ZUUNKHARAA, Mongolia -- There are many ways to measure the success of Mongolia's 20 years of democracy. One is by visiting here.
This town once bustled as a railroad hub nestled between the city of Darkhan, near the Russian border, and the capital Ulan Bator. But trains rarely run on the line anymore, and Zuunkharaa has become a ghost town, unsettlingly quiet even on a weekday afternoon.
A handful of pedestrians shuffle aimlessly down muddy, unpaved roads. Cows low listlessly just beyond the tall, ramshackle fences that Zuunkharaa's residents erect around their tiny, wooden homes.
Even the drive to Zuunkharaa contributes to the feeling of abandonment. Despite being just 160 kilometers from the capital, there are no roads leading to Zuunkharaa. A trip to the town can take hours, as drivers slow to a crawl, fearing for their car's suspension as they wind through an endless, rocky maze of gullies and bumps. Clearly, no one is in a hurry to get here.
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