Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mongolia Wilderness

I managed to visit two wilderness spots in Mongolia, the first was a hiking trail into the mountains south of Ulaanbaatar and the second Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.  The first spot is called Bogdkhan National park, this is directly south of Ulaanbaatar. 
To get here, you can take a bus south from the city center and then walk about 30 minutes to the trailhead.  The base of the mountain is rolling fields, mostly grass and some flowers. The trail up through the mountain follows a small river and quickly turns into a forest.
The trail is clearly marked with these yellow flags.
At what I think was the summit of this mountain are large fields and some trees.  Compared to Ulaanbaatar, it's really quiet up here.
If this is the summit, it's about 914 meters (3000 feet) above the city 2261 meters above sea level.  Basically, this was my training for climbing Mt. Fuji. This park is a UNESCO world heritage site and the oldest national park in the world.
The base of the mountain was a small Ger village, these are traditional Mongolian nomad houses.
I was able to visit Gorkhi-Terelj national park.  I hired a car in Ulaanbaatar to take me round trip to the park, below is the dash of the car.  On the dash was a solar powered buddhist spinning prayer wheel.
The park has perfect lawn, as dose most of northern Mongolia.  The lawn is nice because the nomads moves herds of horses, cows, sheep and goats around to keep the grass in check.  There is not one mechanical lawn mower in this country.
Through out the park are small villages and places you can camp.
I think these are wild horses, but they might just be normal horses grazing between the time of working... But they look wild.
This is a very famous huge rock in the national park.  If you look close, you can see it is shaped like a turtle.
All around the turtle rock is rental horses and camels.
Here is another view of the turtle rock, you can get an idea of how large it is.
This is the car and driver who gave me a ride to the national park.  Really nice guy, Mongolia is a left hand drive country.  But left hand drive is not really enforced, so he had a right had drive car from Japan... The ride to and from the park was scary.
Horse management.
I took a photo on a horse, but I did not really ride it around anywhere.  Poor horse.
Some kids with their camel.
This river ran through the middle of the park, it was a really beautiful view that was difficult to capture with a photo.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Earlier this month, during the Japanese holiday of Obon I made my first trip to Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capital city of Mongolia.  To get to Mongolia I had to transit through Korea at Incheon airport before flying on to UB.
Above is a photo of the information desk near the luggage pickup area at the UB airport.  Typically when I travel to a country I try to exchange some money for the currency of the place I'm going to visit.  Mongolia is the first place I have visited that I was unable to get money for before landing, both in Japan and Korea.  So I walked up to the information desk above and asked where can I exchange some money for Mongolian dollars.  The person behind the desk pulled out a little tin-box and asked how much?  I'm used to passing money though quarter inch glass to get money.  More funny, after the exchange I had over a half million Mongolian dollars on my person... It would not all fit in my wallet, not really that much though.
UB is not a huge city but it's the largest city in Mongolia.  Above is Sukhbaatar Square, in the background is the Mongolian Government Palace... This square kind of reminds me of Tiananmen Square or Zocalo Square.

In the center of Sukhbaatar Square, these lions keep safe another statue of a solder on a horse.
Above is a closer view of Government Palace, that is a statue of Genghis Khan in the center of the palace.  All over UB is statues, below is Joseph Stalin  Lenin.  It turns out this in Lenin, and this was the last statue of Lenin in Ulaanbaatar. Since the time I visited Mongolia the mayor of UB has had this statue removed.
 Not far from Stalin is Marco Polo.  Back-in-the-day he traveled through Mongolia too.
Mongolian's like the Beatles too (and Rihanna).  Many cafe's were playing Beatles music.
Most of the year Mongolia is frozen and during the summer construction is everywhere.  And you really have to be careful when walking, many sidewalks are torn up and many manhole covers are removed with no fence around them.  No walking around looking at your smart phone!
Back in the 30's a communists government suppressed religious communities and destroyed many temples, but the temples that survived are beautiful. The main religion here is Buddhism but I talked a monk about this and he said Mongolia is very tolerant.
Below is the Migjed Janraisig Monastery, today a symbol of independence for Mongolian's.
This statue of buddha was built in 1996, it's inside the Migjed Monastery.  The original statue was destroyed by the communists in 1938.
As you walk away from the monastery you get an idea of how large it is.
Below is the Choijin Lama Temple, not far from Sukhbaatar Square.  For some reason, all the temples that have a lawn, the lawn is not well taken care of.
Below is the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, the emperor of Mongolia use to live here.
Today it's a museum decided to the last emperor. 
UB also has many monuments that hail back to the USSR, below is the Zaisan Memorial, this honors Soviet solders killed in WWII.  
Inside the circle is a great tile mural showing great moments in Soviet history. 
You can see the old-school hammer and sickle on top of the monument.
But at the base of the communist monument is a statue of Buddha and next to Buddha is a commercial development.
The only American chain-style restaurant in Mongolia is BD's Mongolian BBQ (no Starbucks, McDonalds or anything else).  I did not eat here but did walk by it a few times.  One of the most funny things I saw was a line of Mongolian's outside of BD's Mongolian's BBQ waiting for it to open.  The bar under BD's is American Cafe Detroit.  Nightly, Detroit was empty which makes no sense, the logo is Shut Up, Just Drink!.
Ironically, Genghis Khan did propose one good solution to today's financial crisis, the note below that starts with: Whoever takes goods (on credit) and becomes....
Traffic and infrastructure in UB is bad.  It's difficult to describe but many roads are torn up and missing and where roads do exist, it's basically potholes everywhere.  People drive where ever necessary to get around the pot holes.
UB basically has two main road going in and out of the city.  Below is the tool gate for entering UB from the east.  The sign above the toll booth says Ulaanbaatar.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Omiya is a city north of Tokyo and south of Utsunomiya, many people who work in Tokyo live up in Omiya because it's a-little-bit cheaper. I have passed through Omiya on my way too and from Utsunomiya many times but have never stopped. This past Sunday I had a free day and decided to visit.   When I got to the station I took the east exit and the first thing I noticed was a statue of a squirrel.
The name of the statue is Toto-Chen, I'm not sure what the history of this is but the first thing I thought of when I saw it was 'wow, what a mess people have made with Mcdonald's garbage'.  But the second thing I noticed was this statue seems to be the less 'squirrel-fu' version of this drawing by my brother many years ago.
Another reason to visit Omiya is a famous shinto shrine called Hikawa-Jinjya.  It's not difficult to find, exit Omiya station east and walk about 15 minutes untill you find this sign, than turn left.
Keep walking, the path leading up to the shine is an amazing tree lined street.  There are a couple of large tori's down the length of the path and many vending machines.  Currently, it's over 90F outside and humid, so vending machines are a good thing.
The city of Omiya is loud but once you enter the shrine it becomes quiet and peaceful.  This bridge gets you over a pond to the main shrine entrance.
This is the main gate of Hikawa-Jinjya, I guess this complex is over 2000 years old but information in English is limited at best.
But before you enter the shrine you have to wash your hands, purify!
I think this structure is for tea ceremonies it's in the center of the courtyard.
This is the main shrine building, people can walk up and pray here.  This is about 2km from Omiya station.
Around the main shrine are a bunch of little shrines and bridges. I like this little bridge to a small island that was not much larger than the bridge.
There is also a train museum in Omiya, I will put a post up about that soon.