(written in Huhhot and posted from Xian, courtesy of crappy internets and China blockage. Gotta stay one step ahead of the censors here!)
Pictures of today at:
Today was a very long day. We woke up at 6 AM, as we had to be out the door by 7 AM to go to the Mausoleum of Ghenghis Khan, which was approximately a 4 hour drive. We rented a taxi cab and driver for the day to take up there; it cost 160 USD for his services for the day. A young man about my age pulled up in front of the hotel in a cab, and Josh and I were off.
We drove for a very long time past vast mountains and places where the Earth had eroded into deep turrets into the earth, revealing many different layers of sediment. It was very beautiful. Traffic going up was on the lighter end; when needed, the driver switched lanes to go into the breakdown way (as well as oncoming traffic at some points!) to get around the large trucks that travelled the roads. We also saw an accident where the front edge of one of their trucks was very badly smashed, but it seemed that there were no injuries from it.
About 3 ½ hours into the ride, we stopped at a fancy restaurant for food that was nothing short of decadent. They had delicious potatoes and pork with a sweet sauce, the potatoes sliced up like chips; there was diced beef with peanuts and vinegar cucumber, pasta florets that were heavy and coated with a thin but excellent sauce, and a massive bowl of noodles and pork and eggs. We fed the driver, and he acted almost as a servant throughout the day, pouring our tea, holding the car doors for us- he was a very courteous young man, and was very happy to pull off to the side of the road so we could take pictures.
After we departed from lunch, we arrived about 30 minutes later at the Mausoleum of Ghengis Khan. It was on perfectly maintained grounds covering many acres. It is worth noting that this attraction was formerly located in Tibet, but moved to Mongolia. We went up several flights of stairs towards the central museum building. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the museum, although I did manage to sneak one of the massive statue of Ghengis Khan in the front hall from outside. Inside the building, the walls were covered in murals celebrating the life and acts of Ghengis Khan; the ceiling was painted gorgeously with colors of red, gold, blue, and yellow, with large dragons on the domes above us, and pillars emblazoned with gold. They had display cases with artifacts belonging to Ghengis Khan as well as those members of his clan; horse bridles, milk jugs, jewelry, golden saddles and weaponry. They also had places where one could kneel down and light incense and worship.
Outside, they had an altar where one could pray to Ghengis Khan’s horse, which was thought to be supernatural, as well as several other areas for praying. Ponies grazed on the grass, and little buildings with souvenir shops were scattered about. A young boy was very entertained by the sprinklers, playing in them, and we seemed to be a bit of an attraction ourself; a Chinese couple came up and asked Josh if they could take pictures with us and Tom, and we happily agreed. The people in Mongolia, once again, are very friendly people; earlier when we had stopped for drinks on the way, a young man was tickled to practice his English with Tom, saying “Good morning, teacher”, which I found very amusing as Tom is actually a teacher back in the states.
We went back to the cab after seeing the sights and headed back to Huhhot. On the way, the driver pointed out the desert to me while I was engrossed in the DS for what was sure to be a long trip back; the dunes were the heavy tan of stand and just unimaginably beautiful. It was my first time seeing the desert, and while it was there and gone before I could snap a picture, I am sure it is a sight I will remember forever.
The driver took us through a city, and pulled off where there were more monuments to both Ghenghis Khan and the people of the grasslands. I snapped some pictures of Josh and the monuments while Tom did the same, and as I was photographing the monuments, a man came up and gestured for me to give him my camera. At first I hesitated, but then I noticed the expensive Nikon around his neck- I couldn’t see him hauling off with my camera when he had one so nice himself. I handed him mine, and he took many pictures of me, gesturing for me to make different positions and turn different ways. Both he and I were entertained, and eventually he handed back my camera and I thanked him.
We got back in the cab and headed back to Huhhot. It was a very long and mostly unnotable ride; it took 7 hours to get back, and we passed through towns that were very poor coal towns; the dust coated the roads and the land around. The cab driver, once we hit Huhhot, was getting very anxious to watch the World Cup, so we got out a little before the hotel, Tom paid him, and we walked back. We got beers and went to our room to drink and sleep, and that was the end of our long journey to the Mausoleum.