The 13 best places to visit in Mongolia

 

Completed in 1736 in the far north of the country, in the Iven Valley to the north west of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is one of the largest Buddhist centres in Mongolia, the Amarbayasgalant Monastery, meaning 'Monastery Of Tranquil Felicity.' Constructed on the spot where the 5th Dalai Lama, Zanabazar, died suddenly, his remains were eventually placed within the monastery 43 years after the buildings completion. Built in a Chinese style with Mongolian and Tibetan influences, it was one of very few monasteries to partly escape destruction during the Stalinist purges of 1937. The monks were executed and the monasteries artifacts were looted. Today only 28 temples of the central section of this incredible complex remain.

13. Amarbayasgalant Monastery

 

Completed in 1585 in the centre of the country, west of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the Erdene Zuu Monastery, the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Built on the orders of the ruler of the Khalkha Mongols and the 3rd Dalai Lama, it was the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia. Spared destruction under Communist rule, the monastery was allowed to exist as a museum only. In 1990 the monastery was turned over to the Lama's where it became once again a place of Buddhist worship.

12. Erdene Zuu Monastery

 

In the far west of the country lying within a valley between the Kharkhiraa and the Turgen Mountains is an area known as Turgen. Like most of the terrain in western Mongolia, the beautiful open plains are filled with camels and wild horses leading away to high snowy peaks. The most notable peak is the Kharkhiraa, standing 4,040 metres (13,255 ft) above sea level.

11. Turgen

 

Founded in the 17th century as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre, the countries capital, Ulaanbaatar, literally translated as 'Red Hero', today is by far the largest city in the country and holds more than half of Mongolia's entire population. A modern city of shopping districts, large department stores and a skyline pushing upwards with a host of new skyscrapers being built. Sights worth seeking out are the Gandantegchinlen Monastery with it's large Janraisig statue, the monument complex at the Zaisan Memorial offering a great view over the city, the Winter Palace Of Bogd Khan, the Choijin Lama Temple and the large Chinggis Square.

10. Ulaanbaatar

 

In the far northern centre of the country between the Ulaan Taigaand and Khoridol Saridag Mountain ranges is the Darkhad Valley. Situated at an altitude of about 1,600 metres (5,250 ft) above sea level this enormous valley of lakes and rivers between high snowy peaks is remote and inaccessible even by Mongolian standards.

9. Darkhad Valley

 

Close to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the large protected area of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, which due to it's proximity to the capital is run differently from other parks in Mongolia, requiring a fee upon entry. With actual designated roads, this beautiful landscape of rocky mountains, green rolling hills and small forests is a different scene to vast open tree-less lands of the rest of the country. Highlights of the park include hot springs, glacial lakes, the Terelj Monastery and many unusual rock formations.

Pictured is the famous Turtle Rock.

8. Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

 

Between Ölgii and Altai on the southern route through Mongolia is a 659 kilometre (410 mile) stretch of road that has to be in the running for greatest driving routes on Earth. Almost entirely unpaved, the washboard surface takes visitors through a dreamscape of enormous open plains where mountains stretch to the horizon. But for the smattering of yurts and herds of wild horses running along the untamed wilderness, for hundreds of miles visitors can feel alone in the world.

7. Ölgii To Altai

 

In the southern centre of the country within the vast Gobi Desert are a set of cliffs made famous when they yielded the first discovered dinosaur egg. Visitors to the Bayanzag can stand and witness a vast surrounding desert, and can still view dinosaur bones in the ground to this day, though it is illegal to remove them. The deep red and orange colours of the rocks, especially at sunset, have earned it the nickname, 'The Flaming Cliffs'.

6. Bayanzag

 

In the extreme north of the country reaching the border with Russia is the pristine Lake Khovsgol, one of Mongolia's most important and picturesque bodies of water. Sitting at an elevation of 1,645 metres (5,397 ft) above sea level the lake sits within a valley surrounded by several large mountain ranges. The second largest fresh water lake in Asia, it is also one of the most pristine in the world with water so clean it is safe to drink without treatment.

5. Lake Khövsgöl

 

In the almost exact centre of the country is one of Mongolia's most famous cultural landscapes, the Orkhon Valley. The picturesque steppe landscape surrounded by the Kangai Massif has been home to nomads since pre-historic times, with proof to show that the area was inhabited some 60,000 years ago. Historic monuments include the Turkic memorials, the most impressive monuments from the nomadic Gokturk Empire. The ruins of Khar Balgas, an 8th century capital of the Uyghur Empire contains evidence of palaces, shops, monasteries and temples, and the ruins of Genghis Khan's capital, Karakorum can all be found in this most beautiful of natural landscapes. Considered the cradle of nomadic civilization the entire Orkhon Valley has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4. Orkhon Valley

 

Built in 2008, to the east of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, and although relatively new it has become one of the most iconic landmarks in the country. It stands 40 metres (130 ft) high upon a 10 metre (33 ft) tall visitor centre at the top of a statue lined staircase. Symbolically facing eastwards towards Genghis Khan's birthplace, visitors can climb to the head of the horse for a great panoramic view over the surrounding countryside. 

3. Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue

 

Encompassing 1.2 million square kilometres (500,000 square miles) across north western China and southern Mongolia, bounded by the Altai Mountains and the Mongolia steppes is the vast Gobi Desert, famed for it's history as part of the Mongol Empire, and as the location of several important cities along the famous Silk road.

Lying at the northern end of the Gobi desert is the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, a 27,000 square kilometre (10,425 square mile) protected area of land encompassing the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains. The park holds a number of rare plants and animals, the most notable being the Gobi camel and the elusive snow leopard. It is a landscape of high grassland steppe, mountains reaching 2,600 metres (8,530 ft) above sea level and huge sand dunes, most famously the Khongoryn Els, meaning 'Singing Sand Dunes'. Another destination of note is the Yolyn Am, meaning 'Valley Of The Vultures', a mountain valley that contains a spectacular seasonal ice field.

2. Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park

 

In the far west of the country stretching along from the Russian border along the Chinese border is the Altai Mountain Range, some of the most spectacular scenery of all three countries. Encompassing the range within Mongolia is the 6,300 square kilometre (2,432 square mile) Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, the south of which is a region of large lakes whilst the north is renowned for towering snow capped mountains, glaciers and deep lush valleys. Home to the Khuiten Peak, at 4,374 metres (14,356 ft) above sea level it is Mongolia's highest mountain, standing beside equally giant mountains, they together contain the Potanin Glacier, the largest in the country. Some of the most spectacular and remote terrain in Asia, the park along with the Altai Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Potanin Glacier.

1. Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

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