There’s gravel on the road, concrete crumbs which must have been part of a pavement a few years ago, the poor quality and the rough Mongolian climate giving the street a hard time, roughening its appearance, the pavement and the road eroded, forming just one dusty path. I make sure my front wheel doesn’t twist and fall into a whole, I see it through a rough patch, both hands on the handlebars, tightening my grip and letting the bike roll through. I lift my head up and look around me, trying to guess which way the centre of town is. I turn left into a street that’s in an even worse state than the previous one. It looks like Darhan has just been through a war and the blocks of flats are the remains after months of street fighting, bullets chipping away at the concrete walls. At the bottom of the buildings, a few steps lead up to small shops and cafes advertised by Coca Cola adverts, plus a few words in Russian Cyrillic. On either side of the road, weeds are growing out of the dusty earth, adding small patches of green to the essentially grey town. Behind the buildings a few tall factory chimneys are producing clouds of smoke, giving people a job, giving a reason for nomads to come into town.
Ulaanbaatar, Erdenet and Darhan are the country’s 3 biggest cities. They’re actually the only cities, the other dots on the maps being small towns and villages. The towns are fairly new, or at least the buildings are, there aren’t any signs of anything before the communist era of Mongolia. We roll past a Buddhist temple, clearly the most beautiful building in town, but still only a small wooden effort, with a bit of colour painted over the roof, nothing major but something simple and colourfull. A few kids are chasing each other in the dust, shouting and having a laugh, smiling and laughing as they scramble over a fence, throwing an old plastic bottle, pushing each other around, having fun like every kid in the world should. Young kids are pretty much the same everywhere, the least influenced human beings, still a little wild, education and marketing not yet gripping them fully. Further along the street, 4 grown men are having a scrap, stumbling across loose bricks trying to keep their balance while throwing their arms about, lifting their legs up a few inches aiming to stick a boot into their opponent. The main enemy seems to be the vodka inside them, making them loose their balance, making them look like right old fools in front of their youth, sharing the same dusty earth, but playing a slightly different game. The shortest man is red in the face and staring at an other bloke who has his shirt off, belly hanging out. A weedy bloke stands in between them, but isn’t able to hold the fighters back as the short man delivers a fist and this one connects with the fat man’s nose who stumbles backwards, his state worsening by the second. He trips over eventually, his weight slowly shifting backwards until his backside meets the ground, kicking up dust in the process, the warm sun light exaggerating the dust effect, making it a lovely Mongolian postcard from behind the scenes.