Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Trip "Out West"

“Welcome to the our museim” reads the sign above the entrance to the aimag museum in Hovd. But don’t be alarmed. They may need to work on their English, but the curators of this fine little museum have done an excellent job. The museum includes a wide array of indigenous animals (stuffed, of course), as well as a “wall of fame” with photos of local notables. There’s also a small display of Socialist-era military uniforms and a late-70s computer (said to be the aimag’s first). 

Allyson and I visited the museum on a trip we took “out west” a few weeks ago. We flew into Hovd, then took a car from there to Bayan-Olgii. It was a long (eight hour), bumpy ride, but a new (paved) road is being built from Hovd to Olgii, so the trip should be faster (and more pleasant) in the near future. In Bayan-Olgii we spent a couple days in Tsengel, the largest soum in the aimag. It’s a Kazakh town, and the differences with soums in other parts of Mongolia were striking. The gers are of a distinctly Kazakh style, and most homes are completely surrounded by wooden fences. The people mainly speak Kazakh, so even a little Mongolian won’t go very far.  And, as I was dismayed to learn, since this is a Muslim area, it is impossible to buy even a beer on Fridays. (Believe me, I tried.) 

We ended our trip in Olgii, the aimag center, which also has a nice museum, as well as a wonderful Turkish restaurant. Flying home from Olgii, I found myself wishing I could have spent more time out west. It is a rugged, mountainous area, so travel can be difficult, but the scenery and the people make it all worth it.