If you have some time, it is worth looking for the bizarre 'phallic rock', which points erotically to something interestingly called a 'vaginal slope'. It is surrounded by a stone fence, hidden up a small valley, and visible from the main road to Ulaanbaatar, about 1km from Kharkhorin.
Legend has it that the rock was placed here in an attempt to stop frisky monks, filled with lust by the shapely slope, from fraternising with the local women. The other turtle rock is located at the top of the slope.
Outside the monastery walls are two 'turtle rocks'. Four of these sculptures once marked the boundaries of ancient Karakorum, acting as protectors of the city (turtles are considered symbols of eternity). The turtles originally had an inscribed stone stele mounted vertically on their back.
One is easy to find: just walk out of the northern gate of the monastery and follow the path north-west for about 300m. The other is located on top of a hill near the Phallic Rock which you may visit if you're on a tour like I was.
Virtually the whole monastery site was destroyed during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. All but three of the temples were destroyed and an unknown number of monks were either killed or shipped off to Siberia and never heard from again. These photo's in a souvenir shop in a ger outside the Lavrin Temple show the extent of the destruction as well as more information as to what happened.
These three temples are the oldest and main ones within the walled monastery and are encircled by a further wall. Inside this courtyard, the temple to the west, built by Abtai Khaan and his son, is dedicated to the adult Buddha. Inside, on either side of Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha), are statues of Sanjaa, the past Buddha, to the left; and Maidar, the future Buddha, to the right. Other items on display include some golden 'wheels of eternity', naimin takhel (the eight auspicious symbols), figurines from the 17th and 18th centuries, and balm (wheat dough cakes, decorated with coloured medallions of goat or mutton fat), made in 1965 and still well preserved. Look out for the inner circumambulation path leading off to the left, just by the entrance.
The main and central temple is called the Zuu of Buddha. The entrance is flanked by the gods Gonggor on the left and Bandal Lham on the right. Inside, on either side of the statues of the child Buddha, are (to the right) Otoch Manal, the Medicine Buddha and (to the left) Holy Abida, the god of justice. The temple also contains statues of Niam and Dabaa, the sun and moon gods respectively, a few of the tsam masks that survived the purges, some carved, aggressive looking guards from the 16th and 17th centuries, and some displays of the work of the revered sculptor and Buddhist, Zanabazar.
In the temple to the east, there's a statue depicting the adolescent Buddha. The statue on the right is Tsongkhapa, who founded the yellow Hat sect of Buddhism in Tibet. The figure on the left is Janraisig, the bodhisattva of compassion.
It costs T5,000 to take photos inside the monastery temples.
The Dalai Lama Temple was built to commemorate the visit by Abtai Khaan's son, Altan, to the Dalai Lama in Tibet in 1675. The features a statue of Zanabazar, 13 'nagtan' images of Mahakala, six images of 12 Dalai Lama's emanations and some fine 17th-century scroll paintings depicting the dalai lamas and various protector deities.
The gravestones of Abtai Khaan (1554-1588) and his grandson Tushet Khaan Gombodorj (the father of Zanabazar) stand in front of the Dalai Lama Temple within the monastery compound and are inscribed in Mongol, Chinese, Tibetan and Arabic scripts.
The monastery is enclosed in an immense walled compound which is four-sided and approx 400 metres in length. Spaced evenly along each wall, about every 15m, are 102 stupas. The number 108, being a sacred number in Buddhism, and the number of beads in a Buddhist rosary, was probably envisioned, but never achieved.
When I was in Karakorum in July 2004, there is a very new monument on top of a hill overlooking the town. It can be reached by driving or trekking, and is worth a visit. The view up here is breathtaking.
The area surrounding Karakorum is very beautiful, especially if you follow the river which flows through the town into the valley. You can do simple trekking here, climb up a hill where you can see 360 degrees view of the surroundings. Other good activites here include picnic by the river, fishing and horse riding.
Karakorum is the site of the ancient capital of the Mongolians before they invaded China and shifted it to Beijing. There is very remaining of the ancient city except for the Erdene Zuu Monestary as most of it was destroyed by invaders later on. Nevertheless, Karakorum is worth visiting and it offers very good surroundings with beautiful scenery.
This is the oldest Buddhist monestary in Mongolia and a must see landmark. Located at the town of Karakorum, it is a long 6-8 hours drive west of Ulaanbaatar but is worth the journey. Other than the monestary, you can stay at one of the surrounding ger camps, do some trekking as this area offers spectacular scenery.
While you are at Bayangobi, do drop by and enjoy a small natural desert in this area. The sand in this desert is very fine and you can climb onto the top of the sand dunes to enjoy the scenery. However, be careful of equipment such as camera as the fine sand can get in easily.
The large white temple at the far end is the Tibetan-style Lavrin Temple, where ceremonies are held every morning. It's not possible to take photos inside as it's a working temple building.
As you walk north through the monastery compound, you will pass the Golden Prayer Stupa, built in 1799. The temple next to this is said to be the first temple built at Erdene Zuu.
Erdene-Dzuu is a big old monastry, but only a small part is still used from the Lamas. Most of it is a huge museum.