Border Post – or Thomo Gets Arrested

The Secret History of the Mongols ... er, rather the secret photo of the border area taken from inside the car - you can just swee the church in the middle of the windscreen

In Altanbulag soum in Selenge Aimag, up on the border between Mongolia and Russia, is the Sukhbaatar Museum. It is not a large museum but is significant as this part of Mongolia is where Sukhbaatar fought and defeated Chinese forces back in the 1920s, during the war that won Mongolia its independence. Just on the other side of the border is the Russian town of Kyakhta and between there and Altanbulag is a border crossing. The Mongolian government has also set aside an area here as a free trade zone to try and improve and expedite trade with Russia.

Kyakhta and Altanbulag are also significant as the location of talks in 1915 between the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian governments resulting is a treaty giving Mongolia a degree of Autonomy. This lasted until 1919 when the Chinese revoked the agreement which in turn led to the Chinese invasion of Mongolia and the later struggles for independence by the Mongolians.

Thomo in Mongolia away from the border crossing. You can see the church over my right shoulder

We went there.

In Kyakhta there is a beautiful old Russian Orthodox Cathedral which is now used as a customs post. Indeed, in the area between the Mongolian and Russian border points is a Khan Bank branch, used by the traders and what have you. Of course, I am the Chief Information Officer of the Bank. I mention this so that when I say, “I took a photo across the border of the church” you will understand that I do this out of a love of old buildings. There were many other people around (Mongolians and the odd Russian) some taking photos as well.

Thomo was detained by an over-zealous member of the Customs department. As I was a “third-country national”, therefore I may have been a spy or a terrorist and photographing there was plainly a breach of national security. Tseye then spoke with him and was also detained.

Memorial to Sukhbaatar in the Museum - secure Russian border behind

Needless to say, even after showing him identification indicating that I was an executive of a Bank, that I had every right to be there as one on my branches was “just over there”, and after Puujee had spoken to him gently (Puujee is a very patient and gentle man), this guy was not going to let us go until his boss arrived. Eventually he was prevailed upon to let us go after deleting the offending photos from the digital cameras (I think the fact that someone mentioned to him that he had no authority to do what he was doing, that there was no legislation preventing us from doing what we were doing along with being told that most of the people working around him relied on Khan Bank salary loans each month also persuaded him to release us).

In any case, for your amusement, a photo of the border area, another of the cathedral and one of the hero Sukhbaatar (behind Sukhbaatar is the Russian border, by the way).

Chinggis Khaan’s Water Spot and Camp

The monument to Chinggis - the blue scarves are a Buddhist sign of good fortune and general blessing

In Selenge Aimag, between Sukhbaatar and the soum Altanbulag is a monument to Chinggis Khaan. It is near a spring that issues from the ground. It was in this area that Chinggis along with 60,000 troops camped whilst he searched for his favourite wiife. She had apparently been kidnapped by a rival.

Whisting over the spring to generate ripples

The monument, along with most of the others through the country to Chinggis, is revered by the Mongolians. The spring nearby issues forth from the ground with clear, cool water. It is said that whistling over the spring causes the water to ripple on the surface. You can see Tseye trying this. As to whether the water rippled from the whistling or not, well, Tseye whistled, I watched but if you want to know, then travel to Selenge, visit the spring and whistle over the water and watch what happens.

Sukhbaatar Museum

The Sukhbaatar Museum, Altanbulag soum, Selenge aimag, Mongolia

In Altanbulag soum in Selenge Aimag, up on the border between Mongolia and Russia, is the Sukhbaatar Museum. It is not a large museum but is significant as this part of Mongolia is where Sukhbaatar fought and defeated Chinese forces back in the 1920s, during the war that won Mongolia its independence. Just on the other side of the border is the Russian town of Kyakhta and between there and Altanbulag is a border crossing. The Mongolian government has also set aside an area here as a free trade zone to try and improve and expidite trade with Russia. Kyakhta and Altanbulag are also significant as the location of talks in 1915 between the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian governments resulting is a treaty giving Mongolia a degree of Autonomy. This lasted until 1919 when the Chinese revoked the agreement which in turn led to the Chinese invasion of Mongolia and the later struggles for independence by the Mongolians.

So, back to the museum. It is a museum devoted to Sukhbaatar and the 1921 Independence War although it does contain other exhibits. The day my favourite Mongolian family took me there was the day the tour guide was on holiday so the young lady that sold the tickets escorted us around the museum and explained the exhibits.

Cannon makers mark and Thomo's Toes, Sukhbaatar Museum

The exhibits include a diorama of the area showing Sukhbaatar’s struggles with the Chinese. There are some old weapons of the time, including a couple of wonderful old machine guns. Unfortunately I was not permitted to photograph inside the museum. Also on display are some uniforms worn by the Mongolian troops of the time as well as a number of paintings and the furniture from Sukhbaatar’s office.

Upstairs is an heroic statue with Sukhbaatar and Lenin meeting. Also upstairs are some paleantological exhibits (old bones, including part of the front tooth of a Sabre-Toothed Cat (Sabre Tooth Tiger)), archeological finds from the area and some anthropological exhibits showing how Mongolians lived 100 years ago or so.

The museum is inexpensive to visit and worth the look. If you have made the effort to go to Selenge Aimag, Sukhbaatar Aimag Centre, then you may as well travel the few extra kilometres to the border and visit the museum.

Oh, the cannon picture included on this blog was the barrel from one of the cannons used during the 1921 War of Independence (and yes, they are Thomo’s toes in the picture as well).

Two Camels, No Roadsigns — Hell, No Roads

I had to travel last week. The job required me to get out and about in our branches so we packed the car, and set off. The troop was our driver, his son who accompanied us as it was school holidays, Baggy, the faithful and long suffering translator and aide confidante and Thomo. We left Ulaanbaatar around lunchtime on Monday and headed south to Sukhbaatar Aimag (province/state). From Sukhbaatar, we would head north, passing through the edge of Dornod and then into Khentii Aimag, after which, we would return to Ulaanbaatar five days later.

Wonderful trip. We stopped and looked at bank branches in nine Soums (towns), one Aimag Centre (main provincial town) and a small village. The country folk were wonderful and some of the scenery was just totally inspiring.

At one point as we travelled along, two camels atop a hill watched our progress. It should be noted too that in the countryside, there are no road signs pointing the next town. Hell, there are no roads – just tracks – and some of them are hard to see if they are not travelled often.

Come visit Mongolia, but if you want to get off the beaten track (that would be the main north-south highway) then connect with one of the local tour people – or drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with some reputable groups. Come see the countryside though, it is an experience you will remember. I will get some more photos up in Thomo’s Hole Proper soon – in the meantime, here is the highway we followed from Baruun-urt, the Aimag Centre of Sukhbaatar Aimag to Norovlin in Khentii Aimag.

A Shower, My Kingdom For A Shower

One of the things in short supply on the Steppe is water. There are a few rivers passing through, and if you are lucky, there may be a subterranean bore handy, all providing water. This water is generally carried by hand to the gers (round felt houses – like yurts) of the local population. In the Soums (small towns and villages) of Mongolia where there are no hotels or motels some accommodation can normally be found in the government buildings. In some of the more popular areas of Mongolia you will find tourist camps. Again, these may not have a large supply of water so cleaning facilities will usually consist of a bowl and some water (and very little water at that – and that supply only in a trickle). Being Australian, I like a shower. I like to be well cleaned. Going a few days without from necessity is not a great trial, but at the first available opportunity to take a shower, then a shower I will take.

We pulled into Baruun-urt, the Aimag Centre of Sukhbaatar Aimag at about 10 pm on Tuesday night, having been travelling for two days. The local manager of the bank had telephoned the public bathhouse and persuaded them to leave the heat on the water for a little longer. What a treat that shower was and how pleasant it was to wash the dust from face, arms, legs and hair.

I must admit, when I returned to Ulaanbaatar after a week traipsing around the Aimags, I spent a good hour soaking in a bath 🙂

Presidential Inauguration

mising_imageToday the ever suffering Baggy – my faithful translator, confidante and friend – took me to the inauguration of the new president of Mongolia. It was a period of much pomp and circumstance with units from most parts of the army. Luckily we managed to watch from Dave’s Place – the bar – see elsewhere. We managed lunch as well as a parade, although I must admit I think Baggy felt a little uncomfortable eating at such an august occasion and in front of the old folks crowded into the bar area to watch from a slightly higher vantage point. The only really uncomfortable part of the day was the old Russian/Chinese style of marching. The goosestep still reminds one of too many bad things from the past.

The Mongolian units though were really well drilled and performed well. The band that played was excellent and a highlight for me was watching the band run, in step, half the length of the square at one point, instruments in hand. Thanks Baggy – this day I really enjoyed 🙂