25 July- Ulaanbator
Ulaanbator (UB) is the biggest city in Mongoia, but you can walk across it in a morning. First stop for me after a heavy rain doused the city was the Gandan Khiid Monastery.
Buddhist monks have been here since 1944 when it was opened for show for the US vice President's visit, but it became a true place of study in 1990 when the monastery was reopened. You can walk all over the grounds and pop your head into any of the buildings while the monks are chanting. They have monks of all ages from bent over old men to young boys who were throwing pieces of paper at each other instead of chanting.
The main attraction here is the 26 meter tall Buddha filled with 27 tons of herbs, 2 million bundles of mantras, and an entire ger including the furniture.
Outside the Monastery gates I proceeded to gorge myself on dumplings, conveniently found on every street. From street venders you can fill up for about 35cents, in a restaurant with English writing on the sign the same dumplings are $8-10. For research sake I've been trying them all and all are good.
At the southern end of the city is a war memorial but the best part is at the top of the stairs I saw my first golden eagle which they use for hunting and posing for pictures with tourists. The eagle was hooded and teathered, but not to anything. I couldn't believe that it would just sit there so quietly, but I guess if I were blind on the top of a windy hill I would stay put too.
A little farther on is the Bogd Khan national park where a 4 mile trail leads you up above the city and into a forest of larch trees. After 2 days of city, I felt like getting my feet out on some trails, and so did hundreds of Mongolian families. One of which invited me to eat lunch with them.
Tired of my own company I readily accepted. Out came the blankets, out came salty milk tea, and out came a big pot of noodles and mutton. Only one woman spoke English well, but we talked, laughed, and ate for over an hour. After being alone for days, just sitting in the midst of such a chatty, warm family felt wonderful.
Tomorrow morning I'll get my passport registered (their office is closed on the weekends) and be able to leave the city and jump on a horse!