UB For Short
Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Russia has had, and continues to have, a large influence on Mongolia and it shows. Especially in the architecture and traffic. Mongolians drive angry- very angry! As pedestrians we've struggled with traffic chaos throughout our trip, so what's different about Ulaan Bataar? In other parts of Asia, we've been run down by drivers who pretend to not see you as they go whizzing by- in Mongolia, the drivers maintain eye contact and dare you to step off the sidewalk, and there's no discrimination- I suspect that you get more points for nailing a tourist, but locals, small children, and livestock all cross the streets with a look of sheer terror on their faces. And a Mongolian driver never 'toots' their horn; I'm actually surprised that they don't drain their batteries given the length of time they lay on their horns. We were wandering the city when the local constabulary started closing streets to allow the Queen of the United States, Hillary Clinton, unfettered access to the government complex (as an unrelated rant, why are the bumbling bureaucrats responsible for infrastructure messes never forced to experience them with the rest of us- if Hillary went through today's airport security mindless nonsense just once, you'd have to think that things would change)
Over 45% of Mongolia's 2.75 million people live in the capital city of Ulaan Bataar And you've got to love a city that could care less how you spell and pronounce its name. As we toured the streets, we saw a number of officially sanctioned names for the city that were sometimes one word and sometimes two words and included Ulan Bator, Ulanbator, Ulaan Bataar, Ulan Batar, Ulaanbaatar, Ulaγanbaγatur- all of which was strange given that the city was named in honour of a specific national hero who, with the help of the Soviet Red Army, liberated Mongolia from Chinese occupation in 1911. Ever the pragmatists, most of the locals just default to "UB" as do any visitors who spend more than a day here.
UB would never be a serious contender in any sort of urban beauty contest but it probably takes more of a beating from it's critics than it deserves (admittedly I'm probably seeing it at its best- apparently the cooler weather locks in the smog from the coal-fired power plants giving the city a permanent grey ambiance)
The annual average temperature in UB is 0°C, making it the world's coldest capital city but we have timed our summertime visit to coincide with the biggest festival in the country so the weather has been great and a refreshing change from the recent heat and humidity we've experienced. During the day we attended a very formal wreath laying ceremony in the main square, and toured the Tibetan-style Gandantegchinlen Monastery which held some of the few buildings to survive the communist purges-. with the end of communist rule in 1990, Buddhism has experienced a massive renaissance
We filled our evenings with cultural shows and even took in a local circus (no animals!) that was set up for locals and their kids but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our stay here. With an obvious Mongolian slant, this circus was a cartoon come to life right down to the strongman lifting barbells with the ball shaped weights at either end, a magician executing the sword trick, jugglers with bowling pins, acrobats and their teetertotter launch pad- the only thing missing was Yosemite Sam as Ringmaster. Great fun and the local kids couldn't get enough of it.