There is a particular fascination when it comes to Mongolia—as there is a perfect blend of old country and new country. It’s probably the unique mountainous aesthetic that drew me to the Mongolian’s version of the Wild, Wild West. I made it my mission to take as many photos as I wanted to challenge the pre-conceived notions of Mongolia as it has been called a harsh, inhospitable wasteland. With my writing pad on the one hand and my Sony Alpha 6000 camera in the other, I set out to uncover this mysterious “wasteland.”
It was a cloudy and on the verge of raining on 22nd July 2017—rather a rarity in terms of Mongolian weather and the meeting point was Sukhbaator Square, where I met up two Projects Abroad Volunteer– Katherine, a Danish who is interning for a human rights projects and Joe, a sarcastic Welsh-Brit teacher who is teaching English for his project, Emma our informative Mongolian tourist guide and her fearless Mongolian mother for this magical adventure to the countryside. Now putting a deep Danish, a sarcastic Welsh-Brit and a high-functioning sociopathic Australian and two fearless Mongolian women, you can imagine the everlasting cultural misunderstandings and witty yet deep conversations we have throughout our trip.
First stop—the Chinggis Khaan Equestrian Statue which commemorates the great conqueror in all its glory. The stainless steel statue is 40 meters tall (130ft) which display the imperialist on horseback with his bronze sword on top on “ger”, which is a traditional Mongolian nomadic home. The gigantic statue has been erected I have a strong admiration for Chinggis Khaan— he came to power by uniting nomadic tribes of the Northern Asia and dominated most of Eurasia; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. The Mongol empire by the 13th-14th century became to the most “contiguous land empire” which extended as far as Serbia! Contrary to popular belief, Chinggis Khaan although a ruthless conqueror who may have murderously slaughtered many innocent people, he was a genuine and caring leader who encouraged gender equality and built into a meritocracy.
As I am a sucker for this historical revolutionary war hero, I needed to show my undying admiration for him, and all I needed was to get a horse and stick. Unfortunately, I didn’t think that MNT 2300 will sustain me throughout the day so, Joe decided to generously pay MNT 5000 for my 30 min horse ride around the statue. Bemused at the immaculate size, I search for the ground for a stick, but the grassy steppes were scattered in dried up horse manure and jagged pebbles— obviously, I was rather annoyed. That stick was everything to complete my uncanny imitation of this amazing human being. Instead, I gathered some of the horse’s reins and made a makeshift “stick” instead. You know as they say “imitation is the best form of flattery.”
Inside the Chinggis Khaan Equestrian Statue, the first thing you see in the museum is that gigantic boot which supposedly to the largest in the world boot which was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. We took a trip down memory lane as we entered the Hall of Barbaric Fame, where there were side-eyed portraits of the Khaan’s descendants
creepily watched over us in an unassuming manner.
After saying my sorrowful farewell to Your Highness of Savagery himself, we ventured to Turtle Rock. Just saying, it looks how it looks how it sounds—although, I was curious where the rest of the body went. Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is one of Mongolia’s national parks which has a lot of tourist camps which includes a Buddhist monastery, several tourist souvenir shops and restaurants.
The climb was a struggle. It wasn’t even funny. Probably the fact, I’m not very fit in the first place. I have this insane fear that if I climbed these mountainous terrains, that I was going to fall off the edge and break my back. So, in order to combat this fear, I devised an “elaborate” plan of dragging my behind down the slopes of the terrain at a slow pace whereas, my fellow peers zipped up and down the slopes as if it was a walk in a park.
As the exhilarating climb down the mountain came to a halt, the next destination was Buddhist monastery in Terelj. As I paid my 2000 “foreigner” admission fee, I looked up and dreaded the moment of walking another hilltop. As you first entered the monastery, their whole line-up of Buddhist fortune boards which were winded their way up to the temple. As we got up half-way to the temple, there was this contraption, almost equivalent to the wheel of fortune, you see on western television. I got the number 58 and 137—and once you get those numbers you meant to search for them and they will tell you your fortune. Once, we get to the temple; a rather bright-eyed old man on a stool with his hand held the radio and repeating the word, “mouse” and laughing at the same time. I have a suspicion that a foreigner taught him the English word for the bronze rodent figurine which happened to on temple door and he thought it was funny and kept repeating it. He was a very endearing old man though.
The temple itself was beautiful; a multicoloured interior with elaborate Buddhist paintings and hard-rock floorboards, which encased the immaculate Buddha statue. People were praying for peace, chanting – Om Mani Padme Hum. I, on the other hand, was taught how to pray by Emma’s fearless Mongolian mother. Although, I’m not good with technicalities of caressing each bead down the necklace. She seems to very patient with me whilst I was doing so.
All good things come to an end after this enlightening adventure, and for the record, Mongolia is not an inhospitable wasteland. Just saying!