17 May, 2008

Chinggis can't (or Khan he?) - life in beautiful downtown Ulan Bataar.

Not a lot to say really. I arrived on Thursday afternoon after an enjoyable train trip through the Gobi desert from Erenhot (China) on what turned out to be the Trans Mongolian Express. It starts in Beijing and joins up with the Trans Siberian in Irkutsk en route to Moscow.

Given the difficulties encountered in booking the journey up North, the first thing I did was book my ticket back to China for Sunday night. Since then I have spent a lot of time walking around Ulan Bataar itself, discovering the back streets, and applying for and obtaining my visa for Kazakhstan.

Mongolia is significantly more expensive than China - a taste, I expect, of things to come once I reach Russia.

Prices are surprisingly high, for what is a VERY poor country. Mongolia has limited exports, basically a little copper and some livestock. Surprisingly enough, the main source of income appears to be repatriation of income from family members working overseas - hardly the basis for the future. This doesn't stop the locals from dressing in traditional costume though, whatever the opportunity.

Of course, most of the city is rather run down with broken roads and footpaths, weather beaten buildings and a general dismal air (although this has a lot to do with the fact that winter has just finished, grass is yet to grow and trees are only just starting to bud.

Despite their local culture there is clearly a strong Soviet influence in Mongolia. Interstingly enough, now that the Russians have ceased aid it is South Korea who inject vast sums and are the major Mongolian trading partner.

I did see one optimistic element today though. In what appeared to be the Mongolian equivalent of "Keep Australia Beautiful" day, volunteers were working to remove rubbish from the banks and surrounds of the local river (which unlike most rivers in Asia is surprisingly unpolluted).

It was great to see how common and frequent the tradional gers (yurts) are in both the city and country. If nothing else, the Mongols are certainly very strong on their tradition.

AS I sadi earlier, I took advantage of my time in Mongolia to apply for my Kazakhstan visa. This degenerated into a bit of farce and I ended up supplementing the meagre income of the Kazahstani visa officer quite nicely in order to ensure my visa request was processed promptly.

I also had the opportunity to see a few of the sights and sounds of Ulan Bataar and to take a series of local buses to visit one of the national parks that was close by.


Anonymous said...

U always luv'd the travel thing: all those years ago. Enjoy your journey.

Anonymous said...

This is your envious friend, PV, from DC...what a great dream to realize...I hope I can muster enough detachment from the rigamarole to embark on an expedition.

Gary, I do have 3 questions for you:
- How is your back, hip and behind - they must hurt with all the long riding?
- Have you fallen sick with the food?
- WHat is the the price of gasoline there? it must have gone up like crazy there...

PLEASE RIDE SAFE. USE CONTROLS! COME BACK SOON - we have some Software to sell against some pretty mean beasts!