Things I did today:
- Watched the morning chants of Buddhist monks
- Got blessed/aura cleansed by a lama
- Ate 7 different milk products, including liquor
- Faced my fear of heights (again)
- Visited a ger
True story – I took a 5 hour private tour of Ulaanbaatar and saw pretty much everything. Thanks to Tuvi and Rara Avis Travel for the experience!
We started at a teaching temple (I think that’s what Tuvi called it). The monks chant every morning for almost an hour-and-a-half. I couldn’t get a shot of that, but I did get this massive three-story statue in a different temple:
Then it was time for the Summer and Winter Palaces.
The Winter Palace revealed two tittilating facts:
- The last king was fascinated with animals, which is why there are two rooms filled with a taxidermist’s dream. Including an entire cabinet of snakes, which was really gross.
- Each new king was supposed to be a reincarnated version of Genghis Khan, so the king and queen weren’t allowed to reproduce – their separate beds are on display. It was pretttty awkward listening to that story.
Then it was off to the Black Market. It is a huge open air market (even during the winter when it’s 40 below…Celsius). You can find legitimately anything here – I think I saw Jimmy Hoffa on display – and unfortunately I learned that Mongolians don’t haggle. I missed out on two cashmere hats because the woman wouldn’t drop the price by $4, but I am all about the art of the deal (more importantly, I didn’t want to get change in tugriks, which are worthless outside of Mongolia. My bank won’t even exchange them). I also learned that cashmere is a big product in Mongolia, with Gobi cashmere as the most famous company.
For lunch, I learned the majesty that is Mongolian dumplings. Until now, the dumplings I had in Trento reigned supreme, but these little bastards were just amazing.
Granted, you have to search for the dumplings in the picture from Trento since my pig of a brother hoarded them (the one who runs marathons at a 6 minute mile…what a lazy fatty). The Mongolian ones were mutton (yesss) and fortunately came with the only vegetables I had in the country.
Since the Natural Museum History was closed (not sorry about this one), we went to Capital Square, where there is both an opera house and a stock exchange. Plus the Parliament building that houses the Great Assembly.
The last stop was the ger district, which surrounds the city. A ger is the same thing as a yurt (Russian name for it) and is traditionally a type of tent. However, in the hundred years since gers have been moving to the city (and comprising half of UB’s population), people have started actually building small houses. The district goes the whole way up the mountains surrounding the valley of Ulaanbaatar.
As we were driving through the alleys, Tuvi asked if I wanted to go into a ger. He knocked on a random gate, and the lady welcomed us into her home. It was one of the coolest things I’ve done.
Unfortunately when we came out, Tuvi’s car was leaking oil, so we had to take a Mongolian taxi back to my hotel. And since there aren’t official taxis, that meant flagging down someone who was going toward our direction and paying a set rate per kilometer. This is something he does too – apparently it’s very common. My parents would be pretty pissed about that one.
I was fairly exhausted after 5 hours of seeing so much, but I managed to watch 3 hours of 24 before dinner.
PS You’ll be happy to know that KFC is a hit in Ulaanbaatar. When I asked, Tuvi said it’s a real local favorite.