Ulaanbaatar, Crossroads of Mongolia
Brutal wake-up. The whole world is shaking around me as the plane is landing. I am blinded by the light of the snow covered hills but can not stop contemplating their harmonious curves. After countless hours spent between planes and airports, I am finally in Mongolia.
As I get in the taxi, I notice that the driver does not speak any English. Nor does the lady of the shop or the cook in the restaurant. I will have to live with that – in Mongolia, very few people actually speak English. Being driven through the town at the rhythm of traffic jam, I take time to enjoy and immerse myself into these first moments for I know that they will remain deep in my memory. Faces, sounds, smells. Women wearing thick fur coats, men in traditional cloth and signs written in Cyrillic. As a detective, I am looking for all these clues, these details that, when put together, give life to a place, to a country, to a culture.
Wherever you go in this country, you will have to pass by it, Ulaanbaatar, crossroads of Mongolia, which number of inhabitants considerably increased during the past years. Reason being a massive rural exodus. It is the paradox of a city of settled nomads that became a mandatory stop for travelers. As a result, while the richest live in soviet-style apartments around the city center, the others settle for the periphery in modest wooden houses or even gers, last remnants of a nomadic past. It is the same on the roads where one can observe a dance between brand new Hummers and old wrecks which life hangs on a screw. This is an integral part of the charm of this city, still in its adolescence although not far from maturity, but that tries to keep its innocence. And that’s how I like it.
Cold can be felt only once the sun disappears. In a few dozen minutes, temperature drops under –30°C, even sometimes –40°C. The cotton-looking fumes happily spit by the coal power-plant join those of the chimneys and spread like a blanket, sealing the city in a deep fog. Between the cold and the acrid smell of coal, air becomes hard to inhale. Not until the sun rises and heats the atmosphere will I be able to enjoy the sweet sensation of the cold air filling my lungs again.
This post has been predated in order to fit best the time I’ve been experiencing these moments.