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Destination: Ulan Bator

The name Ulan Bator (sometimes also spelt Ulaanbaatar) translates into English as ‘Red Hero’, in reference to Süchtebataar, one of the leaders of the Mongolian revolution. About 1.3 million people live in the Mongolian capital, which makes up for nearly half of the country’s population. It is therefore no surprise that it is centre of Mongolian culture, economy, finances, politics and transport. Please note that Mongolia uses its own currency, the Tughrik, so be prepared to exchange money.

Geography

Ulan Bator lies at an altitude of 1350 metres on the foot of the mountain Bogd Khan Uul and has grown around a junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. It divides Mongolia geographically, with the countryside south of the city mostly being made up of steppes while the north is covered by both forests and steppe. The area around the capital is one of the oldest natural reserves in the world, having been protected since the eighteenth century.

History

Ulan Bator was first founded as a Buddhist monastic centre in 1639, though the city has since then changed its name and exact location several times before settling down in the current spot in 1778. In the middle of the nineteenth century Ulan Bator’s economic powers grew within the context of increased trade between China and Russia. The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by Mongolia’s struggles to separate from China. When the nation was finally able to gain full independence in 1924, the city became the capital of the newly established republic.

What to do

Unfortunately, a strict, Stalin-orientated government has destroyed many of the magnificent relics of the old days. Nevertheless, many traces of the rich history are still to be found, such as the monasteries, the Bogd Khan’s winter palace, and many museums trying to preserve the old cultural artifacts. There are also a number of worthwhile destinations for day trips around the city, including the Great of Wall of China. Friends of the outdoors will enjoy the nature surrounding the city. During the cold months skiing is also an option.

Cuisine

During the modernisation process western restaurants have established themselves on every corner. However, it is also possible to experience a more traditional Central Asian cuisine that is rich of dairy products, meat and animal fats to match the unruly climate. The national drink in Mongolia is airag, which is fermented horse milk and is somewhat similar to kefir, but with a higher alcohol content.

Climate

The climate is heavily influenced by the Siberian anticyclone, which means that winters are extremely long, cold and dry with temperatures falling down to -40°C in January. The summers are warm but relatively short and marked by a monsoon climate. The average annual temperature is below -2°C, making Ulan Bator the coldest capital city in the world.

Weather in Ulan Bator

 

When to visit

Those who are not used to the hardships of a Mongolian winter will probably enjoy Ulan Bator most during July and August. When visiting in July, one should ensure not to miss the Naadam Festival, a Mongolian sports festival that was established by Genghis Khan and includes competitions in the traditional sports of Mongolian wrestling, archery and horse racing.

How to get there

Chinggis Khaan International Airport is Mongolia’s major airport and only located thirty minutes’ drive from the downtown district. It can be reached from many Russian and major Asian airports, but there are also flights available from Istanbul and Berlin. Ulan Bator also lies on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which is connected to the Trans-Siberian and Chinese railway systems, making it accessible from all directions.

Why should you visit

Ulan Bator offers a memorable travel experience unique to Central Asia. While the city is host to many grey, Soviet-style building blocks, there are some true architectural gems hidden amongst them. Travellers interested in history, Mongolian culture and religion will especially enjoy exploring the city’s beginnings as a nomadic monastery. At the same time those who dream of the romantic vastness of the Mongolian steppe will prefer it once they leave the urban areas. The tour will be particularly made special by the genuine heart-warming hospitality of the Mongolian people.