But forget all about that now. Because we are back in Ulaan Bataar (Ulan Bator is the spelling used by outsiders) and here humans have clearly won the battle against sheep (horses and camels never had a chance). Snarling gridlocks, sudden jerky maneurvers by impatient motorists, all make for a stranglehold that is not alleviated even by the rationing of road use by vehicle registration numbers. The promised drop in temperature and arrival of snow was a bit late in coming, but we could feel the discomfort as we said our goodbyes to Bor and Belegt.
But we are not easily put off by such trifles and armed with all the winter gear we got with us, we dragged ourselves to nearby Sukhbataar square - a vast open space in the center of the city dominated by the equestrian statue of national hero Sukhbataar (who freed Mongolia from China in the 19th century) and large imposing buildings all around. The wide marble portico on one end of the square houses the 3 great Mongol Khans. Our old friend, Chinggis was getting a face lift and so was temporarily hidden from us. But that gave us the time to have a good look at his son Ogedei (we mentioned him in our earlier post on Kharakorin) and grandson Kublai (by a different son). Other notable structures are the pink hued Opera house, museums, the uniquely shaped Blue Sky hotel.
Snow started falling at night and continued all of the next day. The wind chill factor was 11 degrees F.
Another quick taxi ride got us back to the city centre and to the Choijin Lama Monastery Museum housing five temples none of which are functioning today. Hence "museum". We were the only visitors on this chilly day and the attendants opened the doors to the 3 temples that are "open" for display. The central temple contained very interesting artifacts of the performing arts associated with the monastery - animal masks, wind instruments made out of thigh bones, friendly and hostile spirits most of which had Sanskrit names (e.g. Mrug for deer, Mahish for bull etc.). The grotesque image of Shri Devi, one of the scary spirits that are intended to ward off evil spirits recalled our visit to the Erdene Zuu monastery the previous day. The museum complex is completely surrounded by tall glass and concrete structures that stood out in contrast.
Our hotel was just a short walk away but the increasing winds that sent snow flurries into our faces made for a testing time. After checking out, we left our bags and headed out for a quick bite at Black Burger Factory who surprised us with some tasty vegetarian burgers. After collecting our bags at the hotel we gratefully hopped into a taxi that took us to the railway station to begin the main chapter of our journey - the Trans Siberian Express. Stay tuned!