Up around 9 a.m. we quickly ate some breakfast provided by the hostel consisting of buttered toast with jam and coffee or tea. The hot water pipe was being fixed apparently meaning we had to take ice cold showers. It was so cold in fact that the shower caused an awful headache… But we had sights to see!
Mongolia Presidential Inauguration of Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj
Just a few blocks walking distance was the large Sukhbaatar Square. The scene was one of preparation with police cars and officers patrolling the area, military was marching around the fairly empty square where the news crews were setting up. There was a large section of empty seating and a roped off center around the statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar, Mongolia’s revolutionary hero.
The president’s second inauguration was taking place right in front of the Government Palace which was renovated in 2006 with a majestic statue of Genghis Khan overlooking the square.
We explored the square which was flanked by many government buildings, bank headquarters, the Mongolian Stock Exchange, the State Ballet and Opera House, a shopping mall, and the Blue Sky Tower shaped like a sail.
In the south side of the square is the Natural History Museum displaying dinosaur skeletons and an oddly placed tethered hot air balloon ride apparently providing bird eye views of the square.
As the crowds gathered, Mongolians from all walks of life appeared. There were nomads and farmers in traditional dress and modern city-dwellers in shirts and suits.
A traditional throat singing group started the ceremony followed by a duet and even an opera singer.
Then the armed forces formally marched around the square with banners, jeep, and plenty of salutes.
The security was very tight. Plain clothes police with guns hidden under their jackets and shirts roamed the crowds and special ops surveyed the crowd from the building rooftops.
Once the crowd filled up the center seating, the man of the hour arrived.
President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj is a very accomplished man. With a masters from Harvard, he has been pivotal in bringing democracy to Mongolia. Known as the Golden Swallow of Democracy he brings the “spring” after a long “cold winter”. He was even an advisor to the United Nations in New York. He is Mongolia’s 4th president and this was his second term.
July 10, 2013 marks the first time in history a Mongolian president makes a public oath.
When he waved, the crowd shouted his name in support. Then the national anthem was sung and he addressed the nation. You can read his address here.
Then the ceremonial military parade continued around the square. I had to climb a lamp post to get above the crowds for clearer photographs…
It was interesting to witness this significant event.
We left as the event was winding down to start our tour of the outskirts of Ulan Bator. After a quick coffee break, we headed into the terrible traffic to leave the city with our prearranged driver.
Once out of the city we were soon on dirt roads as the main roads seemed to be under repair. The SUVs just drove wherever they could, creating huge seven lane wide free-for-alls. It was intense.
The landscape was quite bare on the few hour drive. We passed by a livestock trading area with pickups packed with sheep and goats. There were also many people selling freshly skinned sheep pelts still red with blood piled on the side of the road.
Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue
We eventually arrived at the large metallic statue of Genghis khan perched on his horse symbolically facing his birthplace. The location is where he found a golden whip according to legend. This fairly new attraction was completed in 2008 and stands at 130 ft (40 m) high.
For an entrance fee you can climb up to the horse’s head for a panoramic view of the landscape. There was also a giant traditional boot and whip, restaurant, museum and souvenir shops inside.
Strangely our guide wanted a picture of himself in front of the statue.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
Our next stop was the main national park near Ulan Bator also referred to as “Terelj”. The extra hour to the park made our total journey last four hours. There is an entrance fee for the National Park collected by unofficial looking park rangers. Within the park are beautiful mountains and rivers dotted with tourist ger villages, though locals also come to the park to camp and get away from the city.
We arrived at a ger village tucked deeply in the valley. Starving at this point, we gratefully ate our meal consisting of a stir-fry lamb noodle, coleslaw plate and fresh (right from the cow) yogurt with salty milk tea.
After lunch, we went for a moderate hike up the mountain to the Buddhist monastery. It was a relaxing and secluded hike to the top where we were rewarded outstanding views of the valley. On the way up, we walked by plenty of Buddhist slogans and a small rickety bridge to cross.
On the way back, we stopped by Turtle Rock but I couldn’t see the resemblance.
The drive back only took 2 hours on the maze of bumpy dirt roads. We were relieved to be back in the comfort our hostel lounge.
For dinner we walked over to the nearby Nomads, a Mongolian chain restaurant that served traditional dishes. A delicious meal of Khamag Mongol (meat platter) and Vegetable Tsuivan (stir-fry vegetable noodles) washed down with a cold Chinggis Beer was the perfect way to end our day…
We had a fairly early night, as the Naadam, the national day started tomorrow!