West side stench on Christmas

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Mongolia  , Ulaanbaatar,
Sunday, December 25, 2005

Team Vodkatrain (Leigh, Amanda and myself) trundled back into Ulaan Baatar before lunch Christmas Day and were unceremoniously dumped by our city guide Puji once we'd been organised a hotel room so we could take a quick shower. "I'll meet you here at 6.45pm to catch the train - have fun" was all she said, and before I could say "You're fired", she was out of there, leaving us to our own limited devices in the big city.

Which wasn't really a problem, we had things to do like post, internet and shopping for the next leg of our train odyssey, as well as some sights to check out that we might actually see without our guide around. Lonely Planet in hand we sallied forth to check out the eastern side of town. We saw some pretty cool stuff so hence the additional entry for UB. I hope you don't mind.

After checking off the admin items excepting the shop, our first stop was a stinky hill overlooking a jumble of houses and a large temple which was our initial target. We had seen a pile of rocks atop it that looked like a shamen's cairn so off we went. Halfway up we became aware of a hideous stench and despite some wavering, persevered until we could explore and photograph the pile. It was large indeed, beside a totem pole and crowned with a clump of weather-beaten rags, and is part of a network of cairns all over the country that medicine men of the Shamen religion use in their rituals in serving the 10% of the population that subscribes to the ideology. Eventually we fled the creepy scene toward the temple.

The stench finally abated as we approached the temple (in the end we decided it was either cheese being made, a local tannery or a really large pool of vomit) and we could concentrate on more spiritual things. Gandan(tegchinlin Khiid) temple is the main Tibetan Buddhist temple in the country and the complex is home to more than 150 uniquely-dressed monks. It is a huge multi-storied structure and the standout feature is the multitude of prayer wheels that ring it on about nine(?) pointy stupas located in the forecourt. There are other large prayer wheels at the entrance to the temple, so wherever you look there are worshippers giving the wheels a roll as they walk around and pray.

Adjacent to the main temple (on the right as you look the temple through the main gate) is another small courtyard and cluster of spiritual buildings we thought may be the monk's rooms or where they attend classes. People were busy feeding a bunch of very fat pigeons here but the main drawcard was the ornate lion statues, the colourful and imaginatively decorated buildings, huge bronze lanterns and intricately woven rugs hanging over the doorways. There was a lot to see and do and it really made the walk through nasal purgatory to see the complex well worth the effort.

Just down the road from Gandan is the Centre for Shamen Eternal Heavenly Sophistication, which was basically a ger with a large totem of rags floating in the breeze out the front. Yak horns on poles completed the picture, although I'm not sure how many would be converted by the scene despite the colourful name. Another interesting sight on Peace Avenue (the main drag) was a large fresco artwork strung up like a billboard. Certainly Mongolian in design and symbology, it grabbed my attention as we charged past on the way to a long overdue meal. Very funky indeed.

In the end we did our shop at the State Department Store on Peace, made it back to the hotel and as Puji arrived as promised, we even made the train. So our short but sweet visit to this windswept and mysterious land come to an end, and we'll be back in touch from somewhere in mighty Russia. Yar.

Words from the Wise #12

"Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character for it will become your destiny."

Frank Outlaw
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