In a country known and appreciated for the beauty of its rural scenery, the city of Ulaanbaatar is the classic exception. The capital, which has more than a million inhabitants, is the only large urban center worth to visit. Situated in the north-central part of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, also known as Ulan Bator, rises to 1,350 meters above sea level in a valley at the foot of the mountain Bogd Khan Uul along the river Tuul Gol. Despite the chaos and the classic paradoxes inherent in most of the world’s poorest city, Ulaanbaatar is a city particularly interesting from the point of view of tourism, with a number of attractions of historical, cultural and scenic.
The foundation of the original Ulan Bator took place in less than 400 miles away from your current location, near the shores of Lake Tsagaan Nuur Shirit, as the seat of government of Zanabazar. Only at the end of the eighteenth century the settlement was moved to the location today for commercial reasons. As the residence of the “living Buddha”, the Bogd Khan, Ulan Bator is historically the holy city of the Mongols, so much so that in 1904, during the British expedition to Tibet, Thubten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama left Lhasa and moved to its Ikh Khuree, then Ulan Bator, where he remained for four years until 1908 refusing to meet with the Khan Bogd time, reprimanded as “prodigal drunk.” In 1924, the city, in the meantime renamed Ulaanbaatar, meaning “red hero”, a term that refers to the national hero Mongolian Damdin Suchbaatar, became the capital of the new People’s Republic.
Much of the city extends from east to west along the main street, called Enkh Taivny Orgon Chölöö or simply Peace Avenue, which flows into the central Sukhbaatar Square. The extensive outer suburbs are bounded by four large mountains that surround the urban agglomeration: Chingeltei, Bayanzurkh, Bogdkhan and Songino Khairkhan. Most places of interest are within walking distance from Sukhbaatar Square, and to see the Winter Palace of Bogd Khan and the Zaisan Memorial will be necessary to take a short bus ride to the southern part of the city. Given the ease with which you can get lost in Ulaanbaatar is very advisable to buy a map before you begin exploring the city center.
The first thing you see are the temples. Early in the nineteenth century in the city rose more than 100 sum (temples) and khiid (monasteries), many of which, however, were razed to the ground after Stalin’s religious purges of 1937. The largest monastery in Ulaanbaatar is the Gandan Khiid, which is one of the most visited attractions in the country. Its construction began in 1838 on the orders of the fourth Bogd Gegeen, and now houses more than 600 monks. Among the buildings that make up the complex include the Temple Ochidara, where you keep your most important ceremonies, the Temple Didan-Lavran and the magnificent white building of Migjid Janraisig Sum. Very nice is also the Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama, a pearl of history and architecture hidden in the center and surrounded by five temples, among which the Maharaja Sum. Other places of worship are less well known: the Tasgany Ovoo, not far from Gandan Khiid, which is worth a visit especially to get to know a ovoo, which is a sacred mound of stones in the shape of a pyramid, the Sum Bakula Rinpoche, founded in 1999 and home to many Buddhist scholars, and Dashchoilon Khiid, built in 1890, destroyed in the late 30s and recently moved within three enormous ger of concrete that were once part of the circus was.
One of the qualities most appreciated by tourists is the richness of the museum exhibits. These include: the National Museum of Mongolian History, sometimes still called the Revolutionary Museum, which displays artifacts dating back to the Stone Age, interesting collections of different ethnic groups and many relics of the Mongol period Mongol horde, the Museum of Fine Arts Zanabazar, which features a stunning collection of paintings, prints and sculptures, including several works by the same Zanabazar, the Museum of Natural History, which offers an interesting retrospective of the Soviet era and houses exhibits on the geography, flora and fauna of Mongolia, the Museum commemorating the victims of political persecution, which documents the bloody purges that hit several prominent members of the Mongolian policy in the ’30s, and the Museum of the City of Ulaanbaatar, where to make a quick trip back in time to discover the history of the Mongolian capital.
The Winter Palace of Bogd Khan, in which resided for twenty years living Buddha on the eighth and last king of Mongolia, is one of those attractions that you can not really lose. Within the property there are six temples and an extensive exhibition of stuffed animals, a true passion of Bogd Khan. If there is time you can visit the Parliament, the Palace of Culture, the State Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Stock Exchange, all near the main square, as well as for a relaxing afternoon at Buddha Park.
The most important event of the year is the Naadam, held on 11 and 12 July, during which a particularly joyous surrounds the capital, inspired by all kinds of events. If you happen to Ulaanbaatar in mid-March is worth attend the Festival of Winter Polo on Camel, a tourist event with the participation of many teams from all over the country.
Because of the altitude, latitude and distance from the sea, Ulaanbaatar is the coldest national capital in the world, with a subarctic climate highly influenced by the monsoons. Summers are short and cool, with mean values between 15 and 20 degrees, while the winters are long, cold and very dry, with temperatures in January can fall as low as -30 degrees.
Chinggis Khan International Airport, the main airport in Mongolian, is located 18 kilometers south-west of the city center and is served by several European airlines. To get around the city you can count on the buses, which depart from the two main stations: Bayanzurkh Avto Vaksal, eastern, and Dragon (Luu) Avto Vaksal, Western, located along Peace Avenue. From the train station there are daily trains to all major cities of Mongolia and other Russian towns.
Originally posted 2012-09-23 21:47:10.