On the Road to Khalkin-Gol

-Part One- by Henry Sakaida (continued)

Justin Taylan with Dorj outside our hotel.

Khalkin Gol badge on the left and two Mongolian veterans badges. The ribbon bars are for commemorative & anniversary badges.

Chinzorig sets up camp. There are no motels along the way.

The following morning while rushing to an internet café, we saw an old man walking down the sidewalk. On his suit were ribbon bars. A veteran. Above his ribbon bars were three badges, and one of them was the Khalkin Gol badge! Damn! He had been there in 1939!

Justin and I quickly surrounded the man, who had no idea what we were so excited about. I explained to him in Russian that we were Americans, going to Khalkin Gol that morning. Before he couldsay a word, we both grabbed him by the arms and led him back to our hotel. I took him to the dining room and ordered coffee for him while Justin ran upstairs to grab his video camera.

The old gentleman said his name was Dorj and that he was 85 years old. He lived in Choibalsan, Mongolia’s third largest city, and one of the cities we would pass through on our way to our destination. He was in town visiting relatives and friends. He said he was an infantryman during the conflict. We tried to stall him until our guide Chinzor could come to interrogate him, but Dorj said he was already late to see a friend, and we had to reluctantly let him go. We took down his cell phone number and escorted him down the hotel steps. I shoved some Mongolian currency in his pockets, thanked him, and saw him continue on his way. What a great omen!

We needed to shop for food. “What do you guys want to take?” asked Chinzor. “Beers and chips!”

we both chimed in unison. He was incredulous. “We’re Americans,” Justin explained. With the ice chest full of beer, there was no room for the perishables. The meat, eggs, cheese, chicken, and ice cream went on the roof rack. We were on the road at noon.

There are no interstate highways in Mongolia and except for some paved roads in the city center, almost all roads are unpaved. Some of these are very smooth, but the journey was bumpy at times.

Most of the country is beautiful green pasture as far as you can see. The air is so clean, we broke out into health! At times, we drove for many hours without seeing man or beast. It is that remote. There were no directional signs. Occasionally herds of cattle and horses, and flocks of sheep and goats had to be honked off our path; we saw a few camels. Fuel was never a problem because there are designated gas stations serving each district.

Mongolia is for the adventurous thrill-seekers who enjoy roughing it. One look into a Mongolian outhouse will convince you to revel in the freedom of the great ourdoors. Modest ladies must hike a mile for privacy. The land is that flat; it is an off-roaders paradise.

Camels roam freely in the country side and are used for transportation.

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