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Although many Americans might have a hard time pointing to Mongolia on a world map, upon arriving in the country foreigners are swiftly reminded of Mongolia’s former empire. The wall map below is displayed at entrance to the immigration office.
While much of the Western world associates Ghenghis Khan with barbarism, he is revered in his homeland principally for uniting the Mongolians, but also for many other forward-thinking achievements. American schoolbooks fail to tell us that it was ancient Mongolia which established some of the first public education. Brutal and effective as their warfare was, Mongolian khans executed fewer criminals than the United States does today. Ghengis Khan even established the first officially recognized hunting seasons. His statue overlooks Ghengis Khan Square in the center of Ulaan Baatar, the capital city.
Ulaan Baatar is a booming metro of well over one million residents, nearly half of Mongolia’s total population. Autos and paved roads have seen rapid construction here in the past decade. A government waiver on import taxes for Toyota Priuses has produced a plethora of the little gas savers. They buzz around the city with other shiny new cars, a strange juxtaposition of affluence in a city where a dinner out costs less than six bucks. Architecture in UB ranges from gers (yurts) and adobe structures—standard Mongolian fare—to Soviet style apartment blocks, modern high rises, and newly popular wood frame houses.
But I did not come to Mongolia for city life. After almost a week there making preparations for travel to western Mongolia with Pat Phillips and his Mongolian River Adventures, it was time to penetrate The Countryside as the Mongolians call it. Open steppes, roaming herds, horseback herdsmen, and lonely gers, this was the Mongolia I’d heard rumor of, the Mongolia beyond the fences; traditional, true.