Karakorum (400 kilometers southwest of Ulaan Baatar) was the home of the great walled Mongol capital. Situated in a vast valley of the Orkhon River, the second largest river in Mongolia, it was the most powerful city in the world for a brief period in the 13th-century. It was founded by Genghis Khan but didn’t really come into its own until after the death of his son Ogedei. It remained the center of Mongol life until Kublai Khan established Beijing as the capital of the Mongol-Yuan Empire.

Karakorum was founded in 1220 and served as the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260, and of the Northern Yuan in the 14th century. Its ruins lie in the northwestern corner of present-day Övörkhangai Province of Mongolia, near today's town of Kharkhorin, and adjacent to the Erdene Zuu monastery. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 1388, Karakorum was raised by the Chinese. The end of Yuan dynasty came in 1368 when the rebels surrounded Beijing and the Mongols were ousted. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür Khan, didn't even attempt to defend his khanate. Instead he fled with his the Empress and his concubines — first to Shangtu (Xanadu), then to Karakoram, where he was killed when Zhu Yuanzhang became the leader of the Ming Dynasty. Although Zhu, who adopted Mongol military methods, drove the Mongols out of China, he did not destroy their power. A later Chinese army invaded Mongolia in 1380. In 1388 a decisive victory was won; about 70,000 Mongols were taken prisoner, and Karakorum was annihilated. Following the collapse of the Mongolian empire, Karakorum was abandoned. What was left was used to help build Erdene Zuu monastery in the 16th century.[Source: Library of Congress]

Founding of Karakorum

The Orkhon valley was a centre of the Xiongnu, Göktürk and Uyghur empires. To the Göktürks, the nearby Khangai Mountains had been the location of the Ötüken, and the Uighur capital Karabalgasun was located close to where later Karakorum would be erected (downstream the Orkhon River 27 kilometers northwest from Karakorum). This area is probably also one of the oldest farming areas in Mongolia. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 1218–19, Genghis Khan rallied his troops for the campaign against the Khwarezm Empire in a place called Karakorum, but the actual foundation of a city is usually said to have occurred in 1220. Until 1235, Karakorum seems to have been little more than a yurt town; only then, after the defeat of the Jin empire, did Genghis' successor Ögedei erect walls around the place and build a fixed palace.

Ögedei Khan gave the decree to build the Tumen Amgalan Ord (Palace of Myriad Peace, Wan'an'gong in Chinese) in 1235 the year after he defeated the Jin Dynasty. It was finished in one year. In the Yuanshi it is written in the section for Taizong Ögedei Khan: "In the seventh year (1236), in the year of the blue sheep the Wanangong was established in Helin (Karakorum)." One of Genghis Khan's nine ministers the Khitan Yelü Chucai (1190–1244) said the following poem during the ridge raising ceremony of the Tumen Amgalan Ord: "Installed ridge well fit and stone foundation, The parallel placed majestic palace has been raised, When the bells and drums of the Lord and officials sound pleasantly, The setting sun calls the horses of war to itself from the mountain peaks."

The name Karakorum or "Kharkhorin" literally translates to 'black-twenty'. But linguists argue that the 'khorin' might have been a diversion of the word 'khurem', which means "castle" in Mongolian. Other translations vary.

Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape

Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape (360 kilometers southwest of Ulaanbaatar) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. According to UNESCO: “The 121,967-ha Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape encompasses an extensive area of pastureland on both banks of the Orkhon River and includes numerous archaeological remains dating back to the 6th century. The site also includes Kharkhorum, the 13th- and 14th-century capital of Chingis (Genghis) Khan’s vast Empire. Collectively the remains 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. The grassland is still grazed by Mongolian nomadic pastoralists.[Source: UNESCO]

“The Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape (OVCL) lies in the central part of Mongolia, some and includes a buffer zone of 61,044 hectares. The archaeologically rich Orkhon River basin was home of successive nomadic cultures which evolved from prehistoric origins in harmony with the natural landscape of the steppes and resulted in economic, social and cultural polities unique to the region. Home for centuries to major political, trade, cultural and religious activities of successive nomadic empires, the Orkhon Valley served as a crossroads of civilizations, linking East and West across the vast Eurasian landmass.

“Over successive centuries, the Orkhon Valley was found very suitable for settlement by waves of nomadic people. The earliest evidence of human occupancy dates from the sites of Moiltyn Am (40,000- 15,000 years ago) and “Orkhon-7” which show that the Valley was first settled about 62,000-58,000 years ago. Subsequently the Valley was continuously occupied throughout the Prehistoric and Bronze ages and in proto-historic and early historic times was settled successively by the Huns, Turkic peoples, the Uighurs, the Kidans, and finally the Mongols.

“At the height of its cultural ascendancy, the inscribed property was the site of historic Kharakhorum – the grand capital of the vast Mongol Empire established by Chinggis Khaan in 1220. Within the cultural landscape are a number of archaeological remains and standing structures, including Turkish memorial sites of the 6th-7th centuries, the 8th9th centuries’ Uighur capital of Khar Balgas as well as the 13th-14th centuries’ ancient Mongol imperial capital of Kharakhorum. Erdene Zuu, the earliest surviving Mongol Buddhist monastery, the Tuvkhun Hermitage and the Shank Western monastery are testimony to the widespread and enduring religious traditions and cultural practices of the Northern School of Buddhism which, with their respect for all the forms of life, enshrine the enduring sustainable management practices of this unique cultural landscape of the Central Asian steppes.”

The Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape is important because: 1) it “clearly demonstrates how a strong and persistent nomadic culture, led to the development of extensive trade networks and the creation of large administrative, commercial, military and religious centers. The empires that these urban centers supported undoubtedly influenced societies across Asia and into Europe and in turn absorbed influence from both east and west in a true interchange of human values. 2) Underpinning all the development within the Orkhon valley for the past two millennia has been a strong culture of nomadic pastoralism. This culture is still a revered and indeed central part of Mongolian society and is highly respected as a ‘noble’ way to live in harmony with the landscape. 3) The Orkhon Valley is an outstanding example of a valley that illustrates several significant stages in human history. First and foremost it was the centre of the Mongolian Empire; secondly it reflects a particular Mongolian variation of Turkish power; thirdly, the Erdene Zuu monastery and the Tuvkhun hermitage monastery were the setting for the development of a Mongolian form of Buddhism; and fourthly, Khar Balgas, reflects the Uighur urban culture in the capital of the Uighur Empire.”

William of Rubruck’s Description of Karakorum in 1254

William of Rubruck, a Flemish Franciscan missionary and papal envoy to the Mongols reached Karakorum in 1254 when the Mongol Empire was ruled by Monke Khan, Ogedei Khan’s succesor. William has left one of the most detailed, though not always flattering, accounts of the city. He compared it rather unfavourably to the village of Saint-Denis near Paris, and was of the opinion that the royal abbey there was ten times as important as the Khan's palace. On the other hand, he also described the town as a very cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant place, and the silver tree he described as part of Möngke Khan's palace as having become the symbol of Karakorum. He described the walled city as having four gates facing the four directions, two quarters of fixed houses, one for the "Saracenes" and one for the "Cathai", twelve pagan temples, two mosques, as well as a Nestorian church. [Source: Wikipedia]

William of Rubruck wrote:“Of the city of Caracarum (Karakorum) you must know that, exclusive of the palace of the Chan, it is not as fine as the village of Saint Denis, and the monastery of Saint Denis is worth ten of the palace. There are two quarters in it; one of the Saracens (Muslims) in which are the markets, and where a great many Tartars gather on account of the court, which is always near this (city), and on account of the great number of ambassadors; the other is the quarter of the Cathayans (Chinese), all of whom are artisans. Besides these quarters there are great palaces, which are for the secretaries of the court. There are there twelve idol temples of different nations, two mahummeries [mosques] in which is cried the law of Machomet, and one church of Christians in the extreme end of the city. The city is surrounded by a mud wall and has four gates. At the eastern is sold millet and other kinds of grain, which, however, is rarely brought there; at the western one, sheep and goats are sold; at the southern, oxen and carts are sold; at the northern, horses are sold. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“We arrived there following the court on the Sunday before Ascension (May 17th). The next day we, the monk and all his household, were summoned by Bulgai, who is the grand secretary and judge, and all the envoys and foreigners who were in the habit of frequenting the monk's house; and we were separately called into Bulgai's presence, first the monk, and we after him; and they inquired most minutely whence we were, why we had come, what was our business. And this inquiry was made because it had been reported to Mongke Khan that four hundred Assassins had entered the city under various disguises to kill him. About this time the lady of whom I have spoken I had a relapse, and sent for the monk, but he was unwilling to go and said: "She has called back the idolaters around her; let them cure her if they can. I shall go there no more."/~\

Mongke Khan “promised that he would come the next day to the church, which is rather large and fine, and the whole ceiling is covered with a silken stuff interwoven with gold. The next day, however, he went his way, telling the priests in excuse that he did not dare come to the church, for he understood that they carried the dead there. We remained, however, with the monk at Caracarum (Karakorum), together with the other priests of the court, to celebrate Easter there.

Mongke Khan's Palace at Karakorum

William of Rubruck wrote: Mongke Khan “had at Caracarum (Karakorum) a great palace, situated next to the city walls, enclosed within a high wall like those which enclose monks' priories among us...And the palace is like a church, with a middle nave, and two sides beyond two rows of pillars, and with three doors to the south, and beyond the middle door on the inside stands the tree, and the Khan sits in a high place to the north, so that he can be seen by all; and two rows of steps go up to him: by one he who carries his cup goes up, and by the other he comes down. The space which is in the middle between the tree and these steps by which they go up to him is empty; for here stands his cup-bearer, and also envoys bearing presents; and he himself sits up there like a divinity. On (his) right side, that is to the west, are the men, to the left the women. The palace extends from the north (southward). To the south, beside the pillars on the right side, are rows of seats raised like a platform, on which his son and brothers sit. On the left side it is arranged in like fashion, and there sit his wives and daughters. Only one woman sits up there beside him, though not so high as he. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“The next day the Khan entered his palace, and the monk and I and the priests went to him, but they did not allow my companion to go because he had trod upon the threshold. I had pondered much within myself what I should do, whether I should go or not; but I feared the scandal if I withdrew from the other Christians, and it pleased the Chan, and I feared it might interfere with the good I hoped to do; so I decided to go, though I saw that their sect was full of superstition and idolatry. But I did nothing else while there but pray with a loud voice for the whole church, and also for the Chan, that God might guide him in the way of everlasting salvation. /~\

“So we entered the court, which is right well arranged; and in summer little streams are led all through it by which it is watered. After that we entered a palace all full of men and women, and we stood in the Chan's presence, with the tree of which I have spoken behind us, and it and the bowls (at its base) took up a large part of the palace. The priests had brought two little loaves of blessed bread, and fruit in a platter, which they presented to him, after saying grace. And a butler took it to him where he was seated on a right high and raised place; and he forthwith began to eat one of the loaves, and the other he sent to his son and to one of his younger brothers, who was being brought up by a certain Nestorian, and he knows the gospel, and had also sent for my Bible to look at it." /~\

Great Drinking Machine at Mongke Khan's Palace

William of Rubruck wrote: At “the great palace," he “has his drinkings twice a year: once about Easter, when he passes there, and once in summer, when he goes back (westward). And the latter is the greater (feast), for then come to his court all the nobles, even though distant two months journey; and then he makes them largess of robes and presents, and shows his great glory. There are there many buildings as long as barns, in which are stored his provisions and his treasures. In the entry of this great palace, it being unseemly to bring in there skins of milk and other drinks, master William the Parisian had made for him a great silver tree, and at its roots are four lions of silver, each with a conduit through it, and all belching forth white milk of mares. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“And four conduits are led inside the tree to its tops, which are bent downward, and on each of these is also a gilded serpent, whose tail twines round the tree. And from one of these pipes flows wine, from another cara cosmos (koumiss, mare's milk), or clarified mare's milk, from another bal, a drink made with honey, and from another rice mead, which is called terracina; and for each liquor there is a special silver bowl at the foot of the tree to receive it. Between these four conduits in the top, he made an angel holding a trumpet, and underneath the tree he made a vault in which a man can be hid. And pipes go up through the heart of the tree to the angel. In the first place he made bellows, but they did not give enough wind. /~\

“Outside the palace is a cellar in which the liquors are stored, and there are servants all ready to pour them out when they hear the angel trumpeting. And there are branches of silver on the tree, and leaves and fruit. When then drink is wanted, the head butler cries to the angel to blow his trumpet. Then he who is concealed in the vault, hearing this blows with all his might in the pipe leading to the angel, and the angel places the trumpet to his mouth, and blows the trumpet right loudly. Then the servants who are in the cellar, hearing this, pour the different liquors into the proper conduits, and the conduits lead them down into the bowls prepared for that, and then the butlers draw it and carry it to the palace to the men and women." /~\

Ruins of Karakorum

There are few remains of the once great city The ruins of Karakorum include some mounds, a large stone turtle that marks the corner of the site and foundations from four storehouses, treasure houses, private apartments of the khan's palace, gates, guardhouses, and other buildings. Pieces of roof tiles and porcelain are scattered about. There is also a great ger modeled after the one used by the khans. Around it are some gers and shacks. The Buddhist monastery, Erdene-Zuu, was built on the ruins of Karakorum in 1586. Bricks, stones and other materials scavenged from the ruins was used to build the monastery (See Below). Nearby are Turkish monuments and rock inscriptions erected in 8-9th centuries in memory of outstanding fighters for independence. Most visitors are disappointed.

The Erdene Zuu Monastery stands near Karakorum. The actual location of Karakorum was long unclear. In 1889, the site was conclusively identified as the former Mongol capital by Nikolai Yadrintsev, who discovered examples of the Orkhon script. The first excavations took place in 1933–34 under D. Bukinich. After his Soviet-Mongolian excavations of 1948–49, Sergei Kiselyov concluded that he had found the remains of Ögödei's palace. However, this conclusion has been put into doubt by the findings of the 2000–2004 German-Mongolian excavations, which seem to identify them as belonging to the great stupa temple rather than to Ögödei's palace. [Source: Wikipedia]

Excavation findings include paved roads, some brick and many adobe buildings, floor heating systems, bed-stoves, evidence for the processing of copper, gold, silver, iron (including iron wheel naves), glass, jewels, bones, and birch bark, as well as ceramics and coins from China and Central Asia. Four kilns have also been unearthed.

Traveling to Karakorum

The road from Ulaan Baatar to Karakorum is one of the best in Mongolia. It is two lane tarmac much of the way. Even so cars only pass by about once every 20 minutes. You get a good sense of what the steppe is all about traveling on it. Tours of Karakorum usually include stops at Hujirt (or Khujirt, 35 miles southwest of Harnhorin), to visit a ger-camp set up at some hot springs with a ger restaurant with a chandelier, and Orkhon Hurhree,

Between Ulaan Baatar and Karakorum is a landscape that blends forested mountains and green pastures and hills. Stop on the way include the Mongol Els sand dunes; Hugnu Khan, a sacred 1967-meter-high granite mountain; the 17th century ruins of Uvgunii Khiid Monastery (80 kilometers from Karakorum) in a gorge below Hugnu Khan; and Gants Hudag Mineral Spring. Several places mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols are located here. Uvgunii Khiid Monastery was built by Zanabazar for his teachers, Soldiers from a rival king destroyed the monastery in 1688 and killed all the monks. Bayangobi (270 kilometers west of Ulaan Baatar)

Tsetserleg (nine hours by jeep west of Ulaan Baatar) is a pleasant town on the way to Tekhiin Tsagaan Nuur and Khovsgol Nuur and is not so far from Karakorum. Many people stop here for the night. There is good museum housed in a 16th century temple, with displays of costumes, weapons, tools and musical instruments. There are even some English captions as well as some nice hikes in the hills around the town. One popular destination is an abandoned temple on the edge of a cliff.

Arvaiheer (between Ulaan Baatar and Karakorum) had a large monastery and now is a provincial capital. Nearby are mineral and hot springs and rock cravings and temples. It generally serves as rest st and refueling stop on the way to Karakorum.

Tsenkher Jiguur Hot Spring has a year-round temperature of 86.5 degrees C and contain hydrogen sulfide. Facilities include indoor and outdoor baths, shows ad ger accommodation. About 40 kilometers away is Taikhar Chuluu, a large set of rocks located in the middle of a grassy steppe.

Harnhorin (2½ kilometers from Karakorum) is a small town set in the middle of the steppe that serves as a jumping off point for Karakorum and Edenzuu Monastery. The journey to Harnhorin is via a rough four-hour bus trip through streams and over open prairie. he important Paleolithic archaeological site of Moiltyn-am is located near the bridge over the Orkhon River, just west of the settlement. A modern resort is south of Kharkhorin at Khujirt on the Orkhon River. There are several hotels, guest houses and ger camps. There is a shopping area and several small restaurants and cafes, some only open when tourists are in town.

Erdenzuu Monastery

Erdenzuu Monastery (near Karakorum) is Mongolia's first major center of Buddhism and it oldest monastery. Built in 1586 at the insistence of the powerful Kalkha Mongol lord Abtai Khan, it is an impressive complex, with resident monks, surrounded by a massive white-stone wall surrounded by 108 white stupas spaced about 20 meters apart. There are also 108 prayer wheels in the complex. Most visitors to Karakoram spend more time here than at Karakorum itself. Edennzuu means “Hundred Treasures.”

Erdenezuu Monastery’s monumental walls are 400 meters in length. Construction of the monastery continued into the 19th century and incorporated Mongolian, Chinese and Tibetan elements. In some cases stones and bricks from Karakoram were used to construct the buildings. At is height it contained 62 temples, 1,000 lamas, 108 tsaam dancers, and 300 gers within its walls. The 108 stupas were either erected to honor a major historical event or to serve as a memorial for a prominent religious leader. There is a brick fortress with the graves of Abtai Khan, who died in 1587, and his son, Gombodorj. Gombodorj’s wife is buried outside the fortress in the woman’s sector on the north eastern side of the complex.

The entire monastery covers about 400 square meters. Today the three main temples, the “Three Zuu,” are located in sacred western sector of the monastery complex. They were built by Abtai Khan and Gombodorj and contain important statues, including one of Jamba (the Holy Maitreya) and other of Buddha as an ordinary man. The monastery was abandoned after being raided by the Manchus and little came of efforts to restore it in 1760s and 1808. The monastery was badly damaged during the Stalinist purges in the 1930s. All but three temples were destroyed. In 1965 the monastery was allowed to reopen as museum. After the democratic movement in 1990, it became an active monastery again. Turtles carved from stone mark the boundaries of the complex. Today it retains much of its former glory.

The complex now encompasses a working monastery and a museum and significant amount of scarce government funds have been allocated for its restoration. All the temples were built without nails. Some contain some 17th to 19th century paintings, sculptures and tapestries and other treasures that were saved during the purges by being hidden away. In some are tsaam masks, golden “wheels of eternity,” and balin (wheat dough cakes decorated with colored mutton fat) that were made in the 1960s and are still in reasonable condition today. Daily ceremonies are held in the late morning at the Tibetan-style Lavrin Sum temple.

Temples of Erdenzuu Monastery

The three temples within the immense walled compound of Erdenzuu Monastery are dedicated to the three stages of Buddha’s life: as a child, adolescent and adult. The main, central temple is called the Zuu of Buddha and has statues of Buddha as a child. In the main shrine are three large statues—of Otoch Mana, the God of Medicine in the left; Buddha in his youth in the center and the Holy Abdida on the right—on the northern wall. Elsewhere in the temple are statues of Bodhisattvas, the God of the Moon, the Eight Sages and others. On a special pedestal are some gilded statues by Zanabazar. At the entrance are statues of Lham and Gombogur. On the walls are beautiful works of applique depicting forests, mountains and caves where gods lived as hermits.

The Eastern Temple in the Thee Zuus contains three large statues—the Bogdo Lama to the left, Buddha in his teenage years in the middle and Janraiseg on the right. The three-circled, Tibetan-style Palace of Lavran was restored between 1969 and 1973. The main square of the monastery is 45 meters in diameter. According to legend Abtai Khan conducted large assemblies of Mongol lords here in a giant ger that could seat 100 people.

The Prayer Temple houses several Buddhas that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The foundations of the ger platform for the huge 24-meter-in-diameter ger used by King Apte are visible. Around 1,000 poles were necessary to support its 15-meter-high roof. In Gol Zuu there is a large gong and bells used to call monks to prayer and masks used in the tsaam dances. The Lama temple was built for a visit of the 5th Dalai Lama in 1675. The small Blue Temple contains a carved wooden model of Erdenzuu when it had 62 temples.

The White Temple is the only working temple. Here you can see a huge copper pot used to prepare the lamas meals. Outside the monastery walls are two “turtle rocks.” Four of these once marked the boundaries of ancient Karakorum. A little further afield is a “phallic rock” that is slanted suggestively towards a “vaginal.” According to legend the stone appeared here to keep sex-starved monks from focusing their attention on local women.

Near Karakorum

Hujirt (near Karakorum) is known for its mineral and hot springs and rock cravings and temples. In the Soviet era many Mongolians came here for therapeutic mud baths. In the early 2000s, these facilities were given a major overhaul.

Orkhon Hurhree (80 kilometers west of Karakorum) is a stop on many tourist itineraries. It is a powerful 20-meter-high waterfall produced where the Orkhon Rover is squeezed by the Khangai Mountains into a 10-meter-wide cleft and then plunges over a volcanic precipice. The Orkhon River flows through basalt rocks from the Gyatruu range to Karakorum. Overall it flows over 1,000 kilometers to the north where it joins the Seenge River. The waterfall is most spectacular after heavy rains. Unfortunately heavy rains also often make the road to falls impassible. In the mountains nearby is a hermit cave where Zanabazar is said to have lived and meditated for 30 years.

Arkhangai Province

Arkhangai Province (300 kilometers west of Ulaan Baatar) lies in the center of Mongolia and is sometimes referred at Mongolia’s Switzerland, with its beautiful mountains, meadows, rivers, lakes and forests. It includes the Khangai Mountains, the second highest range in the country, as well as the Chuluut River, with a scenic gorge and the Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, or White Lake. It is a great area for trekking on foot or horseback and doesn’t require a helicopter or plane ride to get to. There is also excellent fishing in the area. Tsetserleg, the capital of the province, is located in a beautiful mountain setting.

Ugii Lake is 1,337 meters above the sea level in Ugii soum in Arkhangai province. It covers 25 square kilometers, and is known for its rich bird and fish diversity. The fish population is represented by pike, catfish and barscharten, the most common types, which provide enough fish for industrial fishing. Fifty to eighty tons are caught annually. Among the birds, it is not rare to spot Swan Goose, White Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican.

Chuluut River flows through a sheer basalt canyon which extends 100 kilometers from the mouth of the Teel River to the Atsat. This river is rich in fish. Tamir River is full of fish such as Trout, Pike, Mirror Carp, Taimen, Sig, River Perch, Siberian Umber, Roach, Ide, Amur Catfish and Burbot.

Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake is an astonishingly beautiful lake with crystal clear fresh water. Torrents of lava issuing from the Khorgo volcano blocked the north and south Terkh Rivers, so forming the dammed lake of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur at an altitude of 2.060 meters above sea level. The lake is 16 kilometers wide, 4 to 10 meters deep and 20 kilometers in length, a total of 61 square meters. The lake supports Pike and other fish. Rare birds are found here. Khorgo Uul is a dead volcano which lies on the east of the Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake in Arkhangai province. The volcanic crater is 200 meters wide and 100 meters deep. The northern slope is covered with Siberian Larch. Red Deer, Siberian Deer, Wild Boar, Ruddy Shelduck and Duck.

Tsenkher Hot Springs is is a spa with water issuing at a scalding +86.5 degrees Celsius with the stench of hydrogen sulphide (‘rotten eggs smell’). Formerly piped to provide hot water to greenhouses for cultivation of tomatoes and cucumbers all-year-round, the spa waters are now used as a new spa resort, opened in 1996.

Khugnu Tarny Monastery has two parts, an upper and a lower part. The monastery belongs to three different times of Buddhism in Mongolia-ancient, middle and late. Prince Bishrelt of the former Tusheet Khan Aimag founded the monastery at the beginning of the 17th century. Next Zanabazar dedicated this Monastery to one of his teachers, Erdenetsogt. It was built in 1670-1680 and was destroyed during the war of Galdan Boshigt, a fighter opposed to Manchurian domination of Mongolia. After the democratic movement in 1990 restoration of the temples was led by the Granddaughter of the monks who were living at the monastery when it was destroyed.

Khorgo Terkhiin Tsagaan National Park covers 28 sq. kilometers including Togoo Uul (2,240 meters above sea level) and Hill of the lake of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur. It has been protected since 1965, fully since 1994, to safeguard spectacular mountain scenery and endangered fauna and flora.

Deer Stones at Khoid Tamir Valley

Deer Stones at Khoid Tamir Valley (500 kilometers west of Ulaan Baatar, 300 kilometers southwest of Erdenet) is part of The Deer Stones Sites in Mongolia, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. It is located in Ikh Tamir and Battsengel soums of Arkhangai province. Coordinates: N47 45 54.0, E101 23 21.0 Deer stones are ancient megaliths carved with symbols found largely in Siberia and Mongolia. The name comes from their carved depictions of flying deer. There are many theories to the reasons behind their existence and the people who made them.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Deer stones are unique monuments dating to the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age that are found mostly in Mongolia and in some Central Asian countries. The Bronze Age funeral practice, sacrificial ritual and ideology and animal style art, which were spread among ancient nomads, are all together represented through deer stones. [Source: Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO]

“The term “deer stone” is derived from highly artistic illustrations of deer on stone. The deer stones are created from a long block of granite with four flat sides, on which deer and other images are engraved. Deer stones have three ornamented anthropomorphic sections: a “face”, “torso”, and “lower body” section. The face part contains human faces, symbol of sun and moon and earrings while stylized deer, elk – occasionally horses and ibexes – are engraved in the torso. In the lower body part there are images of weapons, belt and horse riders. The main decoration, deer images are classically depicted in superimposed extraordinary abstract style. However, in many cases deer image or other animals such as horses, ibexes and pig images are occasionally depicted in rough appearance.

“The size of deer stones range between 1 – 4 meters in height and 20 – 40 cm in thickness and 30 – 80 cm in width. A combination of different art making techniques is applied on the deer stones statues. Researchers believe that these sophisticated statues, which require enormous effort and skill, were dedicated to leaders and great warriors of a tribe. Therefore on the bodies of the deer stones there are engravings of various types of weapons such as daggers, grindstones, mattocks, bows with cases, spears, shields and mirrors as well as belts with decorative patterns.”

At the Bronze Age complex site with deer stones at Khoid Tamir valley: “There are over 100 deer stones, numerous khirgisuurs, burials and petroglyphs are spread within 45,000 hectare area of Khoid Tamir river valley on territory of Battsengel and Ikh Tamir soums of Arkhangai province. This site is considered to be the biggest one that situated at one river valley. Besides the monuments, this place also keeps raw material (stones) exploitation sites, which shows that this river valley was the main area of the deer stone culture. There are also very interesting statues with engravings of fighting warriors and sling-like weapons.”

Deer Stones at Jargalantyn Am

Deer Stones at Jargalantyn Am (near the Deer Stones at Khoid Tamir Valley, 500 kilometers west of Ulaan Baatar, 300 kilometers southwest of Erdenet) is part of The Deer Stones Sites in Mongolia, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. It is located Undur-Ulaan soum, Arkhangai province. Coordinates:N48 10 18.2, E101 05 33.8.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Bronze Age complex site with deer stones at Jargalantyn Am “is located 1 kilometers from Khanui River in Undur-Ulaan soum of Arkhangai province, occupying 17.9 hectares area. A group of 30 deer stone statutes and a number of khirgisuurs and slab burials constitute this complex site. From these statues, 20 had been fallen and, in 2009-2010, these were erected on their original places. This site is called “The museum of deer stones” because there is no other sites to contain such number of deer stones so close to each other.” [Source: Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO]

Smithsonian anthropologist William W. Fitzhugh wrote: “‘Khirigsuur’ refers to a specific Mongolian type of ‘kurgan’ whose central boulder mound is surrounded by a concentric arrangement of stone fences, satellite mounds, and hearth circles. Unlike kurgans of Western Asia with their lavish burial goods, khirigsuurs often yield poorly preserved human remains and no grave goods, resulting in recent interpretations emphasizing their use for non-mortuary purposes (Jacobson 1993, 146). West Eurasian deer stones and Altai deer stones and khirigsuurs differ in style from classic deer stones and burial mounds of northern Mongolia and Tuva. [Source: “The Mongolian Deer Stone-khirigsuur Complex: Dating and Organization of a Late Bronze Age Menagerie”,William W. Fitzhugh, an anthropologist who directs Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center and is a Senior Scientist at the National Museum of Natural History /]

Funeral Sites of the Xiongnu Elite

Funeral Sites of the Xiongnu Elite was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Xiongnu, who are the ancient ancestors of the Mongols of today, was the First Empire to be established by the nomadic people living in the grasslands of Central Asia. The Xiongnu Empire occupied a vast territory extending north and south from Yellow River to Lake Baikal, and east and west from Manchuria to Altai Mountains. The Xiongnu Empire was one of the most powerful empires within Asia and interacted with the Han Dynasty, linking the eastern and western worlds by controlling the main part of the great Silk Road. Researchers are in wide agreement that the unique civilization of nomads of Mongolia and Central Asia was founded by the Xiongnu people. In Mongolia alone, there are over 5000 elite and small circular tombs, and 10 archaeological remains of settlements, and countless examples of rock art. [Source: Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO]

A total of 11 funeral complexes of the Xiongnu Elite have been found in Mongolia and Russia. Most (7) of these complex sites are located in the territory of Mongolia. A certain style of tomb of the Xiongnu Elite was widespread. This shows a similarity in funeral rites between all the sites. Most funeral complexes of the Xiongnu Elite consist of big elite tombs and small circular tombs and sacrificial features that either have stone or earth surface cover. The external structure of a Xiongnu Elite tomb has two parts: a rectangular stone terrace directly above the burial pit, and an adjoining entrance passage to the south.

Although the general layout of terrace tombs is very similar, their sizes and depths can differ considerably. The depth of the burial pits range from 6 meters to 20 meters, depending on size of the surface structure. Vault walls were usually built from logs which were covered with felt rugs decorated in various patterns. Sometimes the coffins were additionally covered with silk or other textiles and with decorations near the head section representing the sun and the moon. The Xiongnu often buried specific ritual objects with their royalty and other aristocrats. Tombs that are deeper tend to have objects of better quality and sophistication. Tombs often contain the heads and long bones of animals that appear to have been sacrificed.

Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod

The Funeral Site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod (500 kilometers west of Ulaan Baatar, 300 kilometers southwest of Erdenet) are part of the Funeral Sites of the Xiongnu Elite that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. There are two main sites:
1) Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod I
Khairkhan, Erdenemandal soums of Arkhangai province
N 48 19 38.2, E 101 55 02.0
2) Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod II
Undur-Ulaan soum, Arkhangai province
N48 00 22.7, E 101 12 26.6

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Gol Mod I “is located 35 kilometers southeast from Khairkhan soum and within the territory of Khairkhan and Erdenemandal soums of Arkhangai province and covers 400 he area. Approximately 484 tombs have been registered, of these 3 elite tombs, 41 satellite burials and 3 sacrificial features were excavated. This site was firstly discovered in 1956. In 2000-2010, joint Mongolian and French expedition recovered complete silver and bronze ornaments, golden and silver decorations of coffin, felt rug, silk, bronze and iron utensils and jasper objects. Besides these, there are artifacts, which came from China and Middle Asia that helped to establish foreign relationship of the Xiongnu.

“Gol Mod II site is located in Undur-Ulaan soum of Arkhangai province. This site covers a total of 3.5 square kilometers area and surrounded with rivers and small sand dunes with larch forest. It is located 100 kilometers west from the Gol Mod I. This shows that the area of Khangai ridge was the center of the territory of the Xiongnu. A total of 107 big tombs have been registered, of these 98 are square shaped with entrance way and 9 are circular with entrance way as well.

Since 2002, archaeological investigations have been initiated at Gol Mod II. As a result Tomb-1 “and 28 satellite burials in east have been studied completely. The Tomb-1 is measured at 46x46 m, which is the biggest Xiongnu tomb that has ever been excavated. This tomb yielded same artefacts that were uncovered from other tombs in Mongolia but, there are some unique artefacts such as ancient Roman glass bowl.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mongolia tourism and government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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