National Geographic : 1962 Mar
she has had little contact with the outside world. But in 1961, when it looked as if the climate of opinion might change, I applied for visas for Mrs. Douglas and myself. The summer had almost passed before word came from Ulan Bator, capital of the Mongolian People's Republic, that our visas could be obtained in Moscow. In less than a week we were on our way. Land of the Ox That Grunts "It looks just like Wyoming." NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photographer Dean Conger ex pressed the thoughts of us all, as we pressed our noses against the windows of the plane flying us to Ulan Bator. Six hours in a Russian TU jet had carried us from Moscow to Irkutsk, Siberia. Now an other Russian-built plane, an Ilyushin 14 of Air Mongol, was whisking us southward (map, pages 294-5). We had crossed Mongo lia's northern border-wild, broken country, thick with conifers and dotted with blue lakes. This was the heartland of the Huns and Turks and later of the Mongols. This was, and still is, the land of the yak - the ox known as Bos grunniens that grunts as it walks, that thrives on the scant vegetation and thin air of high mountains and plateaus. As we flew south, the slopes became more gentle. The ridges and ravines were mantled with pine and tamarack, the latter orange and yellow, for fall had arrived. Most of the slopes and valleys were pastureland that stretched as far as the eye could see. Mongolia covers about 600,000 square miles - roughly equal in size to Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Portugal com bined. The population is only one million. So, like Wyoming, the country gives the im pression of being sparsely settled. From the air we first saw the industrial town of Siihe Baatar (Sukhe Bator). As we continued south, there were no towns, only a few of the igloo-shaped tents called gers, or yurts as the Russians know them. They were usually near the heads of valleys. They sel dom stood alone. Normally three, four, or five gers -an ail, they say in Mongolia-made up a community. Their white rounded domes against green grass and blue skies make a picture of most of Mongolia today - one that Genghis Khan would recognize. Driving in from Ulan Bator's airport, however, we found the city's buildings new and modern. Some are marble; most are white stucco. An efficient electric-power sta tion and a newly finished sewage disposal 290 Eyes Bright With Interest, Mongolians in a Lattice-and-felt-walled Ger, or Tent, Ponder Words From a Rare Western Visitor "Come, be our guest." The invitation, extended time and again by herder and holy man, farmer and factory worker, brought the author face to face with the people of Mongolia.