Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar city center is compact and you can walk and reach most places of interest, provided you have a centrally located hotel. Contemporary Ulaanbaatar has undergone drastic changes over the past five years and is now definitely part of the global world. The hotels, the ministries and other government buildings, the offices of most business people and international projects, shops and museums are all located within a few blocks of Sukhbaatar Square which later changed its name to Chinggis Square in 2013. The Parliament Building is at One Sukhbaatar Square and Nomadic Journeys is at One Sukhbaatar Street.

This weird and strange city just north of the forested Bogd Khan Mountains was founded where it is today in 1778. At the time the city was a completely migrating ger city, and before that it moved around for some 140 years before being established where it is now located. North of the sacred mountain Bogd Khan Uul and by the Tuul River. Sukhbaatar Square was built by Japanese prisoners of war during the Second World War. Actually, Ulaanbaatar had just a few buildings prior to the 1930s. There was an expansion of the city in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union moved in with assistance to accomplish this.  Since 2005 there has been a construction boom, changing the cityscape forever, old buildings giving way to high rises.

Even today, however, more than half of the Ulaanbaatar population lives in gers (yurts), the traditional dwellings About one million people live in Ulaanbaatar, which is about a third of the entire Mongolian population. Ulaanbaatar has at least four good Indian restaurants, one Thai, several French, which is why the gourmet scene has improved greatly. The night scene is surprisingly lively. There are many internet cafés, outdoor pubs and regular cafés.

The most important sights in Ulaanbaatar proper are the Museum of Natural History, the Bogd Khan Winter Palace and the Gandan Monastery.

The Natural History Museum (Tuv Myzei) has a display of  stuffed native animals of all kinds. Avifauna and other wildlife may be appreciated. The most famous displays are, however, several intact dinosaur skeletons, which were found in the Gobi. And there are the fossilized dinosaur eggs. The first ones ever found were uncovered in Mongolia in the 1920s by the Central Asiatic Expeditions of Roy Chapman Andrews. This museum is rich  with  information and is best done with a knowledgeable guide.

The Bogd Khan (Bogdo Gegeen) was the Living Buddha of the Mongols and considered only second to the Dalai & Panchen Lamas of Tibet. Like the Potala in Lhasa, his residence has been turned into a palace museum. When Bogdo Gegeen was made the monarch of Mongolia in 1921, his title was changed to Bogd Khan. The Bogd Khan Winter Palace is a replica of Dalai Lama’s summer palace, Norbulingka at Lhasa.

His personal ger is on display inside. It is completely covered with leopard skins (not snow leopard skins as many have been led to believe by numerous guide books!) When the last Bogd Khan died in 1924, the incarnations were discontinued.

Gandan Monastery was the only functioning lamasery during the entire communist time. It is still the main monastery of Mongolia. Today, the Mongolian Buddhists receive financial support from India, which is coordinated by the Indian Ambassador in Ulaanbaatar. This work was started by Bakula Rinpoche, who then was appointed ambassador to newly independent Mongolia by the government of Rajiv Gandhi. Bakula, being a  Ladakhi, and himself a Rinpoche (saint), he was a tutor of the current Dalai Lama in the 1950s. These funds  are raised by the Tibetan government in exile in India. In the mornings we are usually able to enter the temple and experience the prayers. Photographs are not allowed inside. This should, of course, be respected.

The National History Museum is near the Natural History Museum. It has displays from the rich history of Mongolia from the Huns, to Genghis Khan, to our present days. The displays are OK for self guiding.

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