Ulaanbaatar To Be Renamed “Chinggis Khaan”

Apparently some academic, or academics, have come up with the idea of renaming Ulaanbaatar “Chinggis Khaan”. The city government is considering this idea at the moment. It must be true, it was on the evening news last night 😀 . The reasons given for the potential name change were:

  1. It will attract more tourists
  2. Chinggis Khaan, as a name, attracts more respect
  3. It fits with the Mongolian character

I won’t even try and look at the point about it fitting with the Mongolian character – I can’t. However I was dismayed when the Buyant Ukhaa Airport outside Ulaanbaatar was renamed the Chinggis Khaan Airport. There is so much “Chinggis Khaan” in Mongolia now, and Ulaanbaatar in particular, that it looks more and more like Mongolia has nothing to offer the foreign tourist other than Chinggis Khaan.

At the moment, that I can see, there is Chinggis Khaan vodka, beer, bank, hotel, restaurant, street, airport, khuushuur (хуушуу), buuz (бууэ) and even toilet paper (yes folks, use the same paper Chinggis did when riding across the steppe).

Rather than attracting foreign tourists to Mongolia, it is likely to turn them away as it appears that Mongolia has only one thing to offer, Chinggis Khaan.

To attract foreign tourists you really need to promote the whole package. Chinggis, certainly. Dinosaur bones, definitely. The unspoiled steppe, a must. The beautiful countryside, clean air outside of Ulaanbaatar, clear river water and so on. The temples that are still standing, the culture, the morin khuur. All these things need to be promoted. Even the Naadam and the particular style of Mongolian wrestling (сумо) has its place.

By all means create a Chinggis tour – visit Dadal in Khentii for his birthplace, then up to between Altan Bulag and Sukhbaatar in Selenge for the spring that he watered at with his army when he was looking for his stolen wife. Further down in Khentii Aimag, visit the river near where his armies camped. Visit the valley he fortified at one time. But everything in Mongolia is not Chinggis Khaan. Don’t forget Sukhbaatar, Zorig, Zanazabar and the other Mongolians who have contributed to the way the country is today.

As for naming Ulaanbaatar after Chinggis, well, I have trouble seeing what the relationship is between Ulaanbaatar and Chinggis (other than, of course, they were/are both Mongolian). Ulaanbaatar was founded around 1639 – a good 400 years after Chinggis rode the steppe. The name Ulaanbaatar came about in 1924 after Sukhbaatar, with the help of the Russian Red Army, had finally finished defeating the Chinese to form the modern, independent, Mongolian state.

Whilst the name “Ulaanbaatar” literally means “Red hero” and is a celebration of the communist victory at the time, I can understand some folks wanting to change the name, especially today in the days of a modern democracy. Ulaanbaatar was previously known as Orgoo (Palace) and Niislel Khuree (National Capital). However, to rename Ulaanbaatar as Chinggis Khaan is perhaps not the best thing for Mongolia, certainly, I do not believe it will do what it is supposed to do, increase foreign tourism.

I am sure, however, that this idea will create plenty of talking around Ulaanbaatar. As for me, I think I’ll head out to the countryside this weekend and enjoy some of the non-Chinggis things Mongolia has on offer.

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