Reflections on Mongolia (In summer)

 Ger on the HIll

Not the most attractive of cities, Ulan Bator (UB), the capital of Mongolia, is not without its charms.  Perhaps not a city to spend more than a few days in, but the city’s sights can be enjoyed as an example of a capital totally alien to the rest of its country.  In UB you can eat in international restaurants where there is more than boiled mutton on the menu and drink in cafes where you can get Austrian coffee instead of fermented mares’ milk.

While battling the choking dust and piles of rubble, avoiding the few abnoxious alcoholics, looking further than the soviet-style buildings and surviving the life-threatening traffic chaos –  the visitor can be treated to the following: an array of fine museums, spectacular concerts of traditional music and dance, extravagant, ancient palaces showing an opulence and lifestyle of past centuries and tranquil Buddhist monasteries.


A good introduction to Mongolian life is the Black Market, otherwise known as the Thieves Market (for a reason), the massive central market where locals shop for most things!  All your senses will be heightened as you wander through this vast array of goods amid a population still dressed in traditional clothes ….   Rows of torturous wooden saddles, assorted horse paraphernalia, genuine antiques, vivid orange ‘ger’ furniture alongside fifties style furniture for the modern UB apartment.  Endless rows of boots – some for riding, snow walking and some for dancing with turned up toes and elaborate embroidery.  Men poring over piles of  hardware, women feeling shimmering silks and satins while nearby endless supplies of dissected sheep vie for space with piles of onions, potatos and summer fruits.


However, the true attraction of this wild, free and almost fenceless country is evident as soon as you can organise an essential four wheel drive vehicle (or perhaps a horse) to explore an almost road-less landscape.    The experience is a wildness and space with flowering meadows, tree-less steppe and larch forests.  Beautiful fresh and saltwater lakes abound with birdlife and fresh water rivers are clean and full of fish.

The humbling vastness of a land populated by magnificent horses, woolly yaks, herds of goats, sheep and untethered camels compares only with the freely given hospitality of the nomadic peoples.  They live a lifestyle of past generations whose rules of life dictate helping others and a sharing of everything.  As a visitor you will be welcomed into their gers (round felt tents), offered milk alcohol or airag – the ubiquitous fermented mares’ milk, creamy yak cheeses and bowls of freshly gathered wild berries.  You will be expected to share what you have and in return you may wish to re-evaluate the modern lifestyle which you have temporarily escaped.  Warming yourself by a dung fuelled fire, contributing your stashed vodka or joining families under a sky crammed with a million stars while they sing songs about their lives.   Curious children will peer at you from behind long dels – the traditional clothing worn by both parents and soon you will receive shy smiles from very grubby, small faces.   If you stay long enough you may be invited to watch the milking of the mares and yaks by women and girls who sit beside them on small stools, collecting the valuable gift from their beloved animals – from which their very existence depends. …