The Bogd Khan and the dinosaur
Ulaanbaatar Travel Blog› entry 3 of 19 › view all entries
The day starts with an ice cold shower, I don’t remember ever showering this fast! We then go to the restaurant, where we see that a zealous waitress has made a small buffet for the two of us. There are boiled eggs, sausages, marmalade, butter, bread and a tiny bowl with the same miniscule tufts of broccoli, but now in an even worse state.
Anar said we would hit the town at nine and at that time we step outside the hotel. Agi is already there, polishing his shabby bus, but there is no Anar. After we’ve said good morning to Agi (which is just about the only word of English he knows) we watch the street scene for a while. Just as Rens is about to get into a fist fight with a local alcoholic who tries to grab the bottle of water from his hands, Agi hands his cell phone to us.
Now that we are all here, we leave for the winter palace of Bogd Khan. Bogd Khan was Mongolia’s eighth living Buddha and last king, Jebtzun Damba Hutagt VIII, also known as Bogd Khan. He lived in this palace, which was built between 1893 and 1903, for twenty years.
The complex has a spectacular entrance gate, six lovely small temples and a hideous white box of concrete that is the actual palace. We start with the temples, where there are old statues and colourful tapestries on display.
The palace itself is quite nice on the inside, it is completely filled up with the gorgeous possessions of Bogd Khan and his wife, like furniture, clothing, beds and an enormous collection of stuffed animals.
Our next stop is the Zaisan memorial. This modern memorial has been built by the Russians on the highest point of the city to remember unknown fallen soldiers and heroes from several wars.
In order to get there we have to climb a 150 steps, then we arrive at a colourful mosaic that has been built in a large circle, which is part of the monument.
It is nonetheless a place where lots of families like spend their Sunday, we heard from Anar that in the evening a lot of youngsters like to hang out here. Standing at the monument we can see large parts of the city from a birds-eye perspective, and I must say Ulaanbaatar is the weirdest city I’ve ever seen like this. There are typical grey Soviet apartment buildings, worn out houses and gers that are all thrown together randomly. Next to that the entire city is one large building site, where countless modern and luxurious apartment buildings are in several phases of construction.
Right next to the Zaisan memorial (at the bottom of the hill the memorial is on), there’s the Buddha Park. This is a small, modern park with a playground for children, a restaurant and an enormous Buddha/ Sakyamuni statue of 16 meters tall. The park isn’t that special, were it not that lots of newlyweds have their wedding pictures taken here. There’s not a bride or groom in sight, but there is a huge white stretch Hummer at the entrance and the few visitors from the park are all admiring it, while taking pictures with their mobile phones.
It’s time for lunch and Anar takes us to Zing restaurant, which looks fancy and trendy.
Once we have finished our meal we go to the Museum of Natural History. This old fashioned Soviet building harbours a large collection of stuffed animals, stones and meteorites. This at itself isn’t that interesting for us, although we watch it all. The main reason why we are here is the Palaeontology section which has some large dinosaur skeletons. The south of the Gobi desert has been a huge treasury since 1920, more than a hundred dinosaur skeletons have been found here.
The rest of the afternoon we would like to shop, since it is highly unlikely we’ll see any shops during the remainder of our trip and we would like to have a souvenir from our trip. Anar suggests to take us to a large kashmir centre because you can get good quality for low prices there, but we’re not interested in kashmir. I’ve seen the State Department Store being mentioned in the Lonely Planet as the likeliest place to find a suitable souvenir, so at our own request Agi takes us here. They offer to wait for us here to take us back to the hotel when we’re done, but we like to walk around by ourselves for a while.
The State Department Store is in a very modern part of town and it is set up like any other western department store with jewellery and make-up on the first floor, clothing on the second floor, electronics on the third floor and office supplies on the fourth floor. The fifth floor contains a huge offer in every possible souvenir, from Mongolian boots, hats, musical instruments, souvenir T-shirts, music and decorative gers. We get a typical Mongolian hat and hope it will survive the rest of the trip in good order.
We then go on our way to find some stamps, because I’ve promised some people from Travbuddy to send a postcard. Our best guess is to have a look at the floor with office supplies, but after doing some charades with a sales lady, it appears they do not sell any.
While we walk down the street we are again amazed on the contrasts of this city. There’s a large screen in the middle of the square that plays commercials, everybody has a mobile phone, there are countless expensive cars on the streets and luxury apartments are being built everywhere, but at the same time the roads are hardly suitable to drive on and there are entire blocks of huts that do not even have running water.
The small building that may have anything to do with mail appears to be closed (maybe because it is a Sunday?), so we take a taxi back to the hotel. Maybe we’ll run into some stamps later.
In the evening Anar and Agi take us to The Moonstone.