Sunday, 19 June 2011

"No Go" Mongolia

It's touch and go. In the "Applicant's statement" section of the English language application form for a Mongolian visa i wrote;

'For nearly five months i have been travelling as a pilgrim from England, walking across the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Poland, then using transport, as well as walking, across the Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. With God's help i hope to reach the Pacific Ocean, and somehow cross to Mexico, to the famous Basilica (Church) of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In Germany it was wonderful to meet a Mongolian lady called Ajusch; she sang beautifully and played a two-stringed instrument ('dombra'?).Then in the Ukraine i visited a place called Zarvanitsa, where the story is told of a monk who had fled from Kiev at the approach of the Mongols in the 13th century - an Icon of the Virgin Mary appeared to him in a dream. In Russia it was fascinating to pass through Kalmykia and visit the Buddhist temple in Elista. Part of my degree was Mediaeval History and i am very interested in Genghis Khan and his descendants. I also think snow leopards are magnificent.'

American citizens can just waltz into Mongolia without so much as a 'by-your-leave', so i really didn't anticipate much hassle; but i don't think the consul even read this bit of the form when at last he was available to discuss it, a whole week after i'd arrived in Almaty. "Tourists don't engage in charitable activity" was one of the things he grumbled, directing me to apply in London or Irkutsk; but there was no chance of getting a Russian transit visa without the Mongolian visa. I've since learnt on very good authority* that one should expect at least three visits to get visas in such circumstances - but i already had my train ticket for Irkutsk and time seemed to be running out. What i've done, then, is bought a plane ticket from Irkutsk via Khaborovsk to Seoul, South Korea - the Russian consular officials here in Astana (again) will need to see this if they are, please God (Blessed John Paul II - please pray for us) to issue me with a suitable transit visa in the next couple of days.

Kazakhstan's space-age capital, Astana
Astana was a pretty run-down sort of provincial city until it became the capital at the turn of the Millenium - you can still see the 'shell' of the old town amid the shiny new high-rise edifices. One lunch-time it was nice to be treated to 'khumus' - horse's milk, before using a lift which had to be paid for by credit-card. Kazakhs also drink camel's milk, though i haven't come across it, and go in for an only-partially-successful sort of carbonated yoghurt drink. Historically the Kazakh people lived a nomadic life on the Steppes, in 'yurts', a sort of tent; which is where our phrase "yoghurt-weavers" comes from. One also has to mention the silk road, major branches of which passed through Kazakhstan.

There are around a hundred different ethnic groups here apparently, of whom Kazakhs and Russians make up a big majority. Thankfully however, although the country has its fair share of '21st century' problems, ethnic tensions are not much in evidence. At least partly this is because it was never conquered militarily by Imperial Russia, but rather the local rulers invited the Tsar to come and protect them from some threat or other in the beginning of the 19th century, as the lesser of two evils.

The Hail Mary is also sometimes called 'the Angelic Psalter';

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee;
blessed art Thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

*my Dad.

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