( Hilversum, Netherlands)
The original plan today was for Robbel, Maciek and myself to take a day trip to the Terelj National Park, near Ulaanbaatar. However, after a week of bumpy roads, and even more bumps to come in the following week, none of us could really be bothered. Besides, the weather was a bit disappointing, with a thick layer of clouds in the sky, and what good is a national park with cliffs and mountains and lakes and forests if there is no blue sky to go with it?
Instead we went to the Gadantegchinlen Khiid; the largest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, and by far the most interesting attraction in Ulaanbaatar. It was unknowingly saved from Stalinist purges by US vice-president Henry Wallace who wanted to visit a monastery during his visit to the country in 1937, and demolition of this monastery was abandoned and the remaining buildings served as a 'show monastery' for visiting foreign officials - a nice way of covering up the fact that pretty much all the religious heritage in the country had been destroyed and Buddhist monks had been massacred or deported to Siberia in the in the thirties and forties.
We walked around the temple compound for a few hours, before heading back into town for lunch, which we did at an Ulaanbaatar institute: Khaan Buuz. Mongolian fast food, can you believe it? In a country where the national cuisine is bland at best, the fast food joints turn out to be a very cheap and tasty (if greasy) surprise. Despite our week long diet of mutton, we were still willing to try the mutton dumplings the restaurant has to offer, and this was possibly the tastiest dish we'd eaten in the whole of Mongolia (not counting the Korean food we'd had)