Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Ulaanbaatar or the land of Chinggis

Booked a tour of the city and was taken to the four major places - Gandan Khiid temple where Michael started a mini riot by walking anticlockwise around the statue of Buddha. As part of their history they lost over 10,000 monks and 100 temples in the purges of the 1930’s under Stalin’s orders. Paul note that pigeons are seen as holy animals here as you can see from the photo. Then onto the Mongolian History museum and shrine to the Khaan’s family, plus all the different national dress.

Up to the Zaisan Memorial, which was constructed by the Soviets to remember those lost in war. Pretty impressive mosaic, but the locals don’t like it as it reminds them of the bad days before their independence which they are ferociously proud of when you talk about the past.
Finally onto Sukbaarar Square named after the 1921 revolutionary hero who ushered in communism for the Mongolian people. The square is large and has the parliament and prominent buildings around it. 

The parliament buildings have Chinggis Khaan sitting in the middle and his son and grandson mounted on horses in front of him. Later we got to go inside the parliament building as there was a National Geographic photographic exhibition being held. 

Many people were dressed up in national costume which is apparently standard for country folk and were very impressive in there design and colours, they even had flash looking guards.


Had our first bit of snow, more flurries than snow so it was a pleasant minus 3 degrees to walk around.

The fun continues in Ulaanbaator in walking around seeing the sights. Chinggis Khan (Genghis to us) is the nation’s hero and they name everything after him including beer and vodka.

Michael decided to get a beer tasting paddle at one restaurant and discovered on arrival it was a Mongolian Vodka tasting plate. Just so happens that the vodka names are the same as the beer.

Had an attempted pick pocket on Michael which I was pleased to foil, but have given them full points for being brazen enough to try, especially as they are not that tall. Needless to say Michael now has his rain jacket over the pack as we walk around.

Last day was a lazy day and decided to get some geocaching in and found 4 and DNF 2. 
So we covered a bit of ground around the city with is nice and flat and on a Sunday most of the loons are off the road.  Cars are not required to stop for pedestrians at either traffic lights or zebra crossings, they are just required to take more care.  That seems to entail driving full bore at pedestrians even if there is a traffic policeman on duty.

Decided to have dinner near the hostel in a flash place called Topaz Hotel. It was a grade above the other local places we have visited, or so we thought. A drunk greeted Michael as his long lost friend. Michael then conversed with his little book of dishes with the waitress and the Mongolian menu. English is not big here and most of the local restaurants do their menus in Mongolian with no pictures. We have discovered that the Cyrillic used in Mongolian has different meanings to Russian and Google translate does not do Mongolian. After much gesturing and eyeing off other diners’ meals we got a lovely fried Chicken and Turvas (beef noodles).

Even in Ulanbaatar they love Gangnam style

During the meal the entertainment arrived in the form of a drunk and his partner trying to sell a big tin of tomatoes to the waitress. The waitress was having none of this, so she called security and then proceeded to kick the man until he left (and I mean really kick him hard repeatedly in the shins).  We thought we had better not get on her bad side or the same could happen to us.

Time to board the train to Irkutsk, the Provodnitsa lived up to our expectation of true Russian beauty of Soviet proportions that could knock a sailor out with her hardened stare. Even Michael was a little bit more respectful upon entering her domain.  We shared a nice 2nd class carriage with a lady from Ulan-Ude and after we worked out she had 1 child of 5 years and not 5 children as she only seemed 18 herself, we went through broken English learning about Ulan-Ude and the Russian ways. She had spent the weekend in Ulaanbaatar buying up winter season clothes for her family as prices are a third cheaper in Mongolia compared to Russia. There were 8 carriages on the train when we started.
I did not sleep well on the train as they turn the heat right up to passing out point and the cabins get a extremely claustrophobic. The train also stopped outside the Mongolian border station at 5:30 am and had to wait until 8:30 am for customs to open. When we got up we found that our carriage had been decoupled from all carriages and the engine and was just sitting there outside the customs hall all on its own.
Lonely carriage?

Then fun really started as traders started to board before the Mongolian- Russian border. One woman was assigned to our berth who had a massive collection of camel wool socks and then started to proceed to distribute them through the carriage, hiding them in bags and then out came the shoes the slippers scattered around the berth.

Once we had cleared Mongolian customs by staying in our carriage and waiting 2 hours while they pretended not to see all the traders’ stuff, we moved onto Nashuki station with our one carriage to start the process again. Our lady friend warned us that our bags would get checked as customs do a thorough search. On came the immigration and customs people in their ridiculously oversized hats. Our trader lady was wrapping socks around her legs, belly and into pockets of coats. Once again our passports were taken away and all the nationals were quizzed. We only had to say Australian and they shook their heads and moved on. The customs guy said do you speak Russian we said no and then asked if we had anything to declare, we said no and they left us alone. The trader got a grilling and showed one bag containing nothing and kept saying nyet to everything. The Ulan-Ude lady said where she had been and next thing bags were being opened and she had to complete a long double-sided form of what she had purchased in Mongolia. The guy seemed happy with the form and spoke a bit more. We sat there wondering why no one seemed to notice that our cabin held a thousand pairs of brown camel socks and that all the traders were wearing brand new camel jackets (some with price tags on) and had identical shoes that were brand new in each berth. Welcome to Russia.

A bit later the passports were returned and the customs guy came back and had a social chat to the trader. During all this time Michael was quizzing the two ladies on food and how it is written in Cyrillic for his next restaurant adventure. The Ulan-Ude woman must have thought we were here to eat them out of house and home.
Had 2 hours to kill in Nashuki after the 3 hours spent on the train with customs and immigration officers. It was funny watching all the traders get off with more bags than they could carry back in their normal clothes walking past all the officials as if there was nothing wrong. The town did not have much to offer and we practiced our Russian ordering Goulash and dumplings. Not bad for our first Russian meal.

Our Ulan-Ude lady must have either found Michael questions or snoring too much as she left us to continue her journey by bus to Ulan-Ude.

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