Landlocked between China and Russia the vast, rugged scenic expanses land with nomadic culture and rich heritage is Mongolia; with three-fourths of its area consisting of pasturelands and has one of the lowest average population densities of any in the world.
After prevailing in a Soviet bubble for most of half a century, this rugged country is finally beginning to open its doors to travellers from across the world from encompassing the grandeur of the glacier-capped Altai Mountains in the west to the vast steppe that encircles the country to the north and east, and the rolling dunes of the frigid Gobi Desert in the south, Mongolia has something to appeal to everyone and especial architects.
As mentioned in a spiritual text known as the Kalachakra Tantra, Shambhala is described as a paradise, where enlightened monarchs rule over healthy and contented individuals on their path towards enlightenment. Shambhala is presently surrounded by 108 new stupas as ‘108’ has being a sacred number in Buddhism where Danzan Ravjaa in 1853 professed his death within the next three years and consolidated the people that they could persistently come to this place and speak to his spirit which indeed turned true. Thus, the site was marked by an ovoo with a celebration held among families by lighting incense, throwing rice, circling the ovoo and chanting into the wind with their palms up as if feeling an infusion from the spirit world.
2. Amarbayasgalant Monastery
Constructed between 1727 and 1736 to serve as a resting place for Zanabazar, Amarbayasgalant Monastery is one of the three largest Buddhist centres in Magnolia with its beautiful architectural feat standing out against the steppe backdrop. The monastic complex was envisioned in a symmetrical outline, with main structures following the North-South axis while the secondary edifices would be on parallel sides, with an original count of 40 temples.
3. Tuvkhun Monastery
Built-in 1648 and further established by Zanabazar, who was the spiritual head of Buddhism in Outer Mongolia by the age of only 14, Tuvkhun Monastery is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the country. Initially ended up being used as Zanabazar’s retreat followed by a boisterous history post his death the ancient monastery is present serves as a major tourist attraction and marked as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
4. Zaisan Hill
Zaisan Hill is a perfect intermingling of modern architecture with tradition highlighting history. Until recently, it was most well-known for the Zaisan Hill Monument atop the hill on a stunning circular structure with a mural that honours the allied Mongol and Soviet soldiers who fell during World War II. Presently, the hill houses sprawling modern complexes with plenty of amenities for tourists and residents alike.
5. Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue
With a height of 131 feet, on the bank of the Tuul River in East of the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar with the backdrop of the scenic panoramic landscape is the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue which towers over the Genghis Khan Statue Complex. The statue sits atop the visitor’s centre, which exhibits various items dating from the bronze age along with Genghis Khan’s rules era.
6. Orkhon Valley
Located in the southeast of Ulaanbaatar in central Mongolia is the Orkhon Valley; a UNESCO world heritage site that houses architectural ruins dating back to the 6th century and also including Kharkhorin, which hails Genghis Khan’s capital in the 13th and 14th century. These remain in the site reflect the symbiotic links between nomadic, pastoral societies and their administrative and religious centres, and the importance of the Orkhon valley in the history of central Asia and attracts tourist seeking the fabled palaces of Xanadu, wonder at frozen cascades, and discovery tranquillity in the rustic Buddhist monasteries.
7. Erdene Zuu Monastery
Established by Altai Khaan in 1586, located over a mile from Kharkhorin is the first Buddhist monastery of Mongolia; the Erdene Zuu Monastery. Initially having 60 to 100 16th century temple with grounds of picturesque beauty at its peak, presently comprises of three main temples namely- Zuu of Buddha, Zuun Zuu and Baruun Zuu which signifies the three main phases of Buddha’s life as childhood, adolescence, and adulthood correspondingly.
8. Tsenkher Hot Springs
Located amidst the steppe wilderness on the site of former volcanoes is the Tsenkher Hot Springs one of the finniest thermal baths in the entire of Central Asia. These rustic baths have been known for healing articular health problems and issues with the nervous system and providing a soothing experience for both frequently visiting locals and tourists.
9. Khövsgöl Nuur
The centrepiece of the national park going by the same name; Khövsgöl Nuur is located close to the Russian border is an ice-cold lake and Mongolia’s largest freshwater body with being an extension of the gigantic Lake Baikal in geological terms, which lies just over the Siberian border. The lake is peppered with miniature icebergs which are seen crashing into one another and pounding the lakeshore even during summers with June to September being the best time to travel.
10. Winter Palace of Bogd Khan
One of the most enthralling hidden gems in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is the decaying Winter Palace of Bogd Khan, who ruled between 1893 and 1903 and was Mongolia’s last monarch and eighth ‘Living Buddha’. The Winter Palace was spared destruction during Mongolia’s tumultuous 20th century, unlike much of Ulaanbaatar’s rich cultural heritage, and today retains an atmosphere of faded grandeur. The complex contains six Buddhist temples, all of which have graceful pagoda roofs, and a museum of Mongolian history, with artefacts on display including gifts given to Bogd Khan from Tsar Nicholas II who remained Russia’s last emperor along with the 1911 Mongolian declaration of independence from China.
11. Gandantegchinlen Monastery
Gandantegchinlen Monastery also termed ‘The Heart of Buddhism’ is often thought of as the centre for Buddhism in Mongolia. Originally constructed in the early 1800s the monastery prospered until the rise of Communism, during which many of the monasteries were destroyed all over the country. Gandantegchinlen avoided destruction and has presently reopened with a working monastery of more than hundreds of monks living there.
12. Gurvan Saikhan National Park
Gurvan Saikhan is one of Mongolia’s most popular national parks covering much of the Gobi Desert in the country’s southern flank. Packed with iconic dunes, awe-inspiring mountain panoramas and herds of wild camels, the park is a must-visit for its natural splendour. The park also has an alternative side that reveals Mongolia’s rich pre-history with the road from the Dalanzadgad to the ‘singing sands’, which is a series of vast dunes, where one explores the remote hillsides and can see one of the UNESCO listed petroglyphs that date from between 8000 and 3000 BC with numerous rocks carved with mesmerising images of nomadic lifestyles, including hunting scenes.
13. Uushigiin Uver
On an arid plain about 20km west of Mörön, 14 deer stones have subsisted both whistling winds and antiquity to presently constitute being one of the most enchanting Bronze Age archaeological sites in the Mongolian country. Some of the stones have vibrant white designs engraved against an ochre-coloured background. The most unique is the 14th stone which is topped with a woman’s head; there is only a handful of such deer stones in Mongolia with the carved stones being 2500 to 4000 years old.
14. Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
Protected within the Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park, Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is a scenic freshwater lake that spans around 16km long, east to west, and around 4km to 6km wide, north to south. It takes around two hours to walk from Tariat to the northeast corner of the lake (i.e. 6km). Presently having the largest concentration of ger camps, plus some shops selling drinks, snacks and cooking provisions makes it perfect for camping for visitors.
According to legends, this lake was formed when an elderly couple forgot to cap a well after fetching water, resulting in the valley being flooded until a local hero shot the nearby mountain peak with an arrow and the shorn top covered the well that then resulted in becoming an island in the lake (Noriin Dund Tolgoi). Another, more plausible, the theory is that it was formed by lava flows from a volcanic eruption many millenniums ago.
15. Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert is the largest desert and brushland in Asia and one of the uppermost sites in Mongolia. This desolated part of Mongolia is a huge stretch of land not only made up of massive dunes but also green mountains and was home to the largest dinosaur bones ever discovered. The UNESCO designated the Great Gobi as the fourth largest Biosphere Reserve in the world in 1991 though the area is often imagined as a lifeless desert as most deserts around the world while the Mongolians contemplate that there are 33 different Gobi, where sandy desert occupies only 3 percent of the total territory.