Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, about 80km (50 miles) north-east of Ulaanbaatar in the region of Tov Aimag, is a deservedly popular destination. At 1600m, the area is cool and the alpine scenery is magnificent. Terelj was first developed for tourism in 1964 and 30 years later it became part of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. One of the most visited sights within the National Park is the Turtle Rock, (Melkhii Khad in Mongolian) which is one of many rock formations, that is shaped like a turtle.
I came to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park on the second day of my 12-day Mongolian tour with a tour company called Black Idex. Myself and an American guy on my tour, first visited the Turtle Rock before heading further up the valley to a monastery. We then headed to our overnight Ger Camp which was the first time that we saw and stayed in a Ger so everything was a bit of a novelty. We then walked around and did some horse-riding on some horses from a nearby nomadic family which was the first time I'd ever ridden a horse before.
15 minutes by car you can reach city outskirts and see families who live nomadic way of life, you can talk to them (better with guide), you can try some food specialities (for small fee), make photos with them, play with children, horse riding. Very non-western atmosphere.
The real Mongolia is really outside Ulaanbaatar and it is a must to travel outside to experience to open plains, rolling green hills, stay in a Mongolian ger, go horse-riding, meet the nomads etc. Trust me it will be a really unique and unforgetable experience.
The Gobi Desert is another outing which you can consider, but you need at least 1-2 days to fully enjoy it as it is far away. You need to arrange for a travel agency to bring you there and it is best not to attempt it yourself as Mongolia is really very remote.
This national park is conveniently located about 1.5 hours north-east of Ulaanbaatar and there are many ger camps in the park. The scenery is very beautiful and relaxed, and resembles that of Europe with green mountains and interesting rock formations.
Kharkhorin is ‘only’ 8 hours away from Ulaan Baator. That is near compared to how spread out the rest of Mongolian civilisations are.
Karakorum, the name of the old town, was Chinggis Khan's capital in the 13th century but it only served as the capital for 40 years. After the capital was moved to Beijing by Kublai Khan, Krakorum was abandoned and destroyed by the Manchurians.
The present town of Kharkhorin was built on the same spot and is now just a dusty little town, with wooden houses and a few abandoned containers that are converted into shops and eateries.
The weather here can be harsh. The houses are surrounded by wooden fences to protect them against the fierce, vicious wind. The day we were there, we experienced a sand storm.
The claim to fame here is the Erdene Zuu Monastery which was the first centre of Lamaism in Mongolia. The monastery was also destroyed by Manchurians and Stalinist purges during the 1930s.
It probably had between 60 to 100 temples but now, only 3 remained. It is set in a large monastery ground surrounded by 108 stupas (lucky number for Buddhists).
To go there, take a minivan in front of Sukhbaator Square to Dragon Centre. Ask someone who knows English and Mongolian (Nassan’s family) to write down on a piece of paper so that you can show to the passing minivans until you find the right one.
At Dragon Centre, there is a sign that reads ‘Kharkhorin’ and the minivans leave when full. Get there before 8am. The minivans are in questionable conditions and the journey is on harsh road conditions but you get there, somehow…
Near the Manzshir Monastery is a museum.
In the museum we saw requisite animal trophies like the skins of snowleopards. Interesting are the old photos of the monastery before it turned into ruins.
Near the museum we could also visit a traditional ger and try the traditional Mongolian dress. It gave a lot of fun. The main garment is the del, a long, one-piece gown made from wool. The high collared dels are beautifully coloured. The del is worn by men and women. Men wear often the Mongolian hat, the loovuz.
In the valley we walked up the place of the monastery. It was a lovely walk, under the trees along a stream with large granit boulders scattered between the trees. At the mountainwall we discovered some Buddha images. From the temple we found not much more than the fundaments, some scattered stones and some sculptures. The main temple would be restored very soon.
We stayed a bit up hill, enjoying the beautiful views at the valley of the ''hundred trees''.
46 KM south of Ulaanbaatar is the Manzshir Monastery. The monastary, established in 1733 had more than 20 temples and housed 300 monks. During the Stalinist purges of 1932 the monastery was reduced to ruins.
The monastery lays in the Bogdkhan Mountain Protected Area, where the wildlife is protected from hunting.
They told us , that in Mongolia every year nearly 500 people are coming to hunt, paying $ 25.000 for 14 days, also allowed to hunt snowleopards.
We didn't see any wildlife, but we enjoyed the scenic valley with streams, pine and cedar. trees..
Aids is a real problem in the developing world and billboards have been erected in Ulan Bator to promote the use of condoms and safer sex.
The ancient city of Karakorum is once the main capital of the magnificent Mongol Empire. Although quite far away from Ulaanbaatar, it is worth a visit especially to the famous Erdene Zuul Monastery.
MEETING WITH THE NORMADS. IT WAS EXCITING TO MEET THEM AND TRY COMMUNICATING WITH THEM. THEY ARE VERY FRIENDLY AND HOSPITABEL PEOPLE.