From the moment you land at Genghis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbataar the persona and visage of the great conqueror never leaves you. You shop at the Genghis Khan shopping complex, go to a Khan Bank ATM, nibble on Genghis Khan chocolates and buy Genghis Khan vodka at the duty free.
A four-hour drive east of the capital, on the road leading to his birthplace, theÂ MongoliansÂ have erected a 100m high stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan astride a metal stallion. You can see it from miles away: a white apparition glinting in the sun. Visitors can go up an elevator and climb on top the horseâ€™s head to get a close-up view of Genghis Khanâ€™s face as he gazes across the steppes.
In a museum below the structure, you learn about just how a herder named Temujin from the edge of Siberia went on to conquer most of Eurasia in the 13th century and ruled an empire that stretched from Korea to Austria, to leave a mark on modern human history.
TheÂ MongoliansÂ have always been sensitive about European portrayals of him as a ruthless conqueror who raped and pillaged his way across Asia. Genghis Khan himself was responsible for this terrifying reputation because, as a brilliant tactician, he exaggerated his brutality in psywar.
From his birth in 1162 till he died in 1227, Genghis Khan conquered in 25 years of military campaigns more than the Romans did in 400 years, in what historian Jack Weatherford calls the First Mongol World War. He used the superior horsemanship of his warriors to strike with lightning speed, using pincer movements and outflanking techniques that are still taught in military academies around the world. He adopted the hardware of warfare of the places he conquered to deadly effect, introducing gunpowder and catapults.
He understood the importance of communications, his troops travelled light and rode horses that they ate when the horses had worn themselves out. They developed cartography into a fine art, and maps made then were used much later on the Silk Route.
After his conquest, Genghis Khanâ€™s Empire was probably the worldâ€™s first free trade zone, opening up business between Asia and Europe for the likes of Marco Polo to follow.Â MongoliansÂ were animists who revered the Eternal Blue Sky and the Earth, yet as they conquered lands with new religions Genghis Khan and his descendants amalgamated them into the empire, fostering harmony and tolerance between beliefs. Much before Europe, the MongoliansÂ practised the separation of state and religion.
Yet, despite these civilising influences, theÂ MongolianÂ â€śhordesâ€ť were a negative stereotype in Eurocentric history books, which has been handed down to present-day English vocabulary. â€śMogulâ€ť is the Persian formulation forÂ Mongolian, and it is used to describe someone fairly ruthless, like a media mogul. The word â€śHurrayâ€ť comes from the Mongol collective sacred praise, â€śHurreeâ€ť.
The Nepali word â€śpaisaâ€ť comes via Persian from theÂ MongolianÂ â€śpaizaâ€ť which was the name for gold and silver medallions worn by traders as an early form of credit cards during transcontinental horseback rides. The Nepali word â€śkhubiâ€ť (which means the quality of a person) comes from the MongolianÂ word for the spoils of war which Genghis Khanâ€™s army distributed according to the need of every individual and family. In fact, the Dalai Lama gets his name from the Mongolian word, â€śdalaiâ€ť, which means ocean of knowledge.
Pax Mongolica introduced not just military hardware, but also spread the use of maps and the compass, developed the first postal system, and was using paper and printing two centuries before Gutenberg. Genghis Khan adopted a universal script for his empire derived from present day Uzbekistan.
Genghis Khanâ€™s sons welcomed Tibetan Buddhism, assimilated many of its tenets into their own concept of the Eternal Sky and even introduced the Tibetan script. If the Soviets had not destroyed the Tibetan monasteries here,Â MongoliaÂ could very well have been called Northern Tibet.
It was theÂ MongoliansÂ who introduced trousers to Europe, and when the army of Genghis Khanâ€™s son stopped in Vienna, they found it wasnâ€™t worth conquering Europe because it was too poor. Genghis Khanâ€™s empire was created by conquest, and a lot of it was brutal, but not any more so than other conquerors before, or after.
At the Hustai National Park in centralÂ MongoliaÂ you can look across an endless steppe under an enormous cobalt sky, a landscape almost unchanged in the 800 years since Genghis Khan set forth to end what he saw as internecine fighting betweenÂ MongolianÂ tribes, by unifying them.
The Park is home to a herd of theÂ MongolianÂ wild horse, the tahki, which has been transplanted here from Europe and rescued from the brink of extinction. Like a lot of other things inÂ Mongolia, the horses are just a remnant of a realm that spread across the world and left its mark.
From rugs to riches, East West blog