Countries that have a capital city with a weird name – Mongolia

It was Genghis Khan who put Mongolia on the map. At least, he was the leader who unified the diverse tribal groups who lived north of China’s Great Wall, and after he did assume power he waged a serious of wars against neighbours, that saw him rage across Asia until he ruled the largest contiguous land area in history.

The Mongols are tough people and brilliant horsemen who were feared for their ferocity. They needed to be hardy as Mongolia has a very harsh environment with very little arable land. Even today, many Mongols follow a nomadic lifestyle as their move their herds to new pastures with each season.

The capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator, which means “Red Hero”, and it has the unenviable record for being the world’s coldest national capital city. It is an isolated city which sits in a mountain valley and bears the full brunt of the bitter winds which emanate in the wilds of Siberia and head straight for Ulan Bator.

In fact, Ulan Bator is so cold that its average annual temperature is just -2.7°C. This, and the fact that it gets little annual rainfall, makes it difficult for plants to grow and even weeds are left to prosper simply because they add a bit of green to an otherwise dull, grey landscape.

The city itself used to be nomadic, having changed its location 28 times prior to the 20th century, but since then more public infrastructure has been put in place, industries, hospitals and schools built so that now the population exceeds one million. Ulan Bator is now home to about one third of Mongolia’s population.

Because Ulan Bator is connected by rail to both the Trans Siberian Railway and the Chinese railway system, it has become a stopover for those travellers who are completing those long distance rail journeys.

Despite the city being modernised in recent years less than one quarter of the roads are paved, meaning that getting around can be quite bumpy. Even those roads that are paved aren’t maintained well.

Students of public transport will be interested to know that the city still has a fleet of trolleybuses. As they are a bit big and clunky, the locals refer to them as goat carts.
As Ulan Bator was originally built as a Buddhist city there are many examples of Buddhist architecture and temples to be found throughout the city.

To give you an idea of what the Mongols find important; in the centre of the city is the massive Sukhbaatar Square, which is named after a national hero of Mongolia’s struggle for independence. Taking pride of place in the square is a large statue of the hero sitting astride his rearing horse. The site of the statue has huge local significance because it is believed to be the spot where Sukhbaatar’s horse urinated. Apparently, this is an amazingly good omen in a country where horses and horsemanship are idolised.

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