Walking Darkhan (Mongolia)
A small photo essay of a small town, and a chance encounter with my younger self
The hardest part about getting to Darkhan is getting to the Ulaanbaatar bus station. Which shouldn’t be that hard — it’s only five miles from downtown on the western edge of the city — but getting anywhere in Ulaanbaatar is hard since everyone drives everywhere, and since there’s only real one east-west road, Peace Avenue, taking a bus, or cab, isn’t much faster than walking1.
After that, it’s pretty simple, because the Mongolian long-distance bus system is remarkably extensive and organized, a relic from the more bureaucratic past that clashes, at least visually, with it’s current street-level chaos.
That means assigned seating, and I lost the seatmate lottery. While everyone else on the bus looked to be the perfect companion, I got an older woman with lots and lots of bags, no concept of personal space, committed to loudly arguing on the phone with her grandmother. I think she was arguing, at least that’s my guess from her tone, although I’m certain she was loud, and I’m certain it was her grandmother because the phone flashed “Granny”, despite the rest of the text being in Cyrillic.
I went to Darkhan because you don’t really know a place if you spend it all in that one big city, and Ulaanbaatar is very much that one big city — close to half of Mongolians live there. That leaves the remaining one and a half million Mongolians or so to occupy the rest of the enormous country.
So I chose Darkhan, which is officially the second biggest city, because it wasn’t that far away, only 130 miles, but that still meant a four hour bus trip because the “highway” between the two cities, while new, is in the process of being made newer, adding construction to its other driving obstacles, like herds of sheep who saunter onto it as if it’s another part of the steppe.