“Steppe” Into Mongolia
Oh, I’m hilarious… The Mongolia steppe (pronounced ‘step’) is the grassland plains that dominate the scenery. Slightly surreal, my train departed Beijing and passed by pieces of the Great Wall and Gobi desert before completing the 32 odd hour ride to Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar (UB for short), which means “Red Hero.” Yes, the Soviet influence is unmistakable; Cyrillic script, statues of Lenin, colorful and blocky buildings, and all the vodka.
Upon arrival, I began the hoof to Sukhbaatar Squre where I met Mendee, owner of Steppe Riders, taking in the scenery along the way. Ulaanbataar is dusty and under construction. Dirt piles and dilapidated sidewalks make walking a day activity. Near the square is a huge parasail shaped building that I am told is creeeeeping along in construction.
The square itself is impressive with a huge statue (above) of Genghis Khan, known here as Chinngis Khaan. I believe it was Marco Polo who popularized the spelling as we know today in the west. Genghis is revered here to a high degree, unlike the villainy he is associated with in the West. And its understandable because this ruler of the largest ever kingdom introduced currency, written language, stabilized the Silk Road, and generally used the brightest minds of his conquered lands in their strengths. I’ll point to Jack Weatherford’s fascinating Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World for more info (the author is actually in UB right now and gave a talk that I missed out on since I didn’t know until several days after!).
Mendee is the owner, along with his family and brothers, of the aforementioned Steppe Riders, a horse trekking company I have the fortune of helping as an assistant for a few weeks. After about a 30 minute drive into the steppe, I found myself settling in to a ger, the traditional nomadic home perhaps better known by the Russian yurt.
The gers are fantastic. In fact, I’m going to have to get one when I have a suitable place for it. They go up in about an hour and come down in half that time. These five wall versions hold four beds and a wood heater. They also have a cooking ger and communal eating one.
Other than that, I’n in UB for a few days to arrange another Chinese visa. Should be possible now, provided all the hassle of correct paperwork is there. During my stay at a guesthouse here a thief as struck via an unlocked door and I lost two small bags. Nothing really of value, so I can’t complain considering a German girl lost her passport, camera, and some money.
My toiletries bag was snatched, which just ticks me off since it is comprised of various items from the last two year’s travels; rehydration salts from Nepal, sunscreen from Vietnam, nail clippers from India, plus my first air kit and other items. The other bag had some books and sadly my moleskin journal. 🙁