After Irkutsk (see previous post) and the Baikal Lake (see previous post), one choice is to continue with the Transsiberian Railway to Vladivostok … or to deviate southwards towards Mongolia and Beijing. The train then changes name to the Transmongolian. After a five hours stop for customs on the Russian side of the border, another hour and half on the Mongolian side and a night’s travel, we reached the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator (Uulanbaatar, Oulan Baator… there seems to be many ways to spell it). The map below indicates the direction of the train and the places and areas in Mongolia (yellow ovals) visited during this trip.
A few words about Mongolia:
Mongolia has a total population of some 3 million in a country which is about three times bigger than France. At least one third of the population lives in the capital.
Mongolia is thus a large country, of course very small compared to the 13th century Mongolian Empire, the largest land empire in history, which then stretched from Poland to Korea, from Siberia to Vietnam and to the Persian Gulf. We all know about Genghis Khan. After his death, the Empire was divided into four, one of his grandsons made Beijing his capital and the Yuan dynasty ruled over China for about a century, until the Ming dynasty took over. After centuries of struggle, the present Mongolia came under Chinese control until the beginning of the 20th century. Struggles between China and Russia led finally in 1924, with what was called support from the Soviet Union, to the creation of the Mongolian People’s Republic (some 55.000 Soviet troops were present in Mongolia during the 1980’s), until the perestroika and glasnost made that in 1992 the “people’s republic” was dropped from the country’s name … and the Russians left.
If Mongolia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Ulan Bator is definitely not one of the most beautiful capitals and is also known as the coldest capital in the world. … But the people are nice and smiling - as all over the country. So, before some posts about other parts of Mongolia, a few words about and some pictures from its present capital, knowing that the Mongolian nomad way of living has meant that also the capital moved around during centuries. My pictures show that buildings are growing all over for a rapidly increasing urban population. If many of the Soviet influenced buildings remain they are now often painted; the Mongolians like colours. The central Sükhbaatar Square is dominated by the Parliament Building – with Genghis Khan sitting on a throne in the middle. Most Mongolians are Buddhists. If monasteries were more or less demolished during the Soviet era, the religious feelings seem today very present and strong. The Gandan Monastery in Ulan Bator is the largest in the country. To listen to a concert of throat singing and traditional music was a real pleasure.