The main destination for the day was Khustian National Park, a compact 56 sq. km National Park that was established in 1993 to protect Mongolia’s wild horse, the takhi as well as the reserve’s steppe and forest-steppe environment. Getting to the park involves a 10-km off road drive on a rutted track.
In addition to the takhi, there are populations of a number of mammals like Asiatic red deer, steppe gazelle, deer, bear, Pallas’ cat and 200+ species of birds. Wildlife viewing is best at dusk and dawn but mid-day is when we got there and wanted to make the best of it.
The gentleman who we got our entrance tickets from, directed us to the best spots to sight the horses and this involved a further 10 to 12 kms off road driving. Luckily (or by design), at the spot alluded to, a couple of park rangers / staff were standing with binoculars and spotting scope trained directly on some takhi feeding a long way away and up a steep mountainside. These white-tan horses blended perfectly with their surroundings and there is no way we would have found them if not for the men who appeared to be tracking them. On the other side of the mountain, also high up on the crest, was a large herd of deer with large antlers. Binoculars and spotting scopes were switched back and forth until we were satisfied with having viewed them to our hearts content.
On the way back, we managed to elude traffic until we were very close to the center of the city and the final few kilometers to our hotel right in the heart of the city (just off Sukhbataar square) were exceedingly slow.
There was still a couple of hours of daylight left, and with threat of rain and snow for the next day, we wanted to cover some of UB’s prime sights in the evening. Sukhbataar square, a large square befitting a national capital, is surrounded by the National Parliament building, the National Museum, the Cultural Palace, the Mongolian Stock Exchange, the Opera House and other notable buildings. On one end is a a seated bronze statue of Chinggis Khaan, which unfortunately was obscured by scaffolding for renovation. He is flanked by Ogedei and Kublai, his two heavyweight (literally and figuratively) descendants. Two famed Mongol soldiers guard the entrance to the monument.
We zigged and zagged across the square a little before making a beeline to Govinda Restaurant, a Hare Krishna run outfit that promised healthy, all-vegetarian food. It was interesting to greet the ethnic Mongol host with a Hare-Krishna and we believe this to be more of a true Mongolia experience than a dinner at a typical Mongolia BBQ in the US (which is about as inauthentic as you can get if you go by what our Mongolian friends on the train to Irkutsk told us – but that is another story).