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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Mongolia Flag ULAAN BAATAR


July 4. UB It was already our third day in UB and we hadn't done much in the way of sightseeing but that would still have to wait another day.  Since our next destination was going to be Russia we needed to figure out how to get a Russian visa.  With SARS in China there was little chance of getting a visa from an embassy there so we were left with one of two travel agencies in UB, Legend Tours or Buryat Tours.

Zaya had recommended Legend Tours and the lady who helped us was very nice.  However, when we asked about 3 month visas she suggested that we check with Buryat Tours.  Through Legend we would have to book four rather pricey hotel nights to secure our invitation, in addition to the $95 visa processing fee.  When we talked with Buryat Tours they couldn't help us with a three month visa either but would get us a regular one month tourist visa for $185.  Both options were more expensive than we had hoped but we didn't have much choice.  We needed to keep our passports for collecting our DHL package and changing money so we had time to ponder which option to use.

For brunch we finally found the famous Millie's restaurant.  It was indeed an expat lunch institution.  Around noon the place got packed with people and almost none of them were Mongolian.  Millie was from Cameroon but her menu catered well to Americans.  She was more expensive than some of the other cafes but well worth it.

July 5. UB  Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan With most of our errands behind us we finally had a day to start sight seeing in UB.  The weather was holding up nicely and our first tourist stop was the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khaan, Mongolia's former king and religious leader.

The Bogd Khaan, or Bogd Gegeen (Khaan indicates the status of ruler), was the king of Mongolia from 1635 and there were a total of eight different "Living Buddhas" until the beginning of the Soviet period.  The first two were from Mongolia but the last six reincarnations were found in Tibet.  Mongolia  adopted Lamaist Buddhism from Tibet with the religion really taking hold in the 16th century, centuries after the great empire of Chinggis Khaan wreaked havoc and mayhem across Asia and into Eastern Europe.  

The relationship between Tibet and Mongolia is long and complex.  It was a visit from Tibet's leader of the Gelugpa Sect that instigated the Mongolian Khaan's conversion to Buddhism.  Up until this time the Mongolians practiced Shamanism and accepted the existence of many different religions within its vast empire including Islam, Nestorian Christianity, Manicheans, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.  It was the great Khaan who bestowed the titled of Dalai Lama on the leader of Tibet's Gelugpa Sect (Yellow Hat Sect) starting theocratic rule in Tibet.  And, at times, Mongolia lent military support to Tibet and even provided exile to the Dalai Lama in the early 1900s when Britain was invading.  The 4th Dalai Lama was also a Mongolian.  Of course they weren't always allies and threat from Mongolia at one point caused Tibet to seek support from China, which China still uses to this day to claim Tibet as part of its country.  So, as I said, it is a long and complex relationship.

The Winter Palace was the home of the eight Bogd Khaan and was built between 1893 and 1903.  As Tibetans the last six Bogd Khaans didn't integrate well into a society that spoke a different language but the eight Bogd Khaan hated the Manchurians, the then occupiers of Mongolia, and is thought to have been instrumental in bringing about the Mongolia's independence in 1911.  However, the eight Bogd Khaan died in 1924, just as Mongolia was becoming a People's Republic, and the government forbade the finding of another reincarnation of the Bogd Khaan in Mongolia.

Twelve years after the death of the eight Bogd Khaan the Tibetans found his reincarnation in Tibet.  In 1959, when China invaded Tibet, he was fled into exile in India where he lived a life as a peasant trader.  He was later recognized as the Bogd Gegeen and apparently now lives with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.  He has visited Monoglia only once since democratization in 1990 and was welcomed by many but his visa did not permit a permanent stay.  A recent newspaper article in UB stated that the Mongolians are looking for their own reincarnation based on an old prediction that the Bogd Gegeen would reappear to his people in 2002.  They believe his bones to be under a modern day movie theater and there is a movement to retrieve them but success seems unlikely.   So, while the Mongolian Buddhists are strong worshippers of HH the Dalai Lama, it seems there is some skepticism over the true Bogd Gegeen.

The Winter Palace of the eight Bogd Gegeen was essentially a monastery with many temples and an adjacent Russian style building that acted as the actual winter palace.  Today the whole complex is a museum and the Russian building houses a collection of items that belonged to the last Bogd Gegeen, including a snow leopard ger, an extensive collection of stuffed animals that were commissioned from Germany, elaborate clothing, furniture, paintings, the throne of the Khaan and his queen, a chariot and palanquin.   The buildings and items show an interesting contrast of Asian and European influences, a contrast that persists in Mongolia until this day.  

The monastery part of the museum, a collection of Chinese style temples, still had many Buddhist thangkas and icons housed in it as though it were still a monastery but it remains a museum for the time being.  We spent a long time exploring all of the objects but as the afternoon went on we found ourselves increasingly bombarded with tour groups.  It was getting closer to Naadam and the tourist free travel that we had been enjoying for months was about to come to an end.

Our roommate, Jeremy, had been busy organizing himself for the upcoming Naadam events and we were fortunate to benefit from his research.  He had obtained a copy of the schedule of events, which actually started two days before the opening ceremony.

ULAAN BAATAR July 2-3 July 4-5 July 6 July 7-8

NAADAM July 9-10 July 11 July 12 July 13

COUNTRYSIDE July 14 July 15 July 16 July 17 July 18 July 19 July 20-21


BALDAN BARAIVAN July 25-30 Intro About Baldan Baraivan Mani Buteel Buddhist Festival The Restoration Work Another Naadam & About CRTP

ULAAN BAATAR July 31-Aug 1