Ulaan Baator’s Open Delights

Nicholas Quirke was happy that despite the disappointment of Ulan Baator’s delights being closed to them the previous day, on 28 January 2020, Slava and Kseniya still agreed to join him on a re-run of the lost itinerary. They were meeting earlier and hopefully if they got through the exhibits in time they could also join him for the plans he had for them to go to the Gandantegchinlen Monastery or, though it was a little further afield, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. On rising in the morning, Nicholas was touched to see that Haji and Bobi had gone to the trouble of getting him Vegan rolls, Cookies and some fruit for his breakfast. It was a much colder start to the day, Slava and Kseniya feeling the chill of the coldest city on earth, apparently, through their jeans. Nicholas was surprised that being from Moscow they didn’t have thermals, maybe the cold was more bearable there. Apart from his hands and ears occasionally feeling the temperature bite, when he would don his gloves and pull up his hood, he was so layered up he did not feel the freeze. They made for the Choijin Lama Temple Museum, pleased to see it open for business, there were concerns it might be closed due to the Coronus Virus scare that was taking hold of the city. Nicholas was told he could take photos inside the Temples, but he would need to pay extra. He was happy to do this, but needed to give the money to the temple curator. Once inside the ancient, revered spaces, it seemed disrespectful to photograph the exhibits which were kept in remarkably cold conditions. The effigies, The fabrics, the copious religious instruments, the often wrathful seeming Buddhas over two hundred years old were amazing sights to behold. For such a seemingly peaceful and caring religion the images of anger and carnage were surprisingly prolific. Of the six temples his favourite was the Yidan which was a space solely for the Lama’s use. The monks hurried ahead of them opening each temple. But so cold were the spaces they hurried through the last couple. A historic, beautiful and reverential space. He was glad he had got to see it, and it was the first inkling that he had of the effects of communism on Mongolia, an oppression bought to them by the Russians. Rather than take a break and have a coffee or tea they pressed on to the National Museum of Mongolia. Here was a beautifully laid out history with exhibits dating back to prehistoric times. Fabrics, drawings, clothes surviving over a thousand years.; costumes and stories of war and occupation right up to present times. It wasn’t the first time on his journey that he encountered a society recovering from the trauma of occupation and once again the story of the fight for freedom, reclaiming a national identity really emotionally affected him. How shallow, and trivial the machinations and demands of Brexiters, to be free from Europe seemed to him, when they had never, ever suffered the indescribable tyranny of loosing their democracy, their individual rights as people. He was enraged as the deadline drew near and it was the first time since embarking on his odyssey thoughts had returned to the privileged Isle he hailed from. They also encountered a film crew preparing to shoot outside the Yurt, Gur instillation. Nicholas was absurdly interested in their activity and surreptitiously photographing them. They lunched again in Loving Hut, adding a Bocha to their order at Kseniya’s instigation. And how right it was. Delicious. He ordered tea but they didn’t have any and the waitress/chef offered them a tea with Gobi berries. It came with what looked like bits of tree floating in it when he asked what they were, she just shrugged. It was tasty though. Intrigued by Communism and its benefits; when the Russians invaded only 5% of the population could read and by the time it was in its death throes that had become 95% of Mongolians. Nicholas suggested they continue to The Winter Palace but it was a a walk too far and they declined. He suggested meeting to go to the Chinggis Khan Monument the next day, which would require a trip outside the city. He offered to research and let them know. He knew already that there was a tour which cost $190, which was truly prohibitive but he thought there would be a Cheaper way of getting there. They went their separate ways, Nicholas for a 30 Minute walk to the Bogd Khan’s Winter Palace. Had he not learned anything. Was he really so unconscious of the lessons repeatedly thrown at him. The ‘Winter Palace’, ironically in the winter is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Back at the Guest house he was pleased to see Haji and immediacy berated him with questions. Chiefly, is there a bus or means of transport that could take them to the Monument, cheaper than the $190 dollars or 522,283,4 or £143.00. ‘I will drive you” Haji said ‘for 100,000 Togrog’. That’s about £28 for the three of them. His friends declined but he was not going to miss the opportunity and thanked Haji and said just he would go. He really needed to make the most of his last day in Mongolia and thanks to the Amazing hospitality of the Azara Guest House, he would have the privilege of seeing beyond the city confines. He agreed to an 8.30 breakfast and a departure of 10am. That thoughT took him to bed and another night as the sole guest.

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