Is it Ulanbatar, Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator
After travelling and living in Mongolia for over 15 years now, I still find myself confused by the spelling of its capital city. Is it Ulanbatar, Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator?
Well for me, it’s just UB as many travellers, visitors and locals chose to name it.
The name is however interesting. There is more meaning in the name Ulaanbaatar than you first might think.
The correct and official spelling of the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbaatar.
Yup, that’s a lot of a’s.
Before being given the name Ulaanbaatar in the year 1924, the city not only had other names, but Ulaanbaatar also moved over 29 times.
It was actually founded as a movable monastery in 1636 named Orgoo (palace Ger). It would have likely been a large Mongolian style tent on wheels pulled by Yak.
There would have been smaller dwellings more akin to the traditional Mongolia Ger.
Its names then varied as below:
Urga (Urgoo): 1639 – 1706
Ikh Khuree: 1706 – 1911
Niiselel Khuree: 1911 – 1924
In 1921 after a period of upheaval, a communist soviet Mongolian army liberated the city. It was then in October 29th 1924 that the city took on its current name; Ulaanbaatar.
This initial name put forward was Baatar Khot (hero city).
This wasn’t seen as red enough and was advised by Turar Rsykulov (Soviet Activist), that Ulaanbaatar Khot (red hero city) would be a better name.
As we know, the name has now stuck now back to Ulaanbaatar, Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator.
This derives from the Mongolia adoption of the Cyrillic script.
The spelling Ulaanbaatar was made official from 1941 – 1950 as Mongolia also accepted for its second time a Romanization of its script.
As mentioned initially, Ulaanbaatar was a tented city. From its early days, it was still no small affair. It is believed that even as a moving monastery it was home to around 10,000 Monks living in the Mongolia Ger.
Initially, Ulaanbaatar was mostly a tent city with homes spread out in Ger districts consisting of a fenced area with a Mongolian Ger and a small parcel of land for living.
The only fixed buildings consisted of wooden monasteries and temples.
From the beginning of its time as a Soviet satellite, Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar began to change its living standard and soviet apartments and buildings sprang up. The buildings grew from the 50’s reaching their peak in the 70’s.
Unfortunately, as the apartments went up, many of Ulaanbaatar’s temples came down.
For its residents, however, these 4-10 floor residences (Ugsarmals) brought modern amenities not experienced before such as; running water, central heating and sanitation.
For many older residents, this period was a golden time - especially as being part of the system offered certain protection. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to last.
As the soviet period moved on and people wanted more reform (especially the younger members of society), they began to push for reforms such as Glasnost and Perestroika.
Just as Mongolia gained its independence, this fell at the end of a period of prolonged bad farming practice, weather and the drying up of Soviet cash. This resulted in a phenomenon called Zud. As the Zud took bite and herders lost their animals, they began to gravitate towards the cities - especially Ulaanbaatar.
When they travelled, they took their gers and began to add to the capital. In the hope of employment and financial help, the city numbers grew in the tented Ger districts on the city outskirts.
At one point it was reckoned that around 60 - 70% of the capitals 1.5 million inhabitants lived in the Ger districts under canvas.
This is all changing again now as the Mongolian economy begins to grow again and improve and with this the lives of the local residents. Ulaanbaatar has seen a housing boom with modern new apartments filling the city.
It’s also changing in the Local Ger districts as people replace their Ger/ tents with brick homes. Apartments and more organized housing are also growing, pushing deep into these once tented communities. It’s estimated that around 40% of the city now reside in tents.
A consequence of the large tented community in and around Ulaanbaatar with little access to heating, plumbing and modern amenities meant that much of the residents would burn cheap coal.
This led the capital to be known as one of the world’s worst polluted cities.
However, new reforms introduced in 2017/2018 giving better more economic heating alternatives seem to have alleviated much of the pollution so far.
It’s now late November, and for the first time in many years, the skies remain blue.