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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Mongolia Flag ULAAN BAATAR


July 7. UB Now that we had actually seen something of Ulaan Baatar it was back to completing our errands.  We didn't get too early of a start at it though.  We started our morning with coffee and the cheap UB Bakery and moved down the road to Millie's for lunch.  Millie's was becoming a habit and as we waited for our food we saw Jeremy come in so we had lunch together.  UB did have a peculiar number of western restaurants but not enough that you didn't see the same people all of the time.

After a long lunch we went to wait outside the Russian Embassy for their one hour of open time between 2-3pm.  We weren't planning to get our Russian visas directly but heard that the Russian Embassies could issues Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan visas if those countries didn't have embassies present.  The embassy had all of the charm that you would expect from a Russian Embassy.  We queued up with everyone for our window of opportunity to ask questions to someone who spoke English.  We could see people sweating over the status of their visas.  One fellow had gone back several times to just get a transit visa so he could change planes in Moscow!  Our visit was quick once we got to the window.  No, they don't any longer provide visas for other former Soviet Republics.

UB also had a Kazakhstan Embassy and another source told that they would issue visas for Kyrgyzstan so we went in search of the Kazakhstan Embassy.  It was housed in a old Soviet apartment block along with the embassies of Canada, Poland, and others.  We were asked to sit down while someone was retrieved to help us.  Yes, they could provide Kyryzstan visas but it took about two weeks.   With all of the time it took to get these visas we would either have to pay a fortune in expedites or take up residence in Mongolia.  We would try to find another place to secure our Kyrgystan visa further down the road.

Our final order of business for the day was to register our passports with the Mongolian government.  US citizens get a 90 day visa automatically but if you plan to stay more than 30 you still have to register within your first 10 days. We weren't quite sure how long we would be there but over 30 days seemed possible so we tried to follow the LP directions on how to secure the stamp.  Their directions took us to the northern part of UB to a small government building amongst a chaotic mess of small industrial businesses.  There wasn't an English sign on the door as the book told us there would be and after wandering up and down the halls battling crowds of Mongolians who were trying to secure passports we were finally directed back down to the lobby window.  The man at the window shook his head after confirming we wanted our registration stamp by making an obvious stamping gesture with his hand.  We were pretty frustrated at this point.  Fortunately, the man wrote some directions on a small piece of paper.  He pointed to the paper and said "taxi".  We flagged down a taxi and handed him the note.  He took us back across UB to the southern part of the town and dropped at a building that did have a sign in English.  It was nearly 5pm but there were no crowds in this office.  We paid our $2 for the application form and filled them out.  Rob conveniently brought his stash of passport photos.  I didn't so my registration would have to wait for the next day. Sigh.

After all of that running around and excessive exposure to bureaucratic machines it was a welcomed relief to meet up with Jeremy for dinner and beer at the German Beer Garden.  Tourists were starting to build up but the restaurants still weren't very crowded.   The Beer Garden had a great location with a patio that made for good people watching.  There appeared to be a few local women saddling up to foreign men for some nighttime business.  It was actually hard to tell because some of the Mongolian women had picked up some bad fashion habits.  The slapper look was really in and butt length skirts with spiked heels didn't always indicate a professional women.  Jeremy had even witnessed a street boy come up to a scantily clad young woman on the street and as she chatted with her friends he lifted her skirt to reveal no underwear.  That is a far cry from the traditional Mongolian wear!  The satin covered coats worn by only a small population of older women in UB covered them to their shins and they always appeared to have pants underneath, it not any underwear...

July 8. UB Choijin Lama Monastery and Museum of Religion  The Choijin Lama Museum had been recommended to us by Zaya.  We had seen the rooftops of the complex behind our German Beer Hall so had no trouble locating it and it turned out to be a really good museum.  Somehow left off of the canned tour group itinerary we hardly encountered another tourist during our entire visit.  The museum staff led us around the complex and opened up the smaller temples as we reached them.  It wasn't as large as the Winter Palace or Gandan but there seemed to be more artwork packed into the temples.  It provided a rare opportunity to really explore the altar area of a Buddhist temple.  All of the statues remained in their original locations and aside from some additional items that had put on display the museum still looked very much like a active monastery.

The Chiojin Lama was the state Oracle and the younger brother of the eighth Bodg Khan.  The monastery was built between 1904 and 1908 but was closed in 1938, during the Communist times, and preserved as a museum.  It seems unlikely that it will ever return to being an active monastery.  The buildings and grounds are in need of repair but the complex still maintained a spiritual atmosphere.

Having seen quite a few monasteries of the Tibetan Buddhist faith I was struck by the powerful content of the Choijin Lama museum.  The walls displayed rather graphic representations of the Buddhist hell realm, which has both burning and freezing elements, and included images of human skins, organs and pain struck faces.  While Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation there are six realms of existence and those who accumulate bad karma can suffer a rebirth in the hell realm.  Until a being obtains nirvana or enlightenment they will continue to be reborn.  Someone who ends up in the hell realm has little opportunity to improve their karmic fortune and, theoretically, could spend eons in that realm before earning a better rebirth where they can more effectively work towards true enlightenment.  The walls of the Choijin Lama Monastery served a similar purpose to the hell images seen in some Christian churches.  They are meant to deter people from leading immoral lives by impressing upon them the dire consequences. 

The other aspect of the museum that I found impressive was the collection of Tantric deities.  Tantric Buddhism is an arm of Tibetan Buddhism and considered esoteric by many people in the West.  However, the explicit images of deities in sexual union are often not fully understood.  I am not any expert on the subject but my understanding is that the two deities represented in union are meant to show the two aspects of one deity, like a yin and yang.  The images are also very wrathful looking with skulls around their heads and fierce faces.  The deities are represented this way in their protector forms, to ward off the bad things that tempt people.  They are ancient images that originated in India, where Buddhism was started, and demonstrate fantastic artistic imagination in interpreting some abstract concepts into a personified form.  How should a being look when they are meant to fight off sin and temptation?

At the end of our museum tour we had the added bonus of a small exhibit of Tsam masks.  The Tsam festival is a religious festival where monks dress up in elaborate costumes of different protector deities.  In these costumes they perform dances to ward off evil and bring good luck to the local people.  This seems to be a particularly important festival in Mongolia and perhaps also has some roots in their Shamanist history.   

After the Choijin Lama Museum we detoured to the south of town to get my passport registered.  As we made our way across a parking lot we spotted none other than our little weasely con artist from Gandan.   Much to our amazement he was making straight for us as he started to pull some stamps out of his pocket.   He was actually going to try to hit us up for more money!  Rob harassed him a bit until he suddenly seemed to recognize us or at least realize that he must have tried to pull one over on us before.  He became irascible and started yelling, ending his fit by throwing a dollar bill at us.  The reaction totally puzzled us so we left his dollar bill on the ground and just walked away.

In the afternoon we continued on to the Museum of Natural History.  This museum's claim to fame is its awesome collection of dinosaur bones.  It also housed an extensive collection of wildlife from Mongolia's vast geography - gazelles, ibex, snow leopards, camels, among many others.  Of course, these were displays of stuffed animals but the collection was an old one.  It made use of its collection to educate people on endangered species.  Some rare animals are still poached in Mongolia but they seem to be making an effort to control the problem.  With a significant part of Mongolia's population still living off of the land they will have an ongoing challenge.

The dinosaur bones were indeed the highlight of our museum visit.  Mongolia has been a veritable goldmine of dinosaur bone discoveries and the Natural History Museum housed some really impressive specimens.  The largest was a complete standing skeleton of a Tarbosauraus, the apparent relative to the American Tyrannosaurus.  It must have been 25 feet tall and was carefully arranged in the middle of a large hall that was tightly monitored and not always open.  In the paleontology section of the museum they charged a ridiculous $5/photo so you'll have to take my word for it.  There were a number of other fairly intact specimens but most incredible discovery was that of two smaller dinosaurs frozen, mid-fight, in the sand.  One was a Velociraptor and the other a Protoceratops.  They were intertwined with one animal's arm caught in the jaws of the other.  Apparently Mongolia's sandy geography made this, and other, amazing discovery possible.  When the sand became saturated with water the sand dunes would collapse and turn almost liquid, flowing across the landscape and "drowning" everything in its path.    

Feeling well educated for the day we took the afternoon off and sat on Chez Bernard's sunny porch.  When we sat down we, AGAIN, saw our industrious beggar, hitting up a French couple at the next table.  Rob leaned over and discouraged them from making a purchase, for which they later thanked us.  They had seen him at the airport when they arrived and were already a bit suspicious.   Fortunately for us they were sitting with the driver they had just used for a 12 day tour in the Mongolian countryside.   They were highly recommending him and had taken a route similar to what we wanted to do after the Naadam.  The driver, Amara, told us to talk with Daka, at Chez Bernard's, if we wanted to coordinate a trip.   We found her right away and set the ball in motion to arrange for Amara to drive us as well. His English was good enough and the glowing recommendation from the other couple made us feel comfortable.  

As we relaxed at Chez Bernards, feeling good that we had gotten our countryside trip arrangements under way, we met a three friendly women from Singapore.  They had come to Mongolia as part of the Habitat for Humanity program and would be helping to build homes in Ulaan Baatar.  One of the three women was actually Japanese but after a good ten years in Singapore there was little about her that seemed very Japanese.  They were some of the friendliest people we had met during our trip.    

For dinner we met up with Jeremy and went to a nearby Italian restaurant.  It has seating outside and made for a nice place to while away several hours. 

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