28 November 2007

Midnight Train to Darkhan

Posted by JonHaley under: Mongolia .

Not exactly riveting stuff, but I took another trip outside the capital last weekend and got to see a few new things and had some interesting experiences. Here’s the report:

This weekend was long due to Mongolian Independence Day on Monday, so me and a few others lost no time in getting out of the busy city for some beautiful, clean countryside air! (Mongolian Independence Day passed without the faintest celebration, at least from what I saw. No one even set off fireworks, which is very strange because normally they’re gleefully letting them off at 10am on weekdays without the slightest provocation.)

We went north to Mongolia’s second largest (74,000) city of Darkhan (“peaceful” or “blacksmith” both apt definitions), which is about 3hrs by car and an unrushed 6 hrs by train from UB. Once a Soviet stronghold and industrial hub, it turned into a bit of a ghost town in the early 90’s after the Russians left. It’s coming back to life now, but is still very quite and slow moving. Cattle graze throughout the city amongst the old soviet apartment blocks, packs of stray dogs jog around aimlessly, and huge vacant lots separate and spread out the city.

There are about 10 or so other VSO volunteers (mainly from the Philippines) stationed in the city and a number of Peace Corps, so that’s mainly why we were visiting. Traveling to Darkhan if you live in UB has the same sort of feel of driving up to Northern Canada—nobody would do it unless they had to. The Lonely Planet describes it as “…Not a place you would rush to see…”, but despite all that it wasn’t a bad spot and I found it quite an interesting forgotten corner of the world.

The train trip out (9:00pm-3:00am) on Friday, was a first for me, and was quite enjoyable. The tracks make up the Mongolian portion of the Trans-Siberian Railway and cut through some beautiful barren steppe. Gives one the impression of what the world-famous TSR must be like. It was dark obviously so there wasn’t much to see, but a little moonlight on the snow covered steppe was quite beautiful.

Most of Saturday was spent visiting the other VSO’s flats, driving around to the main monuments and “attractions” in the city: a frozen river, a statue of Buddha, a Morin Hor (Horse fiddler) monument, and the one and only supermarket. After some kick-ass Filipino food for dinner and some socializing, we embarked en masse to the local disco for a night out. It was pretty much the same as most of the UB discos (of which I’ve become quite a expert), featuring the same bizarre Eastern-European/Russian dance music, dirt cheap bottles of vodka, and fun loving Mongolians. We got there at about 9:00pm and things were well underway; people were already dancing and drunk out of their trees. At the stroke of midnight the music cut-out mid song, the bright house lights came on, and we were promptly presented with our bill. Strange, but that’s just how they roll out here in Darkhan; gave the evening a definite Cinderella feel.

Sunday, morning hangover in-check, we took a walk through the highlight of Darkhan, the children’s park, to the local open air market. The park features plastic and concrete animals of all kinds, many dressed up in warm coats and emitting cheesy Mongolian music from embedded speakers. Again a head-shaker, but good times.

Took a “taxi” (random car and driver) back to UB on Monday. Highlight of the whole trip might have been driving through the sparkling snow-covered steppe in the bright morning sunlight, passing grazing herds and quaint little ger villages. Entered the nebulous, opaque smog of UB about 45mins from home. We will, therein, remain swallowed and wheezing until the next trip.

Check out some clips HERE.


Response code is 404

7 Comments so far...

KK Says:

3 December 2007 at 4:17 am.

Burrrrr! Looks real chilly…gezzz what a strange place ur in Jonny! Crazy, crazy stuff. Well, I graded from my course. Start work back at UBC tomorrow. Was hoping to get up to kelowna again but no days off , so I guess I’ll have to catch up with all ’em in the new year. Keep warm…we actually got some now here in Van, but it’ll be gone soon I’m sure. Anywayz, take care and stuff. TTYL

Anonymous Says:

11 December 2007 at 8:17 am.

Bro Haley, seems like life in Mongolia is quite an adventure. Also seems like the security guards are living in style. LOL. Is always great to hear about your. Have a great Christmas break

Rupinder-'Charles'-jeet Says:

11 December 2007 at 8:18 am.

Oops forgot to post my name abover

Mark Says:

12 December 2007 at 5:32 am.

moonlight on the barren steppe quite beautiful yes Jon soakitup! and that cold too this is Mongo Santamaria (holy mother Mongo!!)!!Let it sink in!!
Speshal reques’ from ktown posse: More pics of Mongolians, Jon’s deel, Mongokultur.
Tec no note:The sound mixing on the Darkhan vid: speaker shredding wind noise with Mongo kitch on top quite evocative! do more with dat watch the levels!
Is the work more satisfying? Do you feel likeyou’re accomplishing anything?

riv Says:

14 December 2007 at 5:28 am.

loved your commentary but where’s my Tylenol?

amber Says:

7 January 2008 at 7:47 am.

Jon, You WRITE,WRITE ON. Stop the speaking,it be hooves you. Just write,your humor, your style, your poetry= who needs a camera.Just an occasional etching to enhance the mood your tongue sets.Start your novel now,with such talent.
THANK-YOU for the video on MON. ARTS and CRAFTS HOMES. We will be right onto reproducing one just as soon as we find a local brown earth rat with as much fat as the stewed up one in the video.A few other essentials got missed in the production,so if you come across an unedited version,pick it up.Tis a YURT FLIRT, with some deep down home vocals and inspiring case cover. We are still carving soup spoons, practice for the ROYAL CENTER PIECE,and folding walls.
Wynona and Zander are planning to go to Vallarta ,Mexico in March. And we
understand River is there as we speak. So that should keep the winter S.A.D. disease down.Julian and Fernando are up here , with ELI, from Pt. Vallarta,so I guess it all evens out.I start back to school tomorrow,and so does EVE. AMBER

amber Says:

7 January 2008 at 7:57 am.

DEAR JON , I forgot my main purpose in writing to you,it was to wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2008 !! AND PLEASE KEEP ON TALKING , I WAS AMAZED WITH YOUR WRITING SKILLS, BUT WE DO STILL LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU.It is the year of the brown, earth rat,so enJOY , it promises to be interesting. AGAIN AMBER

%d bloggers like this: