Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 9 - 18th July 2009

10am start. This was another train day but not until 9.30pm. We walked into the city centre for some brunch after our last lovely warm shower for a while and left our bags with reception to be collected at 6pm. After taking the necessary snapshots we had a delicious brunch overlooking an ancient monastery right in the centre of the city.
It was tucked behind some modern buildings. At least they were when the Russians built them in the 1960’s. After handing over 55,000 tugrugs (the Mongolian currency) for lunch I felt heavier in my stomach but a lot lighter in my pocket.
We walked through the city in scorching heat, such a difference to the cold, wet night in the ger. Again, there was absolutely no point in trying to decipher the Cyrillic hieroglyphs to work out where we were going. The map had pictures of buildings that we used as pointers and we made our way up to a wonderful old monastery still in use. 150 monks live and work in the surrounding buildings and it was interesting to see them going about their traditional business. What was strange was to see monks in full regalia and a mobile phone stuck to their ear.
A direct line to God perhaps? I hope their credit was good. We continued into the grounds after paying an entrance fee and looked at all the people either spinning row upon row of prayer wheels, or holding onto what looked like a telegraph pole without the wires.
Each building was in a certain state of disrepair but still quaint and colourful. The older people looked as if they were perhaps potentially making their last pilgrimage to the place. They were respectfully dressed and hobbled along with their families to help guide them.

Finally we went up to the main monastery and went into the darkened doorway. Inside the body of the church, in fact filling the body of the church was another giant body.
The biggest Buddha I have ever seen, 26 ½metres tall. That’s approaching 100ft! It was incredible. Absolutely breathtaking and totally unexpected.
Golden in colour, it rose over four floors high, going by all the little balconies built around it and was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of prayer wheels. In such a relatively small space, by church standards, this was no mean feat. We walked around the clockwise flow of people turning the wheels and praying. On some of the prayer wheels people had taped the names and birth and very recent death dates of their loved ones so that each prayer whispered by devotees could somehow transfer good feelings to their newly deceased.
In one corner a monk was making large beeswax candles, obviously to order, as there was a lot of cash changing hands. The candle was then put on the altar and lit for the customer. Big business. You were not allowed to take photographs of the Buddha in such a religious place - unless you paid the attendant an absolution fee first of course. Everything has a price, even access to deities.
We left the monastery and took a short cut through the Mongolian equivalent of the Beijing hutong. A mix of shacks and lean-to’s on the outskirts of the city. Although this area was pretty rough the majority of people seemed quite well dressed considering. The first street we started walking down had a group of young men standing pestering an old Mongolian in national dress. He was slightly drunk and one of the men pushed him roughly away while his friends laughed. We backtracked and took the next street instead and arrived back at the main road without mishap.
Still too early to collect our bags we stopped in a local restaurant just to kill time. A coffee and beer later, we returned to the hotel for our bags and took a taxi to the train station.
Another two hour wait twiddling our thumbs and the train arrived. During that time we were able to watch the comings and goings of train station life in Ulaanbaatar. Nomadic herdsmen in traditional dress waited for trains with their families.
One man had skin like an old leather jacket. He looked about 60 but his wife was barely 30 and his children were not much more than toddlers. Perhaps he wasn’t all that old himself but the harsh lifestyle obviously took it’s toll. Stalls lined the platform selling all manner of dried foods and soft drinks. Bright, colourful bottles filled with E-numbers and additives lit up in the setting sun. We entered the train and thankfully we were lucky again to have a four berth compartment to the three of us. Much more relaxing than having to share a space. This was the train that would take us into Russia in seven or eight hour’s time. I wondered what to expect.

1 comment:

Theresa Durant said...

Surprised to see that you are still on your journey!! what a splendid experience....wishing you well....