To judge from the language of our local guide, compared to the guides we had in Russia, there is no ambiguity in Mongolia about what the fall of the Soviet Union means. Mongolia was a client state of the U.S.S.R. from the 1920s to 1991, and for them that meant national subjugation and political repression. Now, they are proudly independent and noisily and chaotically democratic — it is wonderful! Outside the National History Museum there is this monument against capital punishment — after all, what free citizen would tolerate giving the state the power of life and death over him? I was delighted to hear our Mongolian guide refer to her political leaders with a sense of humour and light contempt, which is something I never heard in Russia.
Today, we saw the Janraisig temple in the Gandan monastery complex, which has an enormous standing Buddha statue. It felt strange to shuffle along in a line of tourists right next to the praying and chanting monks, but it was all quite normal to them. After a whirlwind tour of the National History Museum, we drove out of the city of Ulaan Baatar to Terelj National Park. Many Mongolians are now encamped all around the countryside, setting up their gers (round tents) in the wide-open spaces in anticipation of the Naadam Festival. Inside the park, I had the chance to ride a horse. I even got Baghii, our guide, to persuade the fellow leading the horses to let me gallop for a bit. For that brief moment, I was a Mongol horseman, thundering across the grassland in the home of Genghis Khan.