Day 14 February 26th Ulan Bataar
A special event today that we did not appreciate until afterwards when what we had witnessed was explained. They sounds way more complex that it should!
First a tour of the Summer Palace in Ulan Bataar – a very cold and windy experience on a icy winters day. Made worthwhile by a small exquisite collection of sculptures of the Tara by Zanabazar
Just as I had thought I was turning into an icicle a staff member came up to Tebo and excitedly said there was a special concert in the Ger and we should hurry. No argument from me.
Inside the warm Ger we found tables laden with food and men seated on one side, women on the other. Tebo quickly explained it was a New Year event and the front row were all politicians. Soon after we arrived a man dressed in a traditional costume began to sing. As the song progressed you could discern that the words were different but musically similar verses. 55 minutes later the song stopped. Later we discovered that the singer announced he stopped at 1 hour but the song went for 10hours. The song progesses naming every Mountain in the North of Mongolia. Further we discovered he was one of very few singers left who could sing these folk songs. So rare was the music, called Urtiin Duu that it was registered with UNESCO.
After this, a tour of the much warmer Winter palace a beautiful building more Russian styled architecture – now a museum filled with artifacts of the Emperor and Empress, including lush costumes, elaborate toys of the son, a make-up and jewellery cupboard from the Empress.
The extra experience had made us very late for lunch, combined with people closing for the New Year celebrations the intended local restaurant was closed. Finally found the restaurant in Hotel Ulan Bataar, an older hotel that was open for business. A step back in time, a feel supported by a gallery of wonderful black and white photos along the hallways. One photo showed an early American archaeologist with a title something like ‘Robber or Explorer ‘ Explaining that this man had come to Mongolia several times and removed bones back to America.
The Gandan Monastery is a Chinese-style Tibetan Buddhist monastery that has been restored since 1990. It houses the largest statue in the world unfortunately it was closed because of the celebrations. Instead we whispered our wishes into the cracks on the whispering post, and lit a candle in the small room before heading to the train station.
Our last stop on the way to the train – we visited the main square renamed Chingghis Square with statues of Ghengis Khan and sons along with a large statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar, a leader of the Mongolian Revolution dominating the square in front of the parliament building.
Finally to the station- A Soviet style Palace of Transportation with an office titled “Chief of Chiefs. We left Ulan Bataar at 2035 for our 27 hour train ride on the slow train! We had been told few people would be travelling at this time of year however there were so many people waiting there were no seats anyone in the station.
We boarded the train still hopeful but were immediately unsettled by the confined cabin and sharing with 2 strangers. We were sharing four berth with two friendly Mongolians. They were convinced we came from Austria until we started doing the kangaroo thing. Any nervousness was soon overcome, despite no common language we shared food, conversed, laughed and finally managed to get some sleep – they even made up our beds for us!
At Naushki station Russia we had customs and immigration on both sides of the border. Our roommates seemed to get a bit of a hard time being asked to stand up whilst the immigration guys held their passports up to their face.