You don’t visit Mongolia to go to the city, that is for sure. Mongolia is most definitely a nation famous for its countryside and while we most definitely spent the majority of our time there in the Gobi and Steppe we did a few interesting things in Ulaanbaatar as well.
When we first arrived in Ulaanbaatar we were exhausted as we had had over twelve hours of delays but I don’t want to dwell on that as I have just done another fairly negative post. When we arrived at our hotel we went straight for a nap. We basically napped until it was time to meet our new group for the Nomadic Mongolia tour.
We seemed to set the scene for the rest of our tour by being the last people to arrive. After some introductions and a briefing on what to expect we went to a restaurant for our welcome dinner and started to get to know the group. I don’t think we were at our most sociable that night as we were still feeling the after effects from the delay.
The next morning we boarded a bus to explore the city. The first place we were taken to was the Zaisan Memorial, this is essentially a hangover from the communist period in Mongolia, or the political victimization period as it known by Mongolians. It takes the form of a statue on the top of a large hill, the statue then sweeps around the crown of the hill with a mural on the inside as you look out towards the views.
The mural itself depicts various scenes of friendship between the Mongolians and the Russians in a very typical Soviet style.
The views from the hill were more appealing, and with the bright sunny day we had it was nice to look out from the shade.
We left the recent past behind for further in the past when we visited the Bogd Khan Palace. There were no photos allowed inside (which I noticed either that or paying to take them was a theme in Mongolia).
The Bogd Khan Palace was as the name suggests the palace that belonged to the Bogd Khan, this is actually two titles which were combined, Khan is the title which means king or emperor as you will recognise from Genggis Khan (or as we later found out, his name is actually pronounced Chinggis). Bogd is a religious title given to the head of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. I think there was actually only one Bogd Khan before the political victimization, though his reincarnation was recognised twice in Tibet. The palace is also split in two, the summer and the winter palace.
The palace was interesting, a lot of the summer palace contained buddhist relics. This was quite a surprise for me because although I knew that buddhism was the main religion in Mongolia and I also knew it was Tibetan Buddhism, I hadn’t really come across different branches of budhism before, and apparently Tibetan Budhism (or Yellow Hat Budhism) is very different to what I had seen before in Japan, China and at home.
So the part I wasn’t expecting was that Tibetan Buddhism is very closely related to Hinduism, which does make sense because Siddhārtha Gautama (the original buddha, who reached enlightenment) was a hindu. I guess it is like how Christianity inherited the old testament from Judaism because Jesus was a jew. Anyway a lot of the depictions of the buddhas and the protector deities of the buddha strongly resembled hindu deities, with many arms holding weapons and crushing semi human creatures under their feet. There was even a picture story of the deity Ganesha. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any photos as I mentioned.
Inside the winter palace there were displays of the clothes worn by the Bogd Khan and his queen including some where tiny pearls had been laboriously hand stitched on in perfect patterns, so much so that it looked like it had been done by machine. There were other daily items like snuff bottles, as snuff is popular in Mongolia as well as some of the living quarters like the bedroom. The final area was where we were told how fond of animals the Bogd Khan was and he had been gifted many stuffed animals, two that stuck out to me were a seagull and what I thought might be a kakapo.
Our final destination before we had free time was the Gandan Monastery. This like many other buddhist sights had fallen victim to the political victimization, a lot of the complex was destroyed and many monks died. However as this is the main monastery of Mongolia a lot of rebuilding has taken place since the fall of communism, there were also a lot more monks around than many of the other monasteries we visited during our time in Mongolia.
Here again we could not take photos inside. However there were quite a few interesting things outside such as hundreds of prayer wheels which bring luck when spun clockwise; many of the payer wheels contain important books and texts. We also saw a wishing tree where you walk around it putting your hand against the holes and wish.
We were then given free time, so after some lunch and a look around the state department store, we decided to walk back to the hotel. I had just finished telling my husband while we were walking that I would quite like to find Chinggis Khan Square because there were some nice statues there when we came across it, my husband was quite relieved as I think he had images of trailing around looking for it for hours.
There were several interesting statues in the square, the one in the centre we learned later from our guide was Sükhbaatar, who was a great hero of Mongolia after he won independence from China. We also found out later that this statue was only a replica when we saw the original at Choir Monastery, which I will be writing about in a subsequent blog.
The large parliament house dominates the square and in front of it, of course, is depicted Chinggis Khan himself, although it is a slightly more unusual depiction as he is shown here as a ruler on his throne rather than as the warrior on his horse; he is guarded by two fierce-looking warriors though.
On either side are slightly smaller statues one of Chinggis’ son Ögedei who was Khan after him and of his grandson Khublai Khan (whose name is pronounced Hublae). I was quite excited to see the depiction of Khublai as I have been quite enjoying the Netflix series Marco Polo which is set during the reign of Khublai Khan.
Speaking of Marco Polo who should we see a statue of as we resumed our course to the hotel from Chinggis Khan Square but the man himself.
The next morning we departed Ulaanbaatar for the countryside and although we returned here at the end of the tour, we didn’t really do much other than having a lovely fair well meal with everyone who had been on the tour. So I think that is all I really have to say about the capital city of the country which is mostly made up of nomads.
This post is in no way sponsored, links are included to help people find the relevant information if they are interested. I have only included links that we have used, I am sure there are other services that would work in their place.