Mongolia: The Country

This page contains pictures and descriptions of various places and items we found interesting on our travels within Mongolia (to Ulaanbaatar and the Gobi).

The Main Temple at the Gandan Monastery

This monastery is the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. According to our guide, during the Soviet rule of Mongolia, the government systematically destroyed most of the Buddhist temples in the country but for some reason they left the Gandan Monastery intact. The conjecture is that, since this monastery was a "show piece" and was located in the middle of Ulaanbaatar, the Soviets decided that it would be a good idea for public relations to leave it as is.

A Sign from Ulaanbataar

According to Badral (our guide), this sign (which was in the center of the city) depicts a Mongolian folk story about the mother of Genghis Khan giving advice to her sons. She tells them, using a quiver of arrows to demonstrate, that united they can stand strong but divided they will perish. The sign has, along the edges, a quote from the story written in Mongolian script. This is a cursive script that is written from top to bottom (Japanese and Chinese are written from top to bottom but they are not cursive scripts) which makes it unique amongst written languages. This script was banned by the Soviets while they were in power (they replaced the script with an augmented version of the Cyrillic alphabet - most of the street signs are written using Cyrillic). It is now slowly being reintroduced to the younger generation.

A Ger at the Hustain Nuruu National Reserve

Gers are the dwellings used by the Nomadic herders that live in the Mongolian countryside. They are a very stable, comfortable, and portable place to live. Badral (our guide) said that it takes three people about a half an hour to erect a ger. I have seen three men tear one down completely in about 15 minutes. We also spent the night in a ger during a sand storm while we were out at the Tugrigiin Shiree. While our Kelty tents were flattened by the winds, the ger remained solid and comfortable.

Our Bus in the Middle of Nowhere

Mongolia is a vast country and the Gobi is as barren as anyone could imagine. Other than in geological out croppings such as the Bayan Zag, no plants seem to grow larger than about six inches tall.

Native Mongolian Horses (Teki) at the Hustain Nuruu
National Reserve

These horses are the last remaining species of truly wild horses in the world. Indeed they are no longer "wild" in the sense that they live on the reserve (which is quite large - sorry I don't have the exact size at this time). The horses went extinct in Mongolia in the late 60's but were reintroduced into the wild in 1994 by the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of Przewalski Horses (the Russian name for these animals). This organization located 16 of the horses in a zoo in the Netherlands and flew them to Mongolia (with the help of the government in Holland). Since that time they have been successfully reproducing on this huge reserve.

Statue of Lenin Outside of the Ulaanbataar Hotel

After the fall of the Iron Curtain Mongolia quickly seceded from the former Soviet block and cut ties with Russia. According to many people this was done a little too quickly. Most of the infrastructure of Ulaanbataar was controlled by the Soviets and, when they left, many services fell apart and the economy finally collapsed in around 1992. For some reason this statue remained.

A Friend from Tugrigiin Shiree
(photo by Bruce Mortensen)

The last night of the dig we encountered a sandstorm out in the Gobi. Our tents were flattened and we moved into the gers. In the morning Ed said the he felt a mouse or something run over him while he was in his sleeping bag. A little later, while packing up her sleeping bag, Marilyn thought that bruce (who was sort of folded up along an edge of the ger) was kicking her (it was rather cramped at this point in the ger). Upon investigating this however she discovered our friend the hedgehog.

Goat Bone Dice Game

According to Badral (our guide) this is a dice set used by the Nomads for various games. As pictured the facets are: Sheep (with horns up), Goat (opposite side of Sheep), Horse (the "flat" side), and Camel (opposite of Horse and sort of "humpy"). The children play a horse racing game using the rolls of these dice to move little tokens (representing horses) along. When a roll produces a Horse facet the token is moved (notice that the Horse facet is the flat one so that it is more difficult to roll a Horse).

Morin Khuur

This is the instrument most identified with Mongolia. It is a "Horse Head" fiddle (in Mongolian: Morin Khuur) which has two strings and is played much as a cello is in western music. They are ornately carved and have a beautiful mournful tone. Note that this is a photo I took of a small model of a Morin Khuur (about 16" long) that I purchased. The little models are sold as souvenirs but are beautifully made and ornately carved and can actually produce sound.