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S1, Ep 9 The Story of Ganbaatar: a Great Man, a Lake & a Boat

Mongolia , deep sea navigation, storytelling in this podcast The Truth Lies

Episode 9 of The Story of Ganbaatar: the only deep sea navigator in Mongolia, Series 1 of our ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtimes Stories from See Through News’ podcast

In Episode 9, we hear how SternWriter came to hear of Ganbaatar’s remarkable story.

Music Notes: the first piece of music in this episode is called Dari Ekhlin Burilba (which means exactly what it sounds like), the second Dörvön Uul (Four Mountains).

Both tracks are traditional songs recorded in 1992 by the Mandukhai Ensemble.

Episode 1 – Fact, Fiction & Mongolia

Next: Episode 10 – Coming Clean.

Written, Produced and Narrated by SternWriter

Audio production by  Sam Wain

The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories is a podcast from See Through News.

See Through News is a non-profit social media network with the Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.


Episode 9: A Great Man, a Lake and a Boat

So, how did I come to hear about the incredible Story of Ganbaatar?  

Well, if you’re still struggling to believe his story, telling you my story about how I heard his, may not help.

Let’s just say… I met him in the capital shortly after the passage of Mongolia’s Maritime Law.  

I… filmed an interview with him, in his office at the Ministry of Agriculture.  

It wasn’t the dusty little cubby-hole I described in Part 6, er… it was far less palatial than Professor Dalai’s overflowing office at the university, where I’d filmed the day before.  

Ganbaatar’s current office was spacious enough, but spartan. 

It had a computer. I filmed him tapping in some Cyrillic characters with two fingers, for some introductory footage. I couldn’t work out how to prevent the screen flickering in my camera viewfinder. Something to do with different hertz and phases in the local power supply. 

There was only one item decorating his office walls, which I used for the interview background.  It was… a poster of a wolf.  

A couple of days after that, Ganbaatar and I  took a flight together, to the town by the lake in the north. It was his first trip home in years.  

As we came in to land he pointed out the lake, and, as we descended, the pier.

We could make out the distinctive profile of the Sukhbaatar, The Only Boat In Mongolia, alongside a couple of barges.  I didn’t mention the barges, did I?  Well, to be fair, I did mention she was a tug.

To tell the truth, I was a bit distracted at the time, as by now we were getting lower and lower and there was still no sign of any runway or airport building.

Then, we simply landed. On the grass. We trundled to a halt.  

When we jumped down from the plane, the only thing that suggested this was an airstrip, was a row of waiting jeeps and horses, ready to convey the passengers to wherever we  were going.

Over the next few days, I filmed Mongolia’s Only Deep-Sea Navigator inspecting The Only Boat in Mongolia. 

We went on a brief lake cruise with some South Korean professors.

I got to know the Suhkbaatar’s seven smartly-uniformed crew, as I filmed their daily lives.

At Ganbaatar’s suggestion, for the wrap party, I invited the sailors and their families to a real Mongolian barbecue. 

They lit a fire, butchered the half-lamb I’d bought, heated some stones in the embers, and then placed meat and stones in a milk churn to stew.

While it cooked, we drank beer and vodka. Someone had brought along a portable tape player, and we all danced around the fire to the sound of that summer’s hit, a disco song about Chinggis Khan.

Then, by the lake, beneath the mountains, as dusk gathered, I filmed the sailors singing one of the lake-shanties they’d written about their tug, the Sukhbaatar.

You may remember the lyrics, from Part 2.

We’re masters of the Sukhbaatar

We’re masters of the blue roads

We’re crossing the blue waters

Steering our mighty vessel.

If you’re finding all this hard to swallow, by all means search online for The Mongolian Navy: all at sea. It’s on the Litmus Films YouTube channel, and even if I say so myself, remains the definitive oeuvre on Mongolian naval history.  

I’ve heard much has changed since I filmed it in 2000.  

Since then, the lake has become something of a tourist spot. Foreign visitors expect a beautiful lake like that to have pleasure vessels for hire. The Sukhbaatar is no longer the Only Boat In Mongolia.  Though it does remain its only tug…

Ganbaatar and my visit coincided with the big summer festival, Nadaam. Mongolians gather to watch six-year-olds race horses bareback over 50 miles, archery competitions, and wrestling tournaments.

Ganbaatar disappeared during the festival, though. He said something about a trip to the mountains with some friends.

When the day of our return flight to the capital came, Ganbaatar was there, though. He carried the little leather briefcase that was all he’d brought with him, and which he’d taken with him on his travels on the high seas.

At the bit of grassland that constituted the airstrip, we found a group of people revving up their jeeps and pulling the girths on their horses. Apparently there’d been a last-minute change.  The plane wasn’t going to land here today, but instead at another place a couple of hours drive away.  When they wrote it down, it spelled Moron, though it was actually pronoucned Morun.

By this time I’d been in Mongolia long enough to accept this news with the same cheerful indifference everyone else displayed. We set off across the grassland in an informal convoy of jeeps and horses.

I was squeezed into a back seat, next to Ganbaatar.  As we bounced and jiggled our way towards Moron – Morun – I sign-languaged to Ganbaatar, asking if he’d had a good break with his friends in the mountains.  

Ganbaatar smiled broadly, and pantomimed shooting a rifle. He then clicked open his little leather briefcase, and showed me what lay on top of his spare set of clothes.

Next to the wolf’s paw he’d taken with him the first time he’d left the lake, was a fresh one, still crusty with dried blood.  

One, acquired many years ago as a young man yet to make his mark, had accompanied him and his dreams around the world and across the seas.

The other, just acquired as a national hero, Mongolia’s only qualified Deep Sea Navigator, and architect of his country’s first Maritime Law, he seemed to treasure as much as the Order of Chinggis Khan medal it lay beside in his little leather briefcase.

Paws for thought.

In Episode 10: Coming Clean, we’ll try one last time to separate fact from fiction, as we make one final effort to sort the true bits of The Story of Ganbaatar, from the fibs.