Ulan Bator

Travel Route: Ulan Bator – Bagan Garmin Chuluu

Why do Mongolians call their capital Ulan Bator – “Smoky Hero”?

For centuries, Mongolia’s nomads have dwelt in Gers (Yurt), which are tent-like structures made of felt. The promise of better education and jobs has lured hundreds of thousands to the big city. Ulan Bator has 1.3 million residents — almost half the country’s population — and Gers have increased as a cheap and familiar form of housing.  With no access to the city’s central heating grid, Ger dwellers must burn coal to stay warm.  And burn they do. Ulan Bator is the world’s coldest capital; in January, the average low temperature is 41.3f degrees below zero, with the mercury once sinking to minus 86.8f.   Winter weather lingers through April, so clouds of smoke choke the skies for months on end.  Ulan Bator means “Red Hero” in Mongolian, but the pollution is so bad that cynical locals have taken to calling their city “Smoky Hero.”

The capital city Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital, is a developing city.  There is nothing in it of the typical old Asian urban center.  It has none of the narrow alleyways and oriental ambiance of ancient temples, market aromas, and beggars.  Instead, it’s a Soviet-style town clouded with dust.  Coal-fired power plants and exhaust from the growing number of motor vehicles are the chief reasons why Ulan Bator is one of the world’s most polluted cities.

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace was the home of the last Bogd Khan.  He was a spiritual and political Buddhist leader, third in line to the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.  For me, the visit is about the symphony of color.  For the Mongolian, the Winter Palace represents renewed freedom and Buddhist heritage, which was suppressed under communism (1921-1990).  In 1938 the communists restricted religious communities in Mongolia; they destroyed monasteries and killed or jailed monks.  Since the liberation in 1990, Buddhism is flourishing once more.

Mongolian Cashmere

Cashmere is one of Mongolia’s premium products, along with natural resources such as copper and gold. The Mongolian population is only 3 million, but the livestock is over 50 million – half of which are goats.  Cashmere is made from the softest wool produced by a particular breed of goats.  Gobi Corporation is one of only five companies worldwide that process cashmere and camel wool and has high-quality finished products.  I spent a few hours touring and talking with Gobi’s marketing managers.  I got excited about the business opportunities that this product represents. There is some homework to be done.

Bagan Garmin Chuluu, and what is a Steppe?

Roughly 160m (255km) from Ulan Bator is Bagan Garmin Chuluu.  The road view is the color green, lush green landscape with silver, blue, purple, and beige shades.  We encountered a rare sight on the drive, a herd of over 2,000 gazelles crossing the road.

Baga Gazriin Chuluu is a sacred area of granite rock, located within a semi-desert steppe.  The Mongolian terrain is called – the Steppes.  A steppe is a wide, vast grass-covered area with a gentle slope.

Our tent campsite was in a beautiful location, surrounded by incredible rock formations, including the Chuluun Sum – Rock Temple built to honor the area.