This post is being crafted on a cold October night in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Before going to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, I read a number of posts on the internet by travelers who had been there. Most enjoyed their time in Ulaanbaatar but there were also warnings about the food, the traffic, the road conditions, the pickpockets, the air pollution etc., which made me a little anxious. Some of those warnings were indeed true but others may have been a bit exaggerated by the travelers in the same way that some women like to exaggerate how long they were in labor to deliver their kids ( I hope this comment will not stir up a hornets’ nest).
Anyway, here are 10 things that I have learned;
- Locals call it UB
- The air is visibly brown, full of dust and smells like petrol (that’s gas for all you Americans) fumes. My hotel forbids the opening of windows because smokers complain about the smoke from outside.
- Meat looms big in Mongolian diets. At restaurants, you are usually given a choice of what meat to accompany your order of meat. In one place, there was a platter where you could eat beef, mutton, camel and horse meat all on one large plate. All this meat is making me constipated. It’s a wonder that Mongolians don’t all suffer from gout.
- I have seen the madness that is the traffic in places like Mumbai and Bangkok but I crown UB as the King (or Khan) of mad road behaviour. If in Mumbai and Bangkok, they frequently break traffic rules (like going the wrong way round a roundabout or traffic circle), in UB, it seems they have never heard of traffic rules. There are few traffic lights but even when they are there, neither pedestrian or car pays any heed. The number of people weaving their way through speeding traffic is the same no matter what color the traffic light is. Vehicles stop wherever they want including in the middle of busy roads. Somewhat surprisingly, everyone seems to survive.
- Some say that it is faster to walk in UB than drive because of the traffic but it isn’t easy walking either (see point 4 above about crossing roads). Only the main roads have pavements and most of those are full of cracked paving stones and the occasional missing manhole covers. Mostly there is just uneven ground instead of sidewalks and this must become a muddy quagmire if it rains or snows.
- UB is very good at conserving energy. They fail to have streetlights on most streets and they see no need to light up the stairs in buildings.
- The lack of lights in the stairwells is a very pertinent point as most buildings do not have lifts. Although there is a boom going on now with many new buildings being constructed, the majority of UB consists of rundown, soulless Soviet style buildings from the 1970s.
- I also learned that it is very hard to find toilets if you don’t read Mongolian Cyrillic.
- Speaking of Mongolian Cyrillic, I am so impressed that many Mongolians can converse in Mongolian, Russian and English. It’s not just that they know three languages but they have to know three different scripts (as demonstrated in the photos above – Ulaanbaatar as it is written in each of the three scripts).
- Mongolians are ever so very, very, very super friendly people. They are great.