explore the city.
I had a few activities planned for the next few days (no I’m not telling you what these were – what’s the point of a day by day update if I tell you the forthcoming plans?) and I wanted to get my bearings and work out where things were.
The first stop was the State Department store and with a name like that, there is certainly a hint of the city’s communist history. In fact, most of the signage across Ulaanbaatar is in Russian and Mongolian.
There’s a very Russian feel to the city. It was almost surprising to see statues of Mongolian leaders, other than Chinggis (aka Genghis) Khan who is almost as inevitable here as Lenin was in Russia.
Just outside the store’s main doors is a Tourist Information Office. It’s in a ger, the traditional tent dwellings of the nomadic tribes. It was a nice presentation, except it was closed.
I walked up to the Central Mongolian Museum of Dinosaurs passing another amusingly decorated though closed Tourist Information Office.
One of my favourite films remains, to this day: One of our dinosaurs is missing – highly questionable stereotyping aside.
(I first saw it when I was about six. I love it. I can’t help it. It evokes the same laughter as the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake does. “Why on earth…?” I hear you ask.
My first exposure to the music and a performance of the Dance of the Cygnets came via Morecambe and Wise in the Mystery Men. It was a formative experience. Choose very carefully what you let your kids watch).
From the front of the Museum building, there was no clear indication that it was the dinosaur museum. It was decorated with soviet style carvings.
Thankfully, on walking around the side of the building, it became very clear what it housed.
Sadly, on entering, I discovered that it, too was closed.
I’m not used to museums being closed on a Wednesday. Was everything shut?
Thankfully not, as the National Museum of Mongolia was open. Stand by, History Geeks.
The Museum covers the history of the Mongolian peoples, from the Bronze Age through to the present day, through an excellent display of costumes and an excellent summary of Chinggis Khan.
What struck me about Chinggis Khan’s achievements were, one, the scale of the Empire, and two…
While English nobles were struggling to get King John to sign the Magna Carter, Khan was creating an empire that had ended tribal feuding and war (admittedly, mostly by killing all rivals).
He banned religious intolerance, built an international network of postal stations that aided communication and trade and created diplomatic immunity.
After building this vast empire, with an army of around 100 thousand – they wouldn’t have taken all of the seats of a football stadium – Khan found his sons to be something of a disappointment. So he left most of his lands to his daughters.
One of his great grand-daughters, Manduhai the Wise, again gathered the tribes together to recreate one nation. Allegedly, she was a key reason for the expansion of the Great Wall of China.
Sukhbaatar Square, just along the road from the Museum holds an impressive statue of Chinggis Khan and was also the site, somewhat later in time, when in 1921 of one Damdin Sukhbaatar declaring independence, from the back of his horse, finally from the Chinese.
Mongolia aligned itself with the Bolsheviks (Red Army), under Lenin to fend off both the Chinese and the Russian White Army.
The influence of both the Chinese and the Russians is clear in the city today.
*Featured Photo: Sukhbaatar Square and Chinggis Khan himself.