Bayantal Abandoned Soviet Airbase

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Nomad children play on a Mig-turned-monument at Bayantal Airbase

Nomad children play on a Mig-turned-monument-cum-playspace at Bayantal Airbase

In the Gobi Desert, about 30km northeast of a dusty, dying town (the nearest meager human settlement), a once strategic Soviet airbase lies abandoned. Barracks, aircraft hangers, supply depots, statues and monuments all lie in various states of dilapidation. Like an archeological ruin, but only a few decades empty, Bayantal Airbase stands as a reminder of a once-proud empire now gone, its statuary towering above weeds, the concrete buildings cracked and metal doors rusted, the walls unable to keep out even the wolves of the desert (or nosy photographers).

 

More interesting, perhaps, than this crumbling testament to a fallen superpower left empty in the middle of the desert, is what has happened in and around it in the subsequent years. After nearly two decades unoccupied, in recent years a few nomad families of the Gobi have moved within the walls of Bayantal and established a semi-permanent community. Reluctant, it seems, to actually reside within the abandoned buildings, the families instead have set up their homes in nooks and spaces between the concrete buildings, as if to live among, but not within that which is left behind. Like toadstools growing hidden at the feet of dying redwoods, their ger sprout up incongruous yet discrete behind empty hangars and beside barracks. The people themselves appear as dwarfed by their surroundings as do their homes, grazing their cattle in and around the ruins.

 

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