The Red Gated Golden City

I peered through inky blackness while our aeroplane jetted northward from Beijing across the invisible steppe. Feebly lit villages briefly flickered and disappeared sinking into a sable sea. The age-old stars lit our long, long way.

Out of the inky blackness of empty steppe rises a city of gold; Ulan-Ude.

Out of the inky blackness of empty steppe rises a city of gold; Ulan-Ude.

And then gold. Ulan-Ude, like some bejeweled fairy tale city, some golden Oz, pierced the darkness beckoning our wandering craft to come and rest in her berth. The temperature in Ulan-Ude during our 7 am touchdown was a crackling -37° C. Siberia didn’t disappoint.

A cold, dark arrival.

A cold, dark arrival.

Our airport stay was prolonged by the consternation of officials trying to get their heads around a three-year visa. Finally the immigration officer in charge confidently informed us the Russian Consulate in Seattle had made a mistake, for there is no such thing as a three-year visa. With that they let us go and we collected our baggage, hailed a taxi and set off into the city.

Wood smoke rises to greet the sun who finally peeps over the hills at 10:00 am.

Wood smoke rises to greet the sun who finally peeps over the hills at 10:00 am.

Tigers, and deer stationed on the bridges leading into the city welcomed us. Lovely Mother Buryatia greeted us with a bowl of mares milk and blue silk at the eastern entrance to the city as is steppe custom. Stalwart Buryat warriors astride their chargers silently saluted us as we drove into the mist covered chill resting on Ulan-Ude. (Ulan-Ude means: Red Gate)

Ulan-Ude on a cold sun day.

Ulan-Ude on a cold sun day.

Nina, Yulia’s delightful mother set down before us warm bowls of salamat; fried sour cream, a Buryat delight. We savored the steamy, creamy goodness, and laughed at excited antics of our nieces and nephew. Just the things one needs after a long flight through the darkness.

Late afternoon on the Trans Siberian Railway.

Late afternoon on the Trans Siberian Railway.

The sun sets orange on another frigid day.

The sun sets orange and frigid.

Advertisements

Oh Mongolia!

Munguu, myself and Tegshee

Mongolia is fabulous as far as countries go. Big open spaces, beautiful smiling people, cold, sun, wind, snow, stylish girls in big sunglasses, guys with edgy haircuts, country people in red, purple, green deels. (Traditional robes). The wrestlers palace beckoned and I heeded the call, witnessing Mongolian wrestlers grapple, and fly like eagles around the ring when they won a match.

One snowy night in Sukhbaatar Square, the central square of Ulaanbaatar, as I photographed Ogedei Khan, third son to Chingis, enthroned upon his bronze throne for perpetuity, a “Hey what’s up” brought me to pause, and turning I saw Munguu and Tegshee grinning at me. We chatted in the cold wind until it froze us out. We met two times in the following week and a half, culminating in a trip to the National Museum of Mongolia. After experiencing the wonders of Mongolian history, a truly fascinating subject, I gave them each a new testament. They were very pleased, and mentioned that some of their friends have recently become Christians.  I told them to read John, and I will answer their questions when I return. As we parted they informed me I am their “best foreign friend”. I really enjoyed meeting Munguu and Tegshee, it was a real pleasure to speak English with them as they were eager to learn.

And now, a brief language lesson. Ulaanbataar means “Red Hero”, supposedly a nod to Damdin Sukhbaatar, who expelled Chinese forces, and other foreign forces threatening Mongolia, and then got cozy with the Communists. So, Ulaan (or Ulan) means red. Baatar means hero. Sukh means axe, so Sukhbaatar = Axe hero. Tomorrow I will be travelling from “Red Hero” to “Red Gate” the meaning of our beloved Ulan-Ude! Hurrah!