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In and out of Ulaanbaatar: Stainless and spectacular

by Bernard H. Wood on November 2, 2012

Trip and Tales (Part 89)

Yes, MA and Companion saw this as part of their Ulaanbaatar itinerary and so should we all. I’m probably breaking the chronology of their trip, but I really wanted to save this amazing spectacle till last, with a much deserved article of its own.

It’s an absolute must see that is a mere half-hour or so (54 km) out of Ulaanbaatar: a giant statue of Ghengis Khan on horseback. Formally, the Chinggis Khan Statue Complex. Even from the photographs (see 360 degree view here) it is absolutely incredible, both in scale and in the artistry of its execution. Mongolia’s answer to the Statue of Liberty perhaps? At any rate it remains the world’s largest equestrian statue, standing 40 metres tall (including 10 metre base) and fashioned in 250 tonnes of gleaming stainless steel. Imagine that as the sun strikes it.

Spectacular statue of Genghis Khan in stainless steelTo our Western eyes, the relative proportion of horse to rider may instantly (and erroneously) jar, largely due to our reference of giant cavalry horses and by media misrepresentation. The traditional Mongolian horse is a compact, equine sports car, with stamina enough for it to run 10km or more. Great for battle but sometimes not so good for Hollywood depictions of mighty warriors charging into combat on what we would consider ponies.

Contained within the base of the statue is a copious visitor centre incorporating 36 columns – one each for every Khan between Genghis and Ligdan (inclusive). The nine generals of Genghis Khan are depicted in statue form on top of the complex’s gate.

Inside the centre, a museum displays various archaeological finds relating to the region and the complex also contains a meeting room, restaurant and art gallery. Just as the mighty warrior would have wanted it, surely. The real ace in the whole ensemble is the observation deck, accessed at the rear of the horse by lift, through an exhibition area and out atop the horse’s head, allowing you to gaze upward into the face of the mighty Khan or out across the unrolling steppe for an astounding panorama. Amazing stuff.

Currently the complex is being expanded into a 200 Ger campsite, laid out according to the configuration of a 13th century Mongol horse brand. Less appealing, subjectively at least, are the proposed, hotel, spa and golf course (?). How do they relate to Genghis Khan or those who would want to travel out here to see him? Or am I missing something? Dollar signs, probably. OK, I get it, really I do. An impoverished economy (the mineral wealth hasn’t exploded to Arab oil proportions yet) seeking to raise capital by generating tourist income. I wouldn’t want anyone to live in “quaint” poverty, but a golf course?

The location of the site: Tsonjin Boldog, on the banks of the Tuul river, is significant as the place where Genghis Khan in legend found the golden whip said to inspire (or herald?) the success of his future military career. Significantly, his statue faces east to his place of birth but perhaps also to face-off against the old enemy, China.

So how could you visit Ulaanbaatar and not venture out to see this? How? (Get there before they build the log-flume).

[Photo by frans16611]


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