I’ve not even managed to scratch the surface of Mongolia with a day trip out and three days in Ulaanbaatar.
When I was planning this trip, I knew I wanted to visit multiple cities in Russia and China, but I knew very little about Mongolia. I essentially booked a stopover to break up the journey between the two countries.
Part of my reason for this is that I love visiting cities.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate nature but to a certain extent, for me, a beautiful lake or forest or stunning natural view could be anywhere.
A city full of different architecture and different people is more recognisably varied to me: Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Ulaanbataar, with all of the stops in between, are all distinctive. The forest outside Yekaterinburg is no different to the woodland around Irkutsk, as far as I’m concerned.
We all travel to see different aspects of a country… which is why I wasn’t off cycling for six weeks around Mongolia’s national parks with the Dutchman I met on Wednesday.
I am looking forward to tomorrow’s train journey through the Gobi though.
So today, it was a leisurely start, packing my rucksack as I will be up early for the morning drive to the railway station.
I headed to two temple complexes that had survived the Soviet religious persecution in the 1930s… because they had been converted to museums.
The first was the Choijin Lama Temple Museum in the centre of the city. It’s almost odd to see this calm and peaceful space hemmed in by skyscrapers.
My afternoon visit was to see the Bogd Khan’s Summer and Winter Palace.
The Bogd Khan was the leader of the Mongolian Buddhist religion. He was the third most important person in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, below only the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
And, trivia fans, it was the Mongolian ruler Altan Khan, in 1578 who bestowed the title “Dalai Lama” on the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, Sonam Gyatsho.
Altan embraced Buddhism for Mongolia as a way of cementing his right to lead the country.
How cynical does that sound?
The Bogd Khan became Mongolia’s spiritual and royal leader in 1911. He lost power when Chinese troops occupied the country in 1919.
When Damdin Sukhbaatar declared independence for Mongolia in 1921, the Bogd Khan was permitted to stay on the throne, in a limited monarchy until he died in 1924.
The Palace became a Museum of the Old Ways, and though Buddhism is now practiced again in Mongolia, the temples at both the Winter Palace and Choijin complex remain as museums
*Featured Photo: Choijin Temple complex.