Freaking Mongolia, Man….


Tibetan Buddhism in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia…

August 2012

…plane landing at Chinggis Khan International Airport in Ulaan Bator; I look down at the dirt tracks swirling through the pastures surrounding the runway… beginner’s guide to chaos theory, the likely paths and the strange attractions, converging and re-converging according to some logic or design… map to the Mongolian persona if not history… they conquered half the known world of the time, even getting out of China’s grip in the end… with help from neighboring big brother Russia, who took a piece herself in the process; I believe the teeth-marks are still visible on the map…

Mongolian countryside

Mongolian countryside

…I got five days in Mongolia, damned if I’m going to sit in Ulan Bator the whole time, so book onward trans for the next day to Tsetserleg… bus terminal not much more than a parking lot… road itself is another matter… break down before we barely reach the edge of town… eats up almost an hour, listening to the onomatopoeic noises of tools and tire irons clanging and clattering in hidden compartments. In the Old West somebody always rode shotgun. Here in the Old East I guess somebody rides tire iron.

…could count distances by the number of potholes… Sometimes feels like we’re going to leave an axle behind… Sometimes adjacent pasture is preferable to the road itself, so the driver just goes off the side and keeps going…

…every hour or so, bus stops so that everybody can get off to go peepee and poopoo, right there on the side of the road, every man pissing to the wild blue yonder, every mother trying to get her kids to get it all out while the getttin’s good, because the green pasture is certainly preferable to the actual mid-point lunch break.



Think you’ve seen some primitive loos before? Here it’s a little row of cordoned-off stalls, wide enough for three planks, the middle one missing… send your deposit off to the fetid swamp that lies twenty feet below… big enough for a child to fall through, or a laptop computer. I get dizzy and almost can’t urinate. Camp Kickapoo was a party poop compared to this chasm of filth and chaos.

I count several dead horses along the side of the road… They’ve got plenty. Livestock far outnumber people in Mongolia. But these are not wild. These are all stock, great herds of cattle and goats and sheep and horses, the ponies for which Mongolia is famous, the ponies that conquered the world…

Such is the history of Mongolia… green rolling fields as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen, just going on forever. Gers (yurts) dot the landscape, the traditional homes of a traditional people, nomadic by nature, moving with the seasons and pastures… cross between Dine’ (Navajo) hogans, igloos, and Playmate picnic coolers…

013I’m in freaking Mongolia, man! That’s almost Siberia! It may be as close as I ever get, in fact… reminds me more of Bolivia, both the people and the landscape, vast and desolate, but not desperate. If those two peoples are not related somehow, then they’re certainly missing a good opportunity…

Tsetserleg itself is no great shakes… something of a crossroads out here in the outback… market and vegetables on display are filthy and disgusting. Nutella and thick Russian brown breads will have to suffice.

I worry that the road may wash out for my trip back… At one stretch we must go for five or ten miles in water-soaked pasture adjacent to the distressed road… we finally make it through. Somehow we always do.

Buddhist accessories, UB, Mongolia

Buddhist accessories, UB, Mongolia

So I guess I’ll get my full day in Ulan Bator after all.   “State Department Store” a throwback to the Communist era, but whereas before that might’ve meant shoddy merchandise on scarce shelves and long lines with little fulfillment, today it’s a dizzying array of dazzling displays and more clichés than I have to describe it, a paradigm shift of cosmic proportions….

But my favorite part of UB is the Buddhist temple a short hike up the road where I’m staying… little copy of the Potala in Tibet, with which it shares a sect if not sects… even sell Dalai Lama calendars here…  Listening to the monks recite their prayers is effective… endless repetitions of the same incantations, but the effect is transcendent and I feel myself being swept up in it…spend hours looking through the nearby shops full of Buddhist adornments and accessories…

I could die right here right now with few regrets. If I were to go to heaven, then I wouldn’t have far to go.