Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia is a spartan place. We arrived on the overnight train from Beijing. Our accommodation was a simple hotel, built, like the whole city in the communist concrete block style of construction, though it seemed well enough built.
Ulan Bator was never the capital of the Mongolian Empire. It was founded in 1639 by some Buddhists building a monastery. Karakorum was the capital of the Mongolian Empire before it moved to what is now Beijing.
I remember the city being very grey. But the people wore red traditional clothes (and some other colours) in every day life. That added colour. The city consisted of grey communist era buildings and suburbs of ger quarters. A man explained to me that the western word Yurt, is not correct. Perhaps it is Russian? I do not remember. But the proper word is ger (pronounced gir). He also said that all the buildings were post world war two and that for a while all of the buildings were constructed by Japanese POWs under Soviet direction. Apparently the last POW only went back to Japan in the 1960’s.
We visited a Buddhist monastery in the city. The monks we busy doing one of the sand paintings. A man in Mongolia said that there are three lamas in Buddhism, and the the Mongolian one is one of them along with the Dalai Lama. Reading up on this topic it seems that the Dalai Lama is a tile given by a Mongolian ruler.
A man was explaining to me that they are not vegetarians, even though they are Buddhists. They restriction is not on eating meat, it is on killing living things. You can eat meat as long as it was not killed. But there were restrictions that you cannot eat anything that swims, flies or lives underground.
We also visited the main square of the city. Here we saw first hand some graft and corruption. Our bus was the only bus in the car park. In fact it was the only vehicle. As we stopped a child, maybe 10 came up to the bus. The bus driver, while we were still in the bus, handed over the prescribed amount of money and the child wandered off into the distance.
One of the meals we had included some corned tongue. I knew what it was, and it was very good. But Dymphna had to spoil everything by telling the others what it was and unfortunately they then would not eat it. I am not a fan of fussy eaters.
Down by the river was a large (probably coal fired) power station. As the place was so cold there were these huge, insulated pipes (say half a meter in diameter?) running from the power station back to the city. The waste heat from the power station was used in heating some of the buildings.
We visited an internet cafe and I spent half an hour on the net. I was amazed that they had the net at all. All the computers were in use, it was relatively expensive and the connection was slow. I spent some time reading the SMH and it took 15 minutes to manage to log into my mail.
On the wall in one of the places we visited was a map of the Mongolian empire at it’s height, stretching from Poland, through the middle east, including India and China. The Mongolian were quite proud of the largest empire the world has seen. But one thing was clearly obvious. The water invasions, two of Japan, one of the Philippines, one of South Vietnam and one of Java, all failed. Clearly the Mongolians were not good a sea born invasions. A man explaining their history said that two reasons for their success were germ warfare, they would catapult plague ridden animals into cities, and gun powder, which the Chinese had invented just before they were conquered by the Mongolian hordes. He said they lost because they were too busy infighting and the Chinese were able to beat them when they were distracted.
a few days later, my room mate for the trip, a retired merchant banker from Chicago, made a comment about the fact that I was reading the SMH. Clearly he had been watching what I was doing when I was on the net, even though he was in a different part of the room.