The Beginning – Impressions of Ulaanbaatar


It is difficult to describe the beginning of an adventure while the end is most present in my mind and my dreams are still filled eagles, yak, and the sour-musty smell of dried yak yogurt-cheese (I have never before experienced dream smells.) Here, however, are my first impressions of Ulaanbaatar, where my 14-day through Mongolia began.

The trip started on the final sliver of moon mid-September in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. After 24 hours of mostly uneventful airline travel from LAX to Beijing with a transfer on to Ulaanbaatar (or UB as the locals say), I first met Buugii and Yonda at the airport on the east side of the city. I had yet to fully realize their role in our adventure: Buugii as guide and camp mom and Yonda as driver in Van #1.  In the parking lot on this pleasantly warm 70+F degree day, Yonda was greasing the front axle of his pale green-grey vintage UAZ 469 or “Buchanka”. To me it looked sort of like a VW van. They are apparently mechanically very simple, last forever, and, as I experienced, can traverse almost any terrain.

After being dropped off at the hotel, I went for a walk through downtown UB. I was hardly prepared for what I saw with its hustle and bustle and the contrasts of old Soviet buildings, shed-based shops, and modern high-rises with a busy street life showing both traditional and modern fashions. And the traffic! Mongolians are truly crazy drivers. I walked an hour or so to the center of town and back to the Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace and tried to capture a few scenes of a city and people very unused to seeing camera wielding visitors.


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