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  • Don Lessem

Introduction


This book draws heavily on my 25 years of adventuring in Mongolia, in search first of dinosaurs, and then of the life of Genghis Khan. Both became the subject of my writings and exhibitions.


This book is my excuse to combine both topics, and, albeit in a peculiar way, to celebrate Mongolia. If you don’t put down this book wanting to visit Mongolia, then I’ve not done it justice.


Thanks to Genghis Khan, the denizens of this oft-forgotten and least densely-populated nation on Earth once ruled more of the planet than any society in history. Now they, and their beautiful land, are all but forgotten.


High mountains to the west, a 1,000-mile crescent of desert across the south. Clear near-bottomless lakes to the north. Between them, a wide green belt of steppe grassland; all lightly trod by horse-backed nomads whose unique culture is fast disappearing.


This is a spectacular and enormous country -- over half the size of our own -- with the harshest of all continental climates. In a zuud, a particularly harsh winter, cows freeze to death where they stand in -60 degree weather. So, if you’re going to Mongolia, go in summer. It only gets up to 120 degrees in the Gobi in August.


Sadly, last I knew, I’m not welcomed back in Mongolia. When governments change, as they often do in Mongolia, so do relationships which ought to have nothing to do with the transfer. So, in 2013, when the Communist President Batbold, (Mongolians go by a single name) was replaced by Democratic President Elbegdorj, the 13th century mummy I had borrowed for my touring Genghis museum exhibition in the U.S., suddenly became stolen property by the mandate of the new Culture Minister. (I returned it upon the close of the exhibition). And the tyrannosaur smuggler I had identified at the behest of one Culture Minister, became a collaborator of mine in the eyes of the next.

I can’t say I was surprised by any of this. The previous Culture Minister tried to blackmail me into placing his friend’s Genghis Khan Vodka concession into my exhibition. If I hadn’t threatened to sic the U.S. Embassy on him, he’d have cancelled the exhibit.


Democracy clearly has a way to go in Mongolia.


The sorts of sordid obstacles I encountered, writ large, help explain why one of the world’s most literate people, in a peaceful nation of enormous mineral riches, are wracked with poverty.

But never with despair. The spirit of Mongolians, their reverence for their singular religious and cultural traditions, give me hope for their future. I miss them.

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