Published: November 28th 2011November 9th 2011
We arrived in UB quite early in the morning and we went straight to the Khongor Guest-house we picked out of the LP before (5$/night/person dorm). Something was not all right with the map as it happened to be much further than we initially thought it would be, but we made it. We had couple of hours of sleep and we went out with Lukasz – Polish guy we met in the lounge of the guest-house. We went to see the Sukhbaatar Square (main spot of the city) and then we headed to the hill just next to the Gandan Khiid Monastery. Lukasz told us there is a view of the whole city from that point so we were really up for it. There happened to be some shamanistic pile of rocks, that you are supposed to throw rocks at and walk around in 3 circles. That would bring you luck in travelling. Whether we believe in it or not, there is no harm in trying ;-)
The next day we decided to first head to the Winter Palace of Bogh Khan - 30 min walk from the centre. We were really surprised that majority of the complex were temples.
The place looks generally run-down from the outside but it is still quite nice and interesting inside of the buildings. We wandered around and tried to imagine how the life would look like here centuries ago. These sorts of places always make me quite nostalgic and I was really disappointed that it was not properly looked after. Maybe it was the climate of the Mongolia: sandy winds, harsh sun and very cold winters, that made this job so impossible. The Palace part of the complex looks a little bit like an old school building but there is a nice collection of clothes and furniture that used to belong to the Khan. Was it more important for them to pay respects to Gods than live in an amazing palace building? Or maybe it was just the nomadic way of life that even Khan was obliged to, so that having a great building as a palace wasn’t the main priority? That could be the only explanations I found when comparing the number and quality of temples versus the Palace building that was not even worth taking a photo of.
Never the less the Winter Palace made us even more excited about
the Manshiir Khiid monastery outside of the town. Of course we could have gone for the expensive one day excursion (40$ pp incl. lunch) but we already met some other travellers (Agnes and Ben from France) in the guest-house and we all decided to try on our own. That gave the trip this sort of adventurous spirit we are always looking for ;-) Forgot to mention that managed to convince Cyril – the French guy we met and travelled with in Russia – to bend his plans a little, get Mongolian visa and come to UB. We seriously did not think we would manage, but he did it and few days after our arrival he showed up in our guest-house. So the 6 of us headed to the stop where minibuses to the Zuunmod village (2000T/1£ each) were supposed to go from. We were lucky to get one straight away and 60 min later we were in the Bogd Khaan National Park. We had some lunch in the local cafe and we were ready for the 5-6km trek to the monastery.
Zuunmod is nothing much but a sleepy village and it is surrounded by flat Mongolian steppes and some
hills. We walked for few hours and we finally got to the little valley where the monastery was hidden. After paying 2000T (1£ each) entrance fee we were only 500 meters away from the place we were looking for. And there it was on the rocky hill, surrounded by the pine trees – the Manshiir Khiid. We did not expect much as we knew the place was demolished by Russians but there was still a wooden Lama house converted into the museum. Despite the ruins there was this hard to describe charm to this place. No wander it was chosen as a place of meditation and prayers. And the views … ah the views were just amazing. It was worth every step of the way we did to come there. We got let into the museum, which still had some day to day object used by Lama, photos of the monastery before it was demolished and some Buddha statues. On one of the photos we noticed that there were some Buddha carvings on the rocks above the monastery so we quickly climbed on the rocks to admire them. The view was even better from that point. The whole trip came
up to around 6.5$/4£ each in oppose to 40$ each agency fee. So it is possible to do stuff cheaply in Mongolia then;-)
There ware few other spiritual place we wanted to visit in UB – Lama Temples Museum and mentioned before Gandan Khiid Monastery. Lama Museum is again a pretty much run down place from the outside and very impressive in the inside. One of the temples has 8 corners and it supposed to be the only Buddhist temple like that. It was amazingly decorated as well. The main temple had few rooms and many extraordinary objects like instruments for the prayers, religious masks and many amazing carvings and statues. It was very empty when we visited and felt like it is not very popular choice for the tourist as all the buildings were actually closed and they were opening them before we were entering. To us, a very interesting sight to visit when in UB.
We visited the main UB monastery - Gandan Khiid - twice. Once just for a general sightseeing and second time to experience morning ceremony. The place is very nice and it is a home to 800 monks but it is also
money making machine. At least we felt that way. As we did not enter by the main gate we did not have tickets for the main building. We were almost 'harassed' for them inside by Monks. Each of them wanted different amount not to mention 3 different quotes, varying between 12,000 to 3,500, for taking photos of the huge Buddha statue. We paid 3000T entrance fee (that went to the Monk pocket and the real fee is 3500T) and we pretended that we have no idea what they meant about the photo and slowly backed out of the building. For me a priest or a monk should not behave like that and it almost upset me. What a weird experience!!! We actually liked the complex of the side temples more than the main temple itself and it was also free of charge part of the monastery. We visited the same complex few days later to catch the feel of the morning ceremony but we were not let in as Dalai Lama was visiting – how cool was that!!! We could only get a glimpse of him through a hole in a gate as the whole monastery was surrounded by security
Prayer instrument at the the Gandan Khiid Monastery
just have to move it around and the pray is being said for you
The next few days we spent in Terelj National Park, which is a separate story, but we managed to visit another amazing monastery. LP only mentioned it as a meditation retreat but we believe it deserves way more than this as it is simply extraordinary. We saw tourist coming just to the Turtle Rock (main picture spot of the park) and not even bothered to go further on so not sure if this place is visited very often. We also met some people who made an effort to climb to the gates but then they assumed the place was closed. As we came from the side and not through the gate we went all the way to the top and we were let into the main temple by a guard. It was so peaceful and extraordinary so we all decided to spare 10 minutes to meditate as well. The interior of the place is created for this purpose with cushions everywhere around to sit on the floor. We could probably stay there for a long time if not the cold (-20C) making it quite impossible. We were really amazed by the place and the scenery of the
surrounding rocks. It was genuinely something special and definitely worth the effort of few kilometre hike-up. When you climb up the temple you can also get inspired by many lined-up stone tablets with Buddhist quotes. My favourite must be: “Though your precious human birth might be good, if you don't find a good companion you are like a cart with one wheel”...
We did expect nothing special from UB and we knew that the true Mongolia can only be seen outside of this huge city. However what we did not expect to find was this spiritual side to this place. You can say that temple is just a temple or monastery is just another monastery but what makes them special in Mongolia are the surrounding nature, animals, miles and miles of empty space and no one seemed to be around. You can somehow believe that in places like that, God(s) really can hear you....
There are more photos below