Ulaanbaatar: My First Impressions
In Mongolian Buddhism, there’s are many ways to wish for good luck. Here is one way. You spin this large spinner clockwise either once or three times. If done correctly, Buddha will smile upon you.
Hello everyone, it has been a while since you last heard from me. I think the last thing I told you was that I was on my way to Mongolia. Well, I am here! I’ve been in Mongolia for almost 2 weeks now and I have been having a blast.
I landed in Ulaanbaatar (the capital) and got a ride to my hostel called UB Guest House. I landed in the evening, so I couldn’t see too much. I actually couldn’t see much at all because there weren’t that many street lamps. That was one big difference from Tokyo. I think Japan has too many lights, at least in my opinion. I met some cool foreigners at the hostel and spent much of the evening learning what UB has to offer.
I made good friends with a Brazilian named Andres and an American named Ben. The next morning we met up and decided to walk to a nearby Buddhist monastery and explore that area. We found it and man was it big! They house 500 monks within the area, so while walking around I saw monks of many shapes and sizes doing their daily chores. Some were carrying pails of water to the kitchen, some were sweeping the steps, and I even saw some younger monks playing soccer (those rascals!). The temple grounds were very different from the Japanese temples I visited, but the feeling was the same. There were visitors praying to the large Buddha statue and monks were doing their “thang.” The main difference was the praying technique. In Mongolia, people lay on their stomachs and lay their hands out in front of them while they pray. In Japan you either clap or you just put your hands together. Either way, you’re doing the same thing; you’re just saying hi to Buddha and wishing for happiness.
After the big monastery, Andres, Ben, and I walked around and found some other temples. They were smaller and more quiet. We also walked to the town center and I got to see the Chinggis Khaan statue in Sukhbaatar Square. During my first day, I mostly soaked up my surroundings and tried to get a feel for the UB vibe. What I gathered is that UB is a mixture of Russia and China. In downtown UB, most of the buildings are of Russian communist architecture, which means there is a lot of concrete blocks and white square buildings. But, the monasteries have the Asian tile technique as well. All in all, the thing that makes Mongolia, “Mongolia” are the gers and horses. A ger is a circular yurt that traditional Mongolian families live in. Even in UB, I saw many gers, especially on the outskirts. Also, there are so many horses here, maybe not in downtown UB, but I did see horses in the outskirts of town (and on my recent travels, which I’ll explain later.)
That afternoon, I was invited to join a few travelers to a traditional Mongolian performance. I got to see throat singing, traditional dance, and traditional orchestral music. It was flippin’ amazing! I was also invited by 4 strangers to go on a 9 day Gobi tour leaving the following day. I decided to go for it.
It was day 2 in Mongolia and I left that morning in an 8 person van with 2 Mongolians, 3 Swedish guys, and a Canadian guy. Little did I know, I would become very good friends with all of them and have the time of my life traversing the Gobi Desert.
I’ll post about my trip soon. Promise.