Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

Erdenet Red Eye

Downtown Monument, Erdenet
The best advice for traveling in Mongolia is to allow plenty of time, both because there is a lot to see, and because it is common to run into delays. So it was against our better judgement to squeeze in a trip to Erdenet for Judy's teacher training workshop a few days before I needed to be back for another week-long trip. What would make it possible is an overnight train from Ulaanbaatar to Erdenet, which in theory would allow us to travel while we were sleeping, arrive in time for Judy to present a workshop for teachers there, and return the way we came, leaving in the evening and arriving back in Ulaanbaatar the next morning, with the day left for me to get ready for the next trip. A second piece of advice that we broke on this trip is to avoid traveling at night, since you can't see what you are traveling through.

With these broken rules, this had become a utility trip. We would spend more time on the train in the dark than I would seeing Erdenet, even though I would not be giving a workshop. Despite my intentions, I did't really sleep on the train. Our hosts at the branch of Judy's university there provided us with a room to rest in, which I took advantage of for an hour after breakfast. Then, after finding Judy's classroom, I took off to see the city.

Architecturally it is like the older part of Ulaanbaatar or the newer half of Darkhan. Concrete Soviet-era apartments are spread out through the city. Indestructible though they are, their wooden details around windows and balconies have succumbed to weather and time, causing many of them to have a tattered look. But on these largely identical apartments, the balconies are the only hint of customizations that have been made. Originally open air bump-outs, many have been filled in with whatever material is available to protect stored items from the weather, or to help to reduce heat loss in winter.

Open Pit Mine and New Tailings Mountain, Erdenet
The main industry here is mining, and unlike the Oyu Tolgoi mine, Erdenet's mine, with its Russian backing, hasn't gone through the shutdown that is causing such turmoil to the south. Both the mine and its tailings pile seem to be booming, and the town itself seems to be doing well, with new shops and storefronts on the main streets, and new roofs and hashaa fences in the residential areas. Like many Mongolian cities, there is a children's amusement park at the edge of town. Unlike most though, there is also a new ski slope. From the top of the large hill behind the town's newest Buddha you can see down into the top layers of the open pit mine, bringing to mind, for just a moment, the Berkley Pit in Butte, Montana.

Besides the architecture, there are other reminders of the Russians' influence here, starting with the Russians themselves. Compared to other cities away from the capital there are many caucasians here, but very few of them speak English. And the Mongolians who tried to be friendly to us did so by saying zdravstvuyte instead of just hi.

After a day of hiking (and for Judy, teaching) we negotiated a ride back to the train station, in time for a rain shower, then a few hours of sunlight before darkness settled in. Even after we had bedded down for the night, there were still surprises. Halfway through our trip we were awakened by the train attendant, and made to understand that a family of three would be joining us for the rest of the trip, despite what we thought the arrangements on our tickets were. By now we are seasoned Mongolian travelers, and understand that anything can happen.

Close Story—Back to Pictures

Erdenet Red Eye

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Railyard, Ulaanbaatar

Dawn On a Train



Youngest Passengers

Remembrance of Lenin

Remembrance of Lenin

Customized Balconies

Monument, Center

Apartment Block

Monument, Roundabout

Monument, Friendship

New Buddha, Mine

Erdenet, From Above

New Mountain

Steam System


Train Station, Erdenet

Welcome Home, Khangal

Flagger, Khangal

Train Stop Homecoming

Orkhon River Crossing