When I looked out the window of the train on our first day in Mongolia, we were in the Gobi desert, the Mongolian steppes. The landscape was flat, the low scrubby grass fall-brown, the light diffuse, and all of it completely spectacular. Herds of animals appeared, horses, cattle, sheep, Angora goats, Bactrian camels, gazelles or yaks. Here and there, a few Gers (yurts), a testament to the traditional nomadic lifestyle. These were the sights I was particularly looking forward to seeing and I was not disappointed. It was beautiful.
In the countryside, about an hour from the city, we stopped at the imposing statue of Chinggis Khaan on horseback. It’s 40 metres high and sits atop a 10-metres high building. It dominates the landscape. It’s made of 250 tons of stainless steel. Inaugurated in 2008, it’s the world’s largest equestrian statue. We had fun climbing up to the top of the horse’s head and taking in the views.
Ulaan Baatar, the capital, is a dynamic city. At its centre is the vast Chinggis Khaan Square. It’s bordered on one end by Parliament House in front of which sits a 5 metre high statue of Chinggis Khaan, founder of the Mongolian empire, seated on a throne. The statue was dedicated on the 800th anniversary of his coronation in 2006. He is flanked by two fierce-looking horsemen, Ogedei and Kublai.
The city has many modern glass and steel buildings illuminated at night with dancing multi-coloured lights. It’s a booming city; there are construction projects everywhere. The streets bustle with traffic. Residents are chic, women in stylish wool coats and high boots, men in leather jackets. Mongolia is a young democracy and you can sense the energy coursing through it.
I felt that tradition is as important to Mongolians as their cherished democracy. I saw many people wearing Mongolian deels (calf-length belted tunics made of jewel-toned brocade with high collars, worn by both men and women) and wonderfully embellished leather boots. Since Mongolia became a democracy in 1990, its people have been able to worship freely and now 85% of the population is Buddhist. A spacious, new Buddhist temple will be opening soon on the grounds of the largest monastery in town. That complex includes a Buddhist university and has more than 600 monks in residence, some as young as six.
There is so much to discover here. I would readily come back for more.