Many Mongolians were surprised when, one day in 2004, a corrugated-steel fence suddenly went up around Ulaanbaatar’s 35-acre Children’s Park. They were horrified six years later when only a tiny four-acre fraction of the park reopened to the public, and plans emerged for the construction of a luxury hotel and other private developments on the rest of the area.
Reflecting Mongolia’s booming economy, Ulaanbaatar’s skyline has been transformed in recent years, with socialist-style low-rise buildings displaced by lots of steel and concrete structures. And as the towers go up, their owners seem to go into politics.
With Mongolia’s economy poised for boom times, politics is taking a dodgy turn. The April 13 arrest of a former president, Nambar Enkhbayar, on corruption charges has some analysts in Mongolia worried about the formerly communist state’s democratization process. The timing of the arrest has raised questions in the capital Ulaanbaatar about political motives.
Twenty years ago, when a Dutch cyclist named Rik Idema first passed through Mongolia on a round-the-world biking trip, the country struck him as the most pristine place he'd ever seen. Captivated by the steppe’s stark beauty, Idema later returned to explore the country with a Mongolian friend, Tseren Enebish. They started Tseren Tours together in 1994 and eventually married.