Jesus Christ looms over Rio de Janeiro,a quartet of American presidents gazes from the face of Mount Rushmore and Lenin keeps watch over St Petersburg. But if there were a global contest to honour larger-than-life men on a colossal scale,Mongolia might just vanquish them all again.
Genghis Khan,who conquered half the known world in the 13th century,has returned to the steppes of Mongolia,and this time he charges admission.
About an hours drive from Ulan Bator,Mongolias capital,he first appears on the horizon as a twinkling speck. As one approaches,he takes the breath away: a 131-foot-tall giant on horseback,wrapped in 250 tonnes of stainless steel.
All Mongolian people are proud of this statue, said Sanchir Erkhem,26,a Mongolian sumo wrestler living in Japan. Genghis Khan is our hero,our father,our god.
The giant statue of Mongolias most famous personage,known locally as Chinggis Khaan,is the latest in a horde of monuments and products that have appeared here since the country threw off Communism nearly 20 years ago. Planes now land at Chinggis Khaan International Airport,students attend Chinggis Khaan University and tourists can stay at the Chinggis Khaan Hotel. His bearded visage graces cans of energy drinks,vodka bottles and cigarette packs,as well as the money to pay for those goods.
Politicians have been eager to join his bandwagon. In 2006,the Government unveiled yet another statue of the conqueror,this time sitting Abraham Lincoln-like on the capitals main square.
Parliament has been debating whether the Government should retain sole power to license Genghis Khans face and image,although the legislation has yet to pass.
The rush to venerate the founder of a great transcontinental empire comes at a time when Mongolians are seeking a national identity after centuries of dominance by foreign powers.
The steel-clad statue,part of a planned theme park called the Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex,is perhaps the most costly manifestation of Genghis pride. The Genco Tour Bureau,a Mongolian company,has spent about $4.1 million on the statue.
Still unfinished are plans for a complex of 200 tents,which will house sleeping quarters for visitors,restaurants and gift shops. Inside the two-storey base of the statue,which opened in September 2008,visitors can see a replica of Genghis Khans legendary golden whip,sample traditional cuisine and experience some decidedly un-nomadic customs,like billiards.
This is about national pride, said Damdindorj Delgerma,CEO of the Genco Tour Bureau. Mongolians are happy when they see this statue,and now people from all over the world will come to learn about the importance of Mongolia in history.