Ulan Bator - the capital of Mongolia

Capital of Mongolia was formerly called Urga. It was renamed Ulan Bator after a declaration of republic and the abolition of monarchy in 1924. Ulan Bator literally means Red Hero and it lies at an elevation of about 1,310 meters. It is one of the world’s coldest capitals with winter temperatures dropping as low as -30 C. One third of country’s population lives here.

Ulan Bator is a rapidly developing city still representing a mixture of traditional and modern. It is a city where monastery temples stand beside grey sprawling communist buildings, where office staff dressed in modern suits mix with people in traditional dress. Therefore, for the traveller interested in open spaces, stunning landscapes and traditional nomadic way of life, a first glimpse of Ulan Bator might be somewhat disappointing as this is very much a modern city in some respects.

In 1937, the new government had harsh policies which led to the destruction of entire sections of the city. The Zuun khuree central palace-temple complex, the nobles' residences, many ger districts as well as the main markets were completely destroyed to make way for more modern buildings. Few buildings survived beyond the year 1937, which is obviously a huge shame.

However, the city folk are as hospitable and warm-hearted as the nomads out on the steppe, and while at first glance, the city may appear unremarkable, there are plenty of places worth visiting: impressive museums, Buddhist temples as well as many restaurants and shopping areas (cashmere is a good buy).

Ulan Bator is situated on the Tuul River and has an impressive mountain backdrop. It of course serves as a key starting base for further exploration into Mongolia, but you may find too that this ever-changing city may be the biggest surprise of your Mongolian adventure. Don’t be fooled by first impressions!

Major attractions in Ulan Bator
Gandan Monastery
Choijin Lama Monastery
National Museum
Natural History Museum
Sukhbaatar Square
Naran Tuul

Gandan Monastery
This monastery (Gandantegchinlen Khiid) was established in 1835 and is the largest and most significant in Mongolia. It was the only place where Buddhist services continued during the communist years and fortunately it escaped the mass architectural destruction of 1937. It was closed in 1938, but in 1946 religious activities re-started mainly as proof to foreign visitors that there was religious freedom in Mongolia. At the time it was only functioning Buddhist monastery that was open to public, but new temples have been built on the grounds in the recent years.

Choijin Lama Monastery
This monastery complex was built for Choijing Lama – the State Oracle and younger brother of Eight Bogd Gegeen. This is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Mongolia. The Temple Museum is devoted to religious art, the history of Buddhism in Mongolia and its historical and cultural heritage. The monastery was active until 1938, then it was turned into a museum. Choijin Lama Monastery consists of five temples and five arched gates. In the main temple, there is the sculpture of Choijing Lama and the embalmed mummy of his teacher. In total, the museum has over 5,000 items many of which are unique and particularly valuable.

National Museum
The National Museum of Mongolian History has excellent displays, starting with the Stone Age, continuing to the Mongol Empire, rise of Buddhism, communist regime and ending with contemporary events. The National Museum of Mongolian History is currently recognized as one of the leading museums in Mongolia. It was once called the Revolution Museum and is still known as such locally.

Natural History Museum
Museum displays showcase the geography, geology, botany, fauna and palaeontology of Mongolia. The recently added Golden Camel Museum also informs visitors about these amazing humped animals.

Sukhbaatar Square
This is the central square in the city centre with an equestrian statue of Sükhbaatar – the national hero who declared Mongolia’s final independence from the Chinese. The statue is located directly in front of the Government Palace.

Naran Tuul
Naran Tuul also known as the 'black market’ is the place to try your bargaining skills for cheap traditional clothes and souvenirs. When visiting, be vigilant as the area is notorious for pickpockets. The market is a 10 minute bus or taxi ride from the city centre.

Trans-Mongolian Travel Map

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