Mongolia has approximately three million residents, and one million of them live in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. That’s a lot of people for one city. We started this morning by going to a local Buddhist temple. We happened to be there while the lamas (monks) were chanting. They wouldn’t let me take any photos inside but it was an amazing sight to see and hear. There were tons of men and boys talking (or singing?) at the same time. They would intermittently stop to blow trumpets as large as the room, or hit drums above their head with big sticks or play various sort of other instruments. Jenna even caught one of the guys checking out Facebook on his iPhone, which he kept hidden in his robes. We saw a set of giant golden feet which will eventually be a statue of Buddha bigger than the Statue of Liberty.
You would have loved the Mongolian history museum, it was very weird seeing history told from a perspective other than a European one. It was interesting seeing the Europeans portrayed as the “enemy.” We did see some of Marco Polo whose travels and writing introduced Europe to Mongolia and China (at the time ruled by the Mongolian Kublai Khan.)
One of the coolest things we saw was a dinosaur that the Mongolians had recently recovered. It is a Tarbosaurus bataar which is the Asian cousin of the T. Rex. Apparently, a University of Florida professor stole the fossils from the southern part of Mongolia in the Gobi Desert where lots of dinosaur fossils can be found. After attempting to sell the dinosaur for a million dollars, the US courts were able to return the dinosaur to the people of Mongolia and put the professor in jail.
We only had a few hours left to do some shopping. Dr. Sandler recommended a store called Mary & Martha which sells crafts to help disadvantaged people (such as prisoners or reformed prostitutes) to sell crafts so they can help support their families. We also went to the State Store which use to be the only big store and was run by the Russians. It’s now a giant mall with lots of goods. Dr. Gayle found some nice cashmere scarves for his wife, Dr. Abram bought a cool Mongolian mask, Dr. Sandler and Jenna bought a bunch of leather wallets for their family, and I bought some jewelry for my wife and daughter and a cool Mongolian wresting cap for my son. You would have looked good in a wresting cap.
Dr. Sandler had eaten at a North Korean restaurant last year and it was recently recommended by a New York Times article. When we got there we realized it had changed ownership and now served Mongolian food (mutton!) but didn’t bother changing the décor or name. Having had eaten enough Mongolian mutton we decided to check out the Sky Lounge in the Blue Sky Hotel and Tower. This recently finished 5 star hotel is a distinct shape on the landscape, with breathtaking views of the city. The name pays homage to Mongolia’s title as “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.” Sunset overlooking the top of the city was a perfect way to end our stay in Mongolia.
Jonathan, I’m so glad you fell in love with this country. After spending two weeks here, I understand the amazing mixture of unique landscapes, incredible history, and the kind and giving people that makes Mongolia so special. Thanks for being on this journey with me.