Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Mongolia: land of the eternal blue sky

Herds of livestock wander through the barren landscape of Khuvsgul
© Andy Brown/2013/Mongolia
Mongolia is unlike any other country I’ve been to. For most of the year it’s a frozen wasteland. Temperatures plunge to minus 35, lakes freeze over and heavy snow piles up across the land. Then, for a few brief months in summer, the snow melts and the country is transformed into a land of wide, open grasslands, sparkling lakes and vast green forests under an endless blue sky. I visited in June, when this transformation was nearly complete. The snow had temporarily retreated to the mountain tops, leaving the land clear for people, animals and vehicles.

I was in Mongolia for three weeks – two in the capital Ulaanbaatar, and one in the remote northern region of Khuvsgul, which borders Siberia. These days, Ulaanbataar is a modern Asian city in the grip of a construction boom. It is centered on S├╝khbaatar Square, which is deserted in winter but when I visited in summer was full of children and teenagers running around, playing football and cycling. Parents and grandparents arrived with young children. They climbed the steps of the Parliament building and held the infants up to see the colossal new statue of Chinggis Khan, who sat sternly on a giant throne gazing out across the activity on the square.