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!”
Part of an ancient fortress, it is the tallest structure in Eastern Mongolia and a helpful landmark for travelers.
Artillery shell found along the road outside of Choibalsan.
Mongolian Heroes Monument at the entrance to Choibalsan, Mongolias 3rd largest city. It was built by the Soviet Union.
Soviet T-26 tank at the Mongolian Heroes Monument in Choibalsan.
Soviet BA-10 armored car had a 45mm cannon and one
7.62mm machine gun. It carried a crew of 4 and was used at Khalkin Gol.
One of 3 military check points on the way to Khalkin Gol.
Border areas are considered sensitive and permits are required.
We shared snacks and cigarettes with friendly Mongolian cavalrymen we met along the way.
It is Mongolian custom never to turn away strangers who wish to stay for the night.
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.