Stallion Races / City Tour
We're off to the countryside again this morning to watch the conclusion of the 40 km stallion race. Boys as young as 7 and 8 years old ride these large horses, and it takes hours for them to cover the distance. Soon after we arrive and get positioned in the viewing stands, the first horses begin to appear on the horizon as little specks of orange trailing dust. All the riders are wearing orange vests, and that is what we are seeing from so far away.
Security is high for the tourists, and policemen are posted every few feet along the viewing stands. We noticed that in the stadium yesterday as well. Occasionally one of them will approach and tell our guide to be sure to warn us to be watchful of our possessions. It seems that there has been a lot of problems with pickpockets this year.
The boy in the first position is several lengths ahead of his competition and is the clear winner. There are about 200 horses entered in this race, and one arrives without his rider. We watch as the first 50 or so arrive at the finish line, then walk over to observe what is happening with these children behind the scenes.
We follow one particular lad through the process of being washed by his mother to get all the dust out of his hair and eyes. Then he is fed some milk (perhaps camel's milk) and allowed to rest. After resting a while, he stands and gruffly orders the boy who has been riding his horse to cool it down to dismount. He climbs into the saddle and rides off towards the nearby ger camp with restaurants. He is such a little man-very self-possessed and sure of himself for one so young.
We continue watching the coming and going, taking great people photos. Several of us wander over to the restaurant section. We come upon a freshly slaughtered goat that is being prepared for cooking. The hair is all being singed off its body with a propane torch. I overhear a guide explaining that soon they will stuff scalding hot rocks into its stomach, which is a typical Mongolian method of cooking whole animals.
An interesting feature of this remote area is the huge jumbo-tron that has been set up to broadcast the other events taking place in the stadium, 40 km distant. It is somewhat disconcerting to see costumed Mongolians sitting on horseback watching this modern marvel out on a racing field.
We return to town for lunch, and then enjoy a brief tour of some additional highlights of Ulaan Baatar. We begin with the Zaisan Memorial on a hill overlooking the city. It was built by the Russians to commemorate unknown soldiers and heroes from various wars. It has a very Soviet feel to it, but the art is colorful and the views amazing.
Our final visit of the day is to the Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan, which was the residence of Mongolia's eighth Living Buddha and last king.
There are several temples on the grounds which house dimly lit artwork or are closed for restoration. The real gem of this place is the actual Winter Palace which is a museum displaying many of the lavish gifts given to Bogd Khaan by foreign dignitaries and some of the items he collected himself (including stuffed animals that used to be in his personal zoo). The exhibit is fascinating, and so is the gift shop!
During a three-hour break before dinner I hustle to the State Department Store to shop for souvenirs. It is an adventure, and I find everyone at the store to be extremely helpful and friendly. After dinner I say goodnight to the group and retire to work on the Farewell Dinner festivities.