My Trip to Mongolia
Denmark Cristobal – Marketing Department
“ Send your road is clear before you when the old-Spring-fret comes o’er you.
And the Red Gods call for you !
— Rudyard Kipling , The Feet of Young Men (1898)
As our passenger aircraft landed at the Chinggis Khan International Airport at dusk , one thing was in my mind, this was a unique moment. I am in Mongolia.
Mongolia… the land of the Khans, the landlocked country where the East meets
West, the heart of Central Asia.
A common thought on Mongolia in the Filipino context leads to basically two trains of thought , one is about its most famous son , Genghis Khan , then the other is his purely co- medic counterpart Mr. Shooli , popularized by Mr. Jun Urbano in his defunct comedy sitcom Mongolian Barbecue.
However, when one makes a journey to a foreign place, there is the need for the per- son to learn that every place has its own story, and that the traveller must appreciate them so as to make one learn. This makes the experience not only a memorable one, but also turns it into a channel for learning about a country not our own.
Food offered is usually the opening gesture in any hospitality handbook, and in this area, the Mongols are not an exception. Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, the OAC Tour Group on its first night was feted in a good Mongolian restaurant which features, not only Mongolian Barbecue, but also food from its Western neighbor, the Russians, such as Goulash.
China, the Eastern neighbor, not to be outdone has representations via Dumplings. How- ever, like the Mongolian geography, the fine local cuisine is at the middle table, awaiting the traveller to experience its rich content. The ambiance was further enhanced by the restaurant’s decorative motif showing life in the medieval Mongol Steppes
We then transferred to the Kempinski Hotel, a German hotel conglomerate. This place has all the amenities one can look for in a hotel and we needed a good place to rest and relax, for the start our journey will be the following day
The first stop that we went to was the National Museum of Mongolia. This is basically a run-through with of course, elaborate visuals, on the history of the Mongol people, from the pre-historic era to the Modern Age. The first floor shows archaeological artifacts from the Mongol Steppes which shows the earliest inhabit- ants of the region.
The second floor shows the pre-Mongol Empire civilization of the various tribes that make up the Mongolian people such as the Merkits, the Hunni and the Turkics. It is interesting to note that Attila the Hun, the first scourge of Europe, particularly Rome, came from this re- gion. The third floor devotes itself to the achievements of the great Mongol Temujin ( later known simply as Genghis (or Chinggis) Khan . A large map traces his birthplace, to his war with another warlord Jamukha in order to unify the Mongol tribes into a nation, and his con- quest of China. The achievements of his sons, particularly Ogedei and grandson Kublai Khan who expanded the Mongol Empire from China, subjugating Persia, Kievan Russia and ravaging Poland and Hungary. The next part of the museum shows the transition from a world power to a “sick-man state” beginning from the 17th Century wherein a declining Mongol kingdom, fragmented and dissolute was bullied into treaties by Manchu China and a resurgent Russia under its Tsars.
There were artifacts showing Russo- Mongolian treaties, diplomatic cables, and photos of this basically unfamiliar era from the 1600s to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The final feature of the museum was the transition of the Mongol state from a Stalinist state to the modern democratic state we know now.
This was not an easy process, as the Monument to Victims of Socialist Rule, outside the museum shows. A lot of people were killed by Mongol communist dictator Marshal Choibalsan on orders from his political master Josef Stalin in Moscow during the Purges of the 1930s.
The next stop after the National Museum was the Parliament House. The OAC Tour group was by chance able to see the impressive changing of guards ceremony in the Central Square. The main government building, along with the other era-buildings, were clearly influenced by early 20th Century European Art Deco Buildings. The humongous statue of Genghis Khan was flanked by
After the Parliament House, the OAC tour group visited the Gandan Hiid Buddhist Monastery . A very old and somewhat eerie structure, one can feel in it the height of Buddhist meditation and perhaps was the epitome of a Buddhist monk’s esoteric endeavors. Being a center of Buddhist faith in Central Asia, it ranks high along with the Tibetan monasteries in Lhasa with its collection of sacred texts meditated upon and studied by the most eminent monks in the country. As the chanting of Mane padme Hum by the monks of the said monastery echo, it seems that the Buddha’s words of his dharma coming over to the North was being fulfilled.
We then stopped for lunch at a res- taurant named Modern Nomads. True to its name, Modern Nomads allowed the OAC Tour group to experience a traditional meal. It was a very good meal indeed, of thick soup ( like Hofan) , wrapped savory pas- tries, vegetables and of course, how can I forget, milk.
As a city of contrasts, I was surprised that the next stop after lunch which was the Bogd Khan Winter Palace, was in fact just across an impressive 21st century skyrise building. The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan was a 19th century palace which served as an official government center during the reign of the Khans of Mongolia. With its Chinese architecture and the impressive frescoes well preserved, one can really ask if the Mongols really conquered China or was it the other way around. Touring the grounds was an experience of two dimensions, one may be in a Palace, but inside, one may think one is actually in a monastery. There can only be one scene which captures the artistic beauty of the place. This was the scene of Art students sitting and immortalizing the place in canvas. For the casual traveller, a simple joy inside the Bogd Khan Winter Palace was to pick sweet berries which grow in shrubs within the Palace compound.
The final stop for the day was the Soviet War Memorial. Climbing up more than five hundred steps, one can see an impressive memorial to the Soviet war dead. Strange to the casual reader, it must be known that during the Stalin years, Mongolia was a close political ally of the Soviet Union.
Since 1939 at the combined Russo-Mongol victory over the Japanese at Khalkin Gol up to the end of the war in 1945, Mongolians have always fought with, if not for, Soviet Russia. At the top of the memorial, one can see a commanding view of the city of Ulaanbaatar and its suburbs.
We then attended a cultural show, which features local dancers, instrumentalists, dramatists and singers. One strange yet fascinating thing we were able to witness was the Mongolian throat singing, which one cannot comprehend how one can actually make melodies and hums from a sound, similar to a death-croak. However, I found out that this form of music was actually familiar in the whole Central Asian regions.
The day ended with a sumptuous Chinese dinner at a local 5 star hotel.
The second day of the trip was far-off from the urban spots in the city. Via the bus we took, we were able to see the really aesthetic grandeur of the Mongol steppes. Picturesque scenes such as “gers “(local tents) in the midst of meadows and of flocks of horses crossing rivers permeat the trip.
We finally arrived at the world famous Genghis Khan monument. Standing on a 10 meter high base which is surrounded by 36 columns representing the kings of Mongolia, the 121 feet high statue holds the title of world’s largest statue in the Guiness Book of Records. The OAC group took the long flight of stairs inside the belly of the statue only to emerge on the horse’s neck with a commanding view of the Steppes. The ferocious image of Genghis Khan was facing East where he was born.
Around the statue were several figures of bronze Mongol horsemen. The government of the country of the country was planning to fill the steppes with a lot more. It is interesting to note that one can pay a certain amount to have your own likeness forever etched as one of the “eternal horsemen” of the Mongol Steppes.
The culmination of our journey was perhaps the visit to the Tereli National Park. Here the OAC Tour group experienced actually living in a “ger” and having our meal of lamb, potatoes, and other local delicacies served to us in the traditional way. We sauntered through the park and took the opportunity to actually experience the beauty of the Mongol Steppes and it’s picturesque grasslands, water formations and strange rocks, including one called “Turtle Rock” , because it looked like a huge turtle in the middle of the mountain passes. The day ended with a shopping trip to a factory outlet called Gobi where the OAC tour group went to buy cashmir and other local products
The following day saw us saying goodbye to our host country. As the plane took off in the middle of the day, I was on the window gazing over the Mongolian land- scape. I then thought, this coun- try, with its violent, and bloody past had stood the test of time.
The Mongol people, showed to the global community, that they, a nation of once- ferocious nomads, who believed themselves descendants of wolves, can rise up to the challenges of changing times to become part of a peaceful and progressive world community , whilst retaining their own national identity and cultural significance.