During my short stay in Mongolia I spent most of the time in its capital: Ulaanbaatar or, as it was previously known and still called sometime, Ulan Bator. I’ve decided to turn this experience in a little guide to the city and its most important sights evaluated according my personal impression. Ulaanbaatar is a huge city so I will split the entire story in two parts. This is the first post. One more will come out pretty soon.
An overview of the town.
Ulaabaatar is big, it hosts about 50% of entire country’s population, that means little less than 1.5 million people but nevertheless, most of the sights are in the centre or at a walkable distance from it. I have to say in advance that, if it is not raining, for me “walkable distance” could also mean 3-4 kilometres especially if I’m pushed in this direction by dishonest taxi drivers, chaotic traffic, lack of a subway, buses whose destination is hard to guess and where is mandatory to pay with the local card. Am I talking about Ulaanbaatar? Oh, yes! However, I have to say that orientation in Ulaanbaatar is not so complicate. Main street listed on all guides as “Peace avenue” but unknown to locals with this name (for them is the easy to memorize “Enkh Taivny Örgön Chölöö”), goes on a East/West axis and allows to reach most points of interest. Furthermore as it always happens, walking you have the chance to discover unexpected or less known sights. For example walking toward the main square of the town I found a big statue of Marco Polo. For an Italian doing the trip around the world meeting the greatest Italian traveler ever, even if in marble and it looks a bit Mongol, it is always an heart warming experience… 🙂
Sights along Peace Avenue.
In this first part of my travel guide to Ulaanbaatar, I will describe a bunch of interesting places located along Peace Avenue or whatever is called. Don’t be scared by my introduction above. For none of the sights I’m going to describe it will be needed a 3km. walk, at least if you are reasonably close to the main square of the town.
Chinggis Khan Square
…and then let’s start right from the main square of Ulaanbaatar: the monumental Chinggis Khan square. First of all, let’s clarify that Chinggis Khaan is the same guy that in the West is known as Genghis Khan. The square was named after Damdin Sükhbaatar until 2013 and most of the people here still keep calling it Sükhbaatar square and with a reason. If Chinggis Khaan reminds of a glorious but remote past in which a Mongolian was king of China, Damdin Sükhbaatar, the red hero that gives the name to the town (see the explanation in my post about Ulan Ude) more recently, in 1921, declared the country’s independence from that same China. Said that, there is one more thing I have to frankly say: the square for me is ugly. I wanted to find a more polite form to say it but I was afraid to be misunderstood. To me is just a huge square without any real appealing landmark. There is the obvious statue of Chinggis Khan in the middle but too small compared to the size of the square. Stairs of Mongolian Statehood History Museum on the north side of the square are likely perfect for brides taking pictures for the wedding but I cannot say it impressed me that much. Most pleasant thing of the square is that, being the central meeting point, is always a great place to see something happening. I saw policemen on a bike, young athletes with sport medals around their necks, wedding pictures and peaceful demonstration of people with red flags. In other words to me, better the content (beautiful people in the square) than the container (the square itself).
On the north-west corner of Chinggis Khan square there is National Museum. It is definitely an interesting place for all who wants to know more about the history of the country. Ground floor exhibits very ancient items including tools from stone age, pictures of petroglyphs and beautiful golden jewels. On the upper floor there is plenty of costumes and some anthropomorphic stele. Of course the most important part is dedicated to the Mongol empire that, it is important to remind it, was the largest contiguous land empire in history extending on large part of Asia and most of Eastern Europe. I liked the museum also because of good descriptions in English. I was also impressed by the Mongolian script, very peculiar to me, since it is written vertically. It was replaced by Cyrillic in 1946 but it is still used in official statements. You can see it also used on the banknotes. This post continues to next page