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Polo Tour to Mongolia 2019

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It is not often military personnel travel to the Mongolian Steppe which is why I was incredibly delighted when I found out that I had been selected to form part of the British Army Team that would travel to Mongolia as part of a wider MOD defence engagement with the Mongolian Armed Forces. 

We flew into Beijing where we were met by Embassy staff who drove us to the Kerry Hotel; upon arrival, it was clear the no expense was spared. That afternoon we visited Tian’anmen Square and Jingshan Park and had a local Chinese hot pot at a Hutong. That evening we played tourists and wondered the streets of Beijing sampling some rather interesting and somewhat peculiar cuisine.  The next morning, we flew to Ulaanbaatar where we were met by the Assistant Defence Attaché and staff from the Mongolian MoD. We checked into the Shangri-la Hotel, had a quick lunch and then went out to explore the city. We visited the Lama Temple, the Main Square and a number of museums. That evening we had dinner with embassy staff and received a brief on the next day’s activities. 

The following day, after a wonderful breakfast at the Shangri-l having attracted much attention from the rest of the diners because we were in military uniform, we were driven to the Mongolian MOD where we were met by the commander of Foreign Relations. We delivered a number of presentations and received reciprocal presentations by various Mongolian MOD personnel.  The focus of the Mongolian Armed forces is the usual homeland security but also to provide troops for UN missions. They have been all over the place, in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and many more. Their strength is mainly made up of their reserve force and therefore have a much higher ratio of Reservists to Active Service personnel.

Presentations and photos over, we were joined by other embassy staff to lunch hosted by the Mongolian MOD at a Mongolian Restaurant. The speed was amazing with lots of different meats and dumplings, including sheep heads complete with eyes.  After lunch we left Ulaanbaatar and headed from the city to its fringes, it was fascinating to see the different styles of architecture, apart from the gers, there seemed to be no theme to the building styles. Once out of the city fringes we headed into the mountains and scenery was truly spectacular. The MOD had arranged for the engineers to be around in case we got stuck during one of the 3 river crossings necessary on the route.

The Mongolian army met us by the side of the road in a rather remarkable 4 wheel drive where a herdsman happened to have a bunch of camels so of course we stopped to have a look. They were beautiful animals with two very tall humps and gloriously thick coats; incredibly healthy-looking animals. Upon arrival at the polo club, we were shown to our accommodation. The ger (very similar to a yurt) which is the tradition Mongolian residential dwelling is really quite remarkable given the environmental challenges. However, the wood burner required hourly manning when the temperature dropped.

We enjoyed a couple of days of polo in the sunshine but the weather soon changed and we were hit with snow and high winds. Notwithstanding, the training went on as did the tournament.  We played a 3-chukka match and the British Army team won 4-2. Maj Janet Johnson AGC scored the first goal and a ridiculously close spot penalty and Lt Paul Erhahiemen QARANC scored 2 very handy goals.

Having finished the game there was a big presentation ceremony where the owner of the club who is also a Government Minister, presented us with a book about the Mongolian Armed Forces and a “passport to the Mongolian Empire”.   We said our goodbyes and headed back to Ulaanbaatar for dinner and drinks reception.    The reception was incredibly pleasant and after many speeches and presentations we mingled with the guests and did our bit for the GREAT campaign which showcases the best of Britain overseas. Seemingly having celebrity status, everyone wanted to have a picture or a selfie and chat about the polo. 

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and departed Ulaanbaatar for Beijing and the subsequent flight back to London. It was truly a remarkable experience.


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