My winter break in Mongolia was fast-paced, thrilling, eye-opening and humbling at times. You might wonder why did I go to Mongolia during winter. Obviously, I could have easily stayed in Leeds and waited for a spring to come. No, I needed to feel the freezing temperature of the Mongolian winter yet again, after a long period of not experiencing it. I was so used to the mild weather of the British Isles, starting to forget the real winter of my native country. It was a revelation! Upon arrival in Ulaanbaatar, I swallowed a bucket of a cold air and thought my throat went numb because of it. Subsequently, I had so much pain in my thigh muscles due to the low temperature. If I wasn’t escorted into the car, I would’ve frozen right there. Afterwards, I learned that the temperature was around – 35 C. “Of course, it must have been that cold…”, I gushed, trying to justify my reaction. My parents comforted me by saying “You are going to be fine. You just need a couple of days to adjust”. They were right. It took me couple of days to acclimatise to the weather. By day three, I was out and about, just like the old days.
I always loved everything about winter from my early childhood as it made me feel refreshed and energised. While I am walking within the city, I would stop and look around. Despite the freezing temperatures, people were living their lives as normal. It is just another winter for them. For me, it was the first proper winter for years. Writing about Mongolia objectively is near impossible task. I always try to keep the balance but I could list many reasons why I can not be purely objective when it comes to about my native country. I suppose, the years I spent away from the country gave me a different perspective on Mongolia. But the years didn’t do anything to diminish the attachment I have with the country. Now, I feel more Mongolian than I felt 10 years ago. Probably, I know more about Mongolia than I knew at 20. However, this might not have happened, if I wasn’t away this long.
What comes to your mind when you think of Mongolia? The endless steppe, the nomadic lifestyle, the round dwelling called ‘ger’ and the history of Chingghis Khaan? These are USPs (Unique Selling Point), mainly geared towards tourism and marketing but they are not necessarily so useful for people who want to know about the real Mongolia. The real Mongolia is not one thing. It is many things. The real Mongolia starts from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the country, a home to over a million residents and a fascinating cosmopolitan metropolis located at the heart of Central Asia. Ulaanbaatar is enormous in size as well. Most visitors tend to stay couple of days in Ulaanbaatar and head for the countryside as it is in the end what was promised on the brochure. Except a few adventurous back-packers, not many visitors venture outside the city centre, probably concerned about unexpected things to happen or just not interested. This unintentional exclusion continues on and it is having a detrimental effect on the understanding of the country to the wider world. I think, I better continue this thread in my future posts.
Back to my winter break. It was a real joy to be in Mongolia. Of course, it was very cold and the capital air pollution was at times unbearable. Who enjoys inhaling the polluted air produced from domestic coal use, electricity factories and cars? But then, how these thousands of families who don’t live in apartments supposed to cope with the cold winter starts in late October and continues on well into March? They need to use coal to keep warm and the alternative fuel recommended by the Government is hard to find and expensive for low-income families. On a daily basis, they need to balance between keeping it warm and having something to eat. Despite all these constant difficulties, I saw people living their lives, going to work, studying and keeping their ambitions alive. It was an eye-opener. Suddenly, my so-called minor problems are nothing compared to what these people need to go through every day. I call them ‘The Brave Ones’!
‘The Brave Ones’ don’t wait for a help from others; instead, they help themselves. ‘The Brave Ones’ have one thing in common; they are defiant in the face of difficulties. I think that the world is a better place because of these people who decided not to give up and continue to believe in themselves.
For anyone, who is interested in finding out the real Mongolia, you need to go there. Especially, you need to go there during autumn, winter and spring. You need to travel beyond the modern city centre of Ulaanbaatar and see how ‘The Brave Ones’ live and breathe. And there are other large cities besides the capital: Darkhan, Erdenet and many more urban centres.