Ghenggis up close

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IMG_0754On Sunday it rained and was cold, like early April in Massachusetts. We set out with two colleagues from the Rehab Center who kindly sacrificed their day off to show us a small piece of their enormous country.

The roads are rough, with holes everywhere – I will complain less back home. The winters do a terrible job on the asphalt and repairs are probably postponed. Mongolian drivers are among the worst drivers I have seen – on the daily route to the Rehab Center we see at least three or four cars stopped because they ran into each other. Cars go left and right to avoid pot holes and drivers are rather selfish (this is actually not so unique). Trying to get into a line or cross a busy street is nearly impossible, so I suppose one learns to be selfish and aggressive.

We stopped by the side of the road where two mangy (or were they simply shedding) Bactrian camels (two-humped) were tied to a stake by the road. Our Mongolian hosts indicated we should get out and ride the camel about 20 feet one way and then 20 feet back. We also were offered a large leather mitt on which an enormous bird was placed, weighing more than Faro – an eagle I suppose – with huge talons and beak but eyes that showed no more life in them than one would observe in a plastic replica. The spirit had gone out of this bird and one could easily understand why – sitting by the side of the road in a bleak landscape, being carted to and from work in the boot of a car and tied to a pole. He (she?) and a mate, even larger with a wingspan of about 2 meters, were like the dancing bear or performing monkey. Our Mongolian hosts paid the 25 cents for each of us, contributing to this terrible practice because of politeness and a little curiosity.We returned to the car, wet from the drizzle, our hands smelling sour from the inside of the mitt and the camel’s coat.

We continued our journey (54 km east of Ulaanbataar) to the Ghenggis Khan Statue Complex. I had expected a series of slightly larger than life status with Mr. Khan in various poses. Instead we saw the largest equestrian statue in the world. Sitting proud and tall and made from 250 tons of stainless steel, 40 meters high, Mr. Khan, the national hero, dominates the landscape. He looks east towards his birthplace. His statue sits on top of a circular pedestal with 36 columns representing the 36 khans (Ghenggis being number one) to Ligdan Khan (presumably number 36).

Inside the base is a museum, a movie theatre, a restaurant, post office, and two gift shops plus a 7 meter high replica of his riding boot. For a couple of dollars you can ‘rent’ some traditional clothes: fine embroidered gowns and fancy hats for women and rough leathers and wolf furs with chainmail, helmets and other war faring paraphernalia for men. You can then roam around the complex in your gowns and make pictures to your heart’s content. Of course we did so and enlisted some local men in their scary outfits to join us for various group photos.

We walked up a very narrow staircase inside the back of the horse to emerge between the horse’s ears with a close look at Ghenggis’s face and the surrounding landscape. A few of the lodging yurts are already in place but the landscaping has barely started. Here too there are no trees – a few scraggly ones planted as part of a more grandiose plan to match the grandiosity of the center piece. We drove back in more drizzle, zigzagging across potholes and avoiding other cars doing the same.

We made it back in one piece and without a scratch, had a late Japanese lunch and settled into the local Starbucks look-alike for a macchiato to divide roles and responsibilities for the managers’ workshop that starts tomorrow.

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