Our Last Day in Mongolia

In August 2017, we travelled across Central Mongolia over a period of 10 days. Our journey took us through National Parks, a lush forest, desolate valleys, nondescript towns, forgotten cities, and of course Ulaanbaatar. It was a trip of a lifetime and it has taken me a rather long time to complete our account (link of story so far) of our Mongolian journey. I’ve finally reached the last day of our trip and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our travels as much as I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about them. 

Domestic tourism has grown in recent years in Mongolia. According to Boggi, our guide, many Mongolians have started exploring their country. And sure enough, we had seen domestic tourists line up, in their 4WD, at popular tourist landmarks. Outside the Erdene Zuu Monastery, some tourists had dressed in royal robes — probably rented from the stalls that dot the sidewalk. Back then, I didn’t notice the similarity between the noble woman’s costume and Queen Amidala from the Star Wars movie. Surprisingly, Basil (an avid Star Wars fan) didn’t notice it either.

We also spotted a bunch of kids dressed in royal silks. Unlike the adults, they took their role as royals pretty seriously and stood with fierce expressions at the entrance of the monastery.

I’ve noticed, no matter where you go, tourist places of interest will have some form of entertainment. I don’t subscribe to keeping birds tied up for human amusement and I’d love to set them free instead. However, Basil found it hard to resist the urge to make friends with that gorgeous female eagle. His childlike glee was difficult to ignore and I gave in. After a few clumsy tries, he managed to get her delicately balanced on his forearm and also have his moment of adoration. Judging by the picture, it looked like the love was mutual.

Erdene Zuu Monastery

On the inside, it was hard to imagine this site was once the heart of the mighty Mongolian Empire. There was virtually no trace of Chinggis Khaan’s capital city, Karakorum — built in 1220 and later expanded by his son. I had been eagerly waiting for this visit and felt disappointed by its emptiness. The last few remnants (stones) of the ancient capital were hidden in plain sight. Erdene Zuu Monastery dominated the scene and competed with the blue sky above it. White stupas formed a periphery that enclosed the temple complex and the remnants of the past within them.

Erdene Zuu Monastery was built around 1585 from the stones of the ancient capital city. The monastery has a checkered history shaped by the politics of the region. The temple complex was thriving before the purges that destroyed most of the Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. It briefly became a museum during Soviet rule and was finally returned to the lamas in 1990.

The three temples inspired by Chinese architectural styles are hard to miss. In the morning, tour groups thronged the narrow entrances of each temple. We joined the free guided tour of the temple complex and tried to follow the monk who gave us a discourse on the history of each temple. I suffered from temple fatigue and my mind wandered pretty soon. Besides, it was hard to keep up with people blocking the doorway.

The Erdene Zuu Monastery follows the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Inside the temples, the characteristic symbols of Tibetan Buddhism were conspicuous through their colour and style.

We didn’t wait till the end of the tour. Once Basil was satisfied with the pictures he had clicked, we proceeded to the Lama Temple. Boggi wanted us to attend the morning chants, but it would delay us by a couple of hours and we had to begin our journey back to Ulaanbaatar. So we skipped the morning prayers and only took a quick look inside.

The journey from the Erdene Zuu Monastery to Ulaanbaatar took about 5 hours. We made a stop for lunch around noon and continued the rest of the journey without a halt. Although tired, everyone seemed to be in good spirits and we were all eagerly waiting to get back. We got stuck in traffic in Ulaanbataar and Saturday evening isn’t a good time to enter the city. We were just in time to buy tickets and wait in line for the evening performance to begin.

Tumen Ekh: Mongolian National Song and Dance Ensemble

Tumen Ekh was a small theatre and seating is unreserved. It’s important to stand in line and rush for the best seats. We made it to last few rows and had a sea of bobbing heads in front of us. Basil struggled with the photography because an impatient little girl kept jumping right in front of us. As I looked around, I realised: the sun was a great unifier. Everyone who had dared to ditch the comfort of a city hotel — for the life in the countryside — had got rewarded with a kiss from the sun.

Folk Dances

Singing

Group Performance

Contortion

Mask Dance

I particularly liked the musical performances. The contortion act was fantastic, but too scary for me. I was worried for the girls and hoped the act would sail through without disaster. It takes some time to appreciate the Mongolian throat singing (not in pictures).

Saying Goodbye

After the performance, we rushed to check-in the hotel. We decided to have dinner with our new friends, Saikhna and Boggi. Over the next hour: we cracked jokes like old friends, raised glasses of Chinggis Vodka and Beer, sang songs without knowing the words, and talked about our lives. The masks had come off and it felt great to survive the rough adventure that we had together. It’s also hard to say goodbye when you’re not sure if you would ever meet again…

And if you can’t get enough of Mongolia…

Documentaries:

Coming Home to Mongolia  (link)

Designer, Saruul Fischer goes back to her roots in this heartwarming documentary about life away from home and breaking stereotypes.

The Eagle Huntress (link)

“Thirteen-year-old Aisholpan trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her nomad family to become an eagle huntress.” IMDb

WordPress Blogs: 

  1. Franz Scheurer Photography 
  2. One Foot Out the Door 
  3. Why Would You Want to Drive to Kazakhstan

Additional Reading:

  1. Karakorum (UNESCO) 
  2. Tumen Ekh 
  3. Satisfy Your Star Wars Addiction By Drooling Over Queen Amidala’s Costumes 

 

 

22 responses to “Our Last Day in Mongolia

  1. Looked like it’s back to civilisation on your last day but you managed to still squeeze in more sightseeing 👍…everything also looked very good in the good weather there, so bright and blue! 👍😄

    • The last day was mixed! We were pretty tired with the journey and had to catch an early morning flight to Seoul on the next day. But the weather was amazing, a little hot, but brilliant blue above. 🙂

  2. Oh, how exciting to see a link to my Mongolia posts here – thank you! I’m sad to see your Mongolia entries finishing up; it was so fun to relive my own time in that wonderful country through your eyes and words.

    I laughed at your reference to being templed out because I went to that very monastery and did not even remember that was its name! I was reading and reading and then when I really looked, I said OH – I’ve been there! Silly me.

    I’m not much for using animals for human amusement either, but that eagle is pretty cool and I’m not sure I could have resisted either. I am ignorant about how they treat trained eagles, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem quite as bad as sitting on elephants or something. ??

    Finally, I also saw that show on one of my last nights. As you said, it was a free-for-all getting seated (my seat was quite bad and very uncomfortable), but it was interesting (except maybe that throat singing, which is surely an acquired taste!). Thanks for a great series on your time there, as well as the links to more info and others’ posts!

    • You know exactly how I feel! I was so sad when I finished writing this post.
      I came across Frank’s blog when I first started planning/dreaming about the trip and you were the next to make the trip to Mongolia. I had to share links! I’m also truly amazed by your travels.:)
      I can only hope the eagles are cared for. We never met any eagle hunters on our journey. Basil was happy with the experience and he’s very good with animals. I read terrible stories about elephants in captivity. It’s heartbreaking.
      The evening performance was interesting and I loved the music. The highlight of the evening was dinner though! 🙂

  3. It definitely seems like you had a magical experience in Mongolia – and how could you not? It’s a country that has an almost mythic status, and I’m thrilled that you were able to go there. I’m even happier that you were able to make such great friends, although that always makes leaving a little harder.

    • Thanks, Josh! I wish we could have stayed longer and explored more. It was a dream trip and I still can’t believe we went there! Leaving was the hardest part of the journey. 😦

    • That’s the sweetest thing to say Dave! Basil has already started planning for another trip of a lifetime. Looks like it will have to wait for 2019 though! 🙂

  4. Really enjoyed reading your blog.
    Having some good reminiscing after your trip, as we are now.
    Missed the Erdene Zuu monastery (which looks beautiful)-but we will be sure to return to Mongolia one day to further explore this wonderful country.
    PS Thanks for the link

    • Thank you for liking our posts. I got to discover your blog in the process. 🙂 I’m so amazed by your travel journey. Kazakhstan is equally stunning and I remember thinking of making a trip there. 🙂 Erdene Zuu is beautiful, but we visited too many temples and it gets difficult to keep track of all of them! 🙂

  5. I am definitely going to plan a trip to Mongolia someday after reading your posts about it! Plus we need to figure out a trip the four of us can take together some day! 🙂

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