Mongolia. This month (May 2020) is the 15th year anniversary of my first arrival into Mongolia. And I’m reminiscing – especially as I should be there now but I’m not as the borders are shut due to Covid-19.
I initially got sent to Mongolia by my then boss. To be honest, Mongolia was not a country that I ever thought of or dreamed of visiting. Look at my bookshelves and you’ll see that I was fascinated by Tierra Del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, Newfoundland. Antarctica. True, all are remote but none are landlocked as I have always been fascinated with the relationship and resilience of communities that are located alongside our coastlines – and how the sea shapes lives.
My first memory connected with Mongolia is sitting on my bed in my hotel room in Yangshuo in Guangxi Province, China. Fordie (my boss) had confirmed he was sending me to Mongolia (‘similar to Dartmoor, especially the weather. You’ll be fine.’). I had scoured the bookshelves in the local backpacker cafes and managed to find a battered Lonely Planet a few years out of date. I remember clearly an image of Zavkhan Province – an image of just an ‘in-between’ landscape. I was hooked.
I arrived in Mongolia with Neil and B2. With a hangover. All three of us worked in China and our Chinese agent had taken us out for a farewell Chinese buffet. And there was baijiu – China’s infamous rice wine. The delightful but fearsome Miss Pei led the way. And what Miss Pei said, you did. The alarm was not a pleasant sensation.
I woke up over the Gobi. Vast. Empty. Epic. With small pockets of movement – livestock, dusty tracks made by animals and motorbikes, smoke curling from a ger and the shadow of the Trans Mongolian railway tracks telling of a different journey. I fell in love with a landscape.
We arrived in Ulaanbaatar. The distant downtown was a haze of smog. The contrast with the wild beauty of the landscapes was staggering. As we transferred, I gained fleeting impressions of gers, fences, cooling towers, queues of vehicles, power stations and wolves that looked like dogs (so I like to think). I liked the place immediately – foreign, different, hinting at something frontier like with an underlying toughness.
With the formalities over, we set out to discover the city for ourselves. I made my own introduction to the city that is a product of Soviet-era architecture, of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries hinting of a past history, the more chaotic and organically grown ger districts and of modern 21st-century development and living.
By the late evening, the Bogd Khan Mountain was visible through the city streets leading to the south … tinged by the setting sun. It’s a view I continue to love and that I always acknowledge when I’m in Ulaanbaatar.
As the sunset on that first day in Mongolia, I realised I felt completely at home. And 15 years later, every time I arrive back, it still always feels like I’m returning home.
Who would have known then that due to my love affair with Mongolia I would go on to form Eternal Landscapes Mongolia … wth all the resultant peaks and troughs and challenges that any business (or love affair) can bring. Do I regret the day I fell in love with a (Mongolian) landscape? No. Not at all.