Hotel Mongolia 2: A Beach in Ulan Bator

A curious sign

A bridge to the trees

Are you kidding me?  Mongolia is a landlocked country and the big bodies of water closest to the capital,  are thousands of miles away;  how can there be a beach in Ulan Bator?  That was what came to my mind as I stood there at the ‘backyard’ of Hotel Mongolia looking at this huge sign which said “beach”.

A lovely beach

I knew that Mongolia is bounded by land territories of only two other countries,  Russia and China, and that one has to go way across Beijing to get to the closest ocean, the Pacific.  Also, the biggest bodies of water inside Mongolian territory, Lakes Khovsgol and Uvs are, in fact, closer to Russia than to Ulan Bator.  So, why this sign? Somewhat amused, I took photos of it then went on with my tour.

Sacred and full of history

It did not take long before I found it.  There, just behind a row of trees and summer cabins, was  the scenic Tuul River.  It now occurred to me that, although it did not fit my expectation and  usual definition, a riverbank can be called a beach and the sign was therefore technically correct.

This particular ‘beach’ was also quite special.  Also called the Khatan Tuul or Queen Tuul, the Tuul River is considered sacred by the nature-worshiping Mongols and was frequently mentioned in ancient Mongolian and Chinese historical writings including in the Secret History of the Mongols.  Some beach.

Of course, there were no bikini clad sunbathers at the beach at that time.  I was not even sure if somebody has ever dared  to do that on these riverbanks considering the weather. But the scenery was great. The trees along the banks were bursting with  shades of yellow, gold and brown; the clouds threw shadows over the curvy surfaces of the nearby mountains, creating color variations from yellow to blue; and the faithful river caught whatever hues it can on its surface. I knew I can only begin to try and capture its splendor.

I learned  from my later readings that the Tuul River is also home to endangered species of sturgeon and that pollution is becoming a serious problem because of mining activities upstream, wastes from Ulan Bator and the rapidly expanding human settlements along its banks (notice the cluster of houses in the second photo). Sad.  I did not find traces of pollution (at least in this part) while taking these photos in 2009 but, unless something was done about it, Queen Tuul may die and the only thing mirrored on her waters in the future may be that of ugliness and abuse from humans.

And then the word ‘beach’ shall have no meaning at all.

A delicate scenery