Three times unlucky then success in Ulaanbaator
We have arrived in country number 35 during our Grown-Up Travelling. Mongolia, famous for the powerful Genghis Khan, the huge, remote Gobi Desert, Nomads living in Yurts (called Gers here) and horses, lots of them.
We climbed off the train to see a sign for Zaya Hostel, where we were staying. We hadn’t booked a taxi, but as it was dark and cold, we took the opportunity to get a lift. Our lovely driver taught us how to say bayarlalaa (thank you) and Sain uu (Hello). That’s a good start.
I had already researched some places to visit based on the article “The Best Galleries And Museums In Mongolia's Capital City, Ulaanbaatar” on the app Culture Trip. After breakfast and a hot shower, we wrapped up warm ready to see our first place, a small and relatively unknown museum, the article said, inspired by the heroism of Peljidiin Genden.
Genden was the political leader in Mongolia between 1932 – 1936 and stood against Stalin, who wanted to destroy the countless Buddhist temples here. His defiance to the tyrant cost him his life, over 22,000 Mongolians were then killed and most of the Buddhist temples destroyed.
Sadly, when we arrived at the address, there was an empty plot of land. The original little wooden house where Genden lived which in 1996 was turned into the museum by his daughter, has been carefully taken down. It will be resurrected in the 22-storey tower block soon to be built. What a shame we missed it.
We had read that the pollution in Ulaanbaator was horrendous, due to its topography, growing population, heavy reliance on coal, it is freezing here for 8 months of the year. We were pleasantly surprised that we could breathe ok, mind you, I do have a cough now. In the last two years, the government has been looking at ways to improve the air quality, smokeless coal is being used more and many people have bought Toyota Prius, we've seen loads! There is still room for improvement though. Currently, according to the website airvisual it is 163 which equals unhealthy. (London is between 4 and 61).
Next on the list was 976 Art Gallery, established in 2012 by Gantuya Badamgarav, “to support and increase the visibility of contemporary artists of Mongolia.” Since it opened, it had grown quickly in popularity “attracting intellectuals as well as the cool young crowd”. We must be intellectuals then! We found a sign on the pavement but no Gallery. Not again! We walked into a nearby building, showed a lovely elderly receptionist what we were looking for and she directed us around the corner. Bingo!
We walked in to find just one small room with a very modern artwork called ‘Inside Passage or A Journey through Vulnerability’. When we arrived to see a few crates with soft weird-looking humanoids and other creatures, and that was it, we were a little disappointed. The other information I have just read is that the gallery is spacious and well-lit with 400 square feet of exhibition space, with over 100 paintings and other art installations. Were we in the right place? The exhibition is included on their website. Was there another room? Another building? Oh, the joys of travelling in a foreign country.
Ok, next on the list – the Red Ger Art Gallery. Cut a long story short; we arrived at the building to find that it is no longer there. Third time unlucky!
From what I have read, Ulaanbaatar is building a vibrant contemporary art scene. Let’s hope that the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery demonstrates this.
Success! And what a lovely place. We walked in and immediately welcomed. While I was taking off three of my five layers of clothes, Tim was trying to pay by card. Declined. We tried mine to no avail. (Later we went to about six different ATMs until finally, we got some money.) As we pondered what to do, a young couple offered to pay for us! We immediately thanked them and said we could transfer the money, when one of the attendants said that we could go into the museum for free, it was their gift! How kind! The overall feel we had of this museum was that it had a fabulous family community spirit. I noticed a sign listing what was on for today: Music and calligraphy performances, Music meditation, Art education program for children and in the evening, Family time - fairy tales with music.
When the performance was about to start, one of the guides came to find us, so we didn’t miss it. And the announcer explained a bit in English just for us two. It was so lovely to see children walking hand in hand looking at the art and discussing this with a parent, and sitting colouring in patterns, children of all ages.
And this modern art was the type that we enjoy, varied in topics, but none that we had to scratch our heads and wonder what it was all about. The photos say it all. (Guess which are my favourite and which are Tim's, and which ones do you like?) ...We had a delightful time, at last!