On the train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, I got to know a really friendly Taiwanese guy who also ended up in the same hostel as me. Having spent a couple of days really exploring the city of Ulaanbaatar, today I teamed up with him for a private tour to the Bogd Khan Mountain for a day of trekking and to visit the ancient ruined Manzushir Monastery.
As the oldest natural protected area in the world (since the Qing Dynasty), this UNESCO world heritage site is important not just for it’s natural beauty, but also Mongolian cultural heritage.
Our trip began with a short drive from Ulaanbaatar, along increasingly rough roads and through stunning countryside. We arrived at the Manzushir Monastery and began our trek towards the Tsetsee Gun Holy Peak, planning to explore the ruined monastery after our hike.
The first section of the trek consisted of a relatively gentle walk through thick coniferous forest.
Along the way, we came across a few locals carrying their goods up and down the mountain via camel – apparently a popular method of transport even in mountainous areas of Mongolia.
After around an hour of walking, we had a short rest by a rather curious rock shaped like a face.
Continuing on our hike, we stumbled across some locals shaking pine cones out of the trees and grinding them – explaining where all the roasted pine nuts sold on the streets in Ulaanbaatar come from! Apparently in this protected woodland such harvesting of pine nuts is highly restricted, and our guide had a suspicion they were collecting them without a permit so we quickly moved on. It’s a shame that this process can significantly harm the trees (due to the use of high forces to shake the pine cones down) and locals whose livelihoods depend on selling pine nuts aren’t supported in finding alternative methods of collecting them.
We continued on out of the forest and into more rocky territory, with a noticeable drop in temperature. Since we were now up into the cloud zone, a mysterious mist floated among the landscape, making a rather spooky atmosphere!
Eventually, we reached the summit, where the land meets the sky. According to traditional beliefs, this is the most auspicious place for worship – and so the rocky outcrop featured several shaman sites and prayer flags.
Combined with the mist and natural beauty, it truly felt a magical place – it’s clear why this was chosen as one of the three most sacred mountains in Mongolia.
After such a breathtaking experience, we then headed back down the mountain to the Manzushir Monastery ruins. This Buddhist monastery was established in 1733, but destroyed 200 years later by the Mongolian communists. Once, it was one of the most important monasteries in the country, with over 300 monks in 20 temples.
The lower part of the ruins consists of many stone walls, the original purposes of the buildings now unidentifiable. Climbing over these brought us to the one rebuilt temple of the site, which serves as a museum housing various objects which survived the destruction, as well as images of Buddhist deities and sacred inscriptions.
Nearby this restored temple stand the walls of other destroyed buildings, these in better condition than the stone rubble further down the slope.
Climbing up behind the temples, we reached a couple of ancient Buddhist cave paintings apparently originating from the 18th century.
Walking back towards the car, we passed through the small museum of local wildlife – which contained a variety of stuffed animals and information on various protected species in the area. Just outside was the ancient cooking pot of the temple complex, supposedly able to cook several sheep and/ or cows to feed all the monks.
It certainly was an incredible day trip from Ulaanbaatar – combining both hiking through beautiful scenery and exploring the cultural heritage of Mongolia.