The capital of the most sparsely populated country in the world.
The best way to get to Mongolia’s capital is by train. Of the thirty hours the journey takes from Beijing, you’ll probably spend three hours sleeping and the rest gazing out of the window onto what looks like a version of the Earth but as if Man had never set foot on it.
Coming from a smog-covered metropolis like Beijing, the reality of suddenly entering nomad territory (where leaving the landscape untouched is a matter of religion), hits you like a cold hard slap in the face.
Ulaanbaatar (“The Red Hero”) isn’t a beautiful or majestic city. It’s the result of an attempt by the Russians during the soviet era to make a traditionally nomadic people more sedentary, (Mongolia later became a democracy in 1990). The beauty of Ulaanbaatar is hidden away in the museums, temples and monuments dotted around the centre.
The Natural History Museum is home to many unique fossils from around the country, including dinosaur eggs from the Bayan Zag archaeological site in the south. The Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum houses many examples of traditional Mongolian art, the majority are works by the country’s most famous artist Undur Gegeen Zanabazar, a religious figure and sculpture of the 17th century and direct descendent of Ghengis Khan.
The highlight of the National History Museum is a corridor dedicated to traditional Mongolian dress from every corner of the country. At the Choijin Llama Temple (or Temple of Peace, paradoxically adorned with images of hell, torture and eternal damnation) there are free daily mini-concerts of “Khoomei” (throat singing).
The Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Persecution (located in the home of executed president Peljidiin Genden) tells the story of the atrocities committed during Stalinist purges of the soviet era. Also not to be missed are the Zaisan Monument, the Black Market, Mr. Z. Tumen-Ulzii’s bizarre but wonderful Intellectual Museum, and the list goes on…
I could write pages and pages about this ugly/beautiful city that can so easily get ignored. Have a khuushuur and a cup of milk tea and investigate for yourself…