30-Jun-2023 -- Having failed to reach 47°N 102°E, I decided to visit this confluence point, which lies in Ulaanbaatar's ger district. Because it's so accessible, it's been visited many times. But the most recent report was 7 years ago, so I thought there was value in seeing whether anything had changed.
I began my trip at the "zero point" of the city, a marker inlaid with the tiles of Sükhbaatar Square. I set off at 3:30 pm into the swirling white pollen of a hot summer afternoon. Ten minutes later I reached the nearest bus stop of the 28 route. Despite the infamous city traffic, and Google's estimate that the 13-kilometre bus trip would take 3 hours, it was only 40 minutes to my destination: an inconspicuous stop on Belkh Road.
Halfway there, a young Mongolian man with a nose stud leaned close.
"Excuse me, do you know where you're going?"
"Yes," I said, laughing, "but thank you." He laughed too.
"Sorry," he said, with a hint of a North American accent, which he later told me was because he had been raised by a Canadian. "I thought you might need help. You're the first foreigner I've ever seen on a bus!"
This surprised me. Certainly, it's true that no tourist would have reason for being on this route unless they were lost. Actually, even the previous confluence-hunters had used taxi or private car to get close. I think I'm the first to take public transport. It's the most affordable way to get there: just hand the driver a 500-tögrög note (about 20 cents).
The bus was nearly empty by the time I hopped off. As the eagle flies, I was two kilometres from the confluence. Between the point and the road is a bare ridgeline and a labyrinth of ger plots that has crept up its slope. The land claims do not seem to be centrally planned. The week before, a local had shown me around her plot and talked about how convenient it would be if she could go through a neighbour's plot to the main road, but because no room had been left for a road or even a path, everyone who lived on her row had no option but to use a circuitous dirt alley.
I walked down a couple of dead ends and eventually found a narrow gap between two plots, through thick grass and then up onto the ridgeline. From the top, I could see the distant smokestacks and apartment buildings of downtown Ulaanbaatar, and the ger district filling all the valleys between, roofs glinting in the afternoon. I had the sense of the city as a growing creature, of playing around in the furthest reach of its tangled limbs. There was an ovoo – as usual, I walked three times clockwise and added some rocks.
The eastern side of the ridge was still undeveloped. The terrain had so far contained the city, kept it from spilling more homes. After a few minutes picking my way along the side of a slope, I reached the confluence point at 5:20 pm. I spent some time getting the GPS to zeroes, taking photos with my million dark-bodied flying friends. Since the last time the confluence point was visited, poles have been erected starting from 200 metres (but not yet any line connecting them; see here) and a ger is visible 500 metres away. But it's on a section steep enough that it will remain outside of anyone's plot for the foreseeable future.