Remember, you have no companions but your shadow.
— Genghis Khan —

What would you do if your time in Mongolia is limited, or you have 2 spare days left?

If you are traveling along the Trans-Mongolian Railway, I encourage you to take a longer stopover in Ulaanbaatar. If you only have one or two days, I wrote down recommendations about what to check out in Ulaanbaatar. For 3-4 days, I highly recommend the trip I describe within this article. If you are lucky enough to have 2 weeks or more time available, you may consider trips to:

depending on your personal preferences.

One-day trip from Ulaanbaatar: Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

There was one more important thing for me to do: visiting the huge Genghis Khan statue located north-east of Ulaanbaatar. I combined this statue with the nearby Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Since this destination is very close to the capital Ulaanbaatar (approximately 2 hours drive), there are plenty of (one-day) tours heading to this destination. For a first impression, check out the pictures of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park’s administration homepage. Most of its text is in (Cyrillic) Mongolian, therefore, focus on the provided photos.

In contrary to many other sights within Mongolia, you can reach the Genghis Khan Statue Complex on paved road (except if there are any roadworks). So it is far more easily accessible than other sights. There is a huge parking space and Mongolians are wandering around with falcons and other animals or self-made jewelry for you to spend some money (on pictures). I did a one-day tour with the company owning my hostel, Sunpath Mongolia, to both the Genghis Khan Statue and the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park including the Aryapala Temple Meditation Center.

Visiting the Genghis Khan Statue Complex

The Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue is a 40 m fall stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan on horseback. It points east, towards Genghis Khan’s birthplace. Within the statue complex, you will find restaurants, souvenir shops and two museums on Mongolian history. The museum is very well-equipped with descriptive texts in English. However, I have learned more about Mongolian history and culture during my 12-day trip around the Gobi and Central Mongolia. The other guys of my tour didn’t do such an extensive trip and stayed in the museum for some more time.

Afterwards, we went “on top of the head of the horse” in order to directly look into the eyes of Genghis Khan. This was nice, though, not spectacular since the surrounding landscape is very empty but not harsh. I would not recommend coming to this statue only for the statue. This is because the entrance fee was three times as high for tourists than for Mongolians. Moreover, the entrance fee was not worth only the view from the top of the statue. If you are limited to Ulaanbaatar and its surroundings, you may directly drive to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, watching the statue from the street/parking only.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park in Central/Northern Mongolia

Landscape and accessibility

The Gorkhi-Terelj National Park has a very different natural landscape compared to what I have experienced within Mongolia until then. I saw conifers, different to the ones at Lake Khovsgol, and birch trees. Even more, I saw the ever first true rocky, rough, hills. An alpine landscape indeed, I can relate to its nickname “Switzerland of Mongolia”. Coming from Ulaanbaatar, there is a paved road until Terenj, the village at the southern tip of the National Park. Within the southern area of the park, there are only dirt roads again. The condition of roads is comparatively good close to the park entrance. However, the far more extensive northern part of the national park is mostly uninhabited and almost not accessible.

Due to the short distance to Ulaanbaatar, many Mongolian families from the capital stay in this park for their holidays. There are plenty of hotels or fields covered with Ger tents. I assume, the Ger tents should give city-grown-up kids the experience of nomad life. I enjoyed watching Mongolian tourists within Mongolia, checking out local, handmade stuff in the souvenir shop as we did. All those holiday facilities are very close to the Turtle Rock, a huge rock formation caved only by wind and rain water. Actually, there is a legend on why the stones look like they do. It states that the King Galdanboshigt hid all his treasures during the war with Manchu Troops in 1600.

Buddhist Temple within the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

The Aryapala Temple Meditation Center is a comparatively new Buddhist temple, inaugurated in summer 2006 after many years of construction. This temple is only accessible on foot, there are too many stairs and rocks to make it unreachable for wheelchair users. On the other hand, there are great hiking opportunities in this area, as for example hiking from the turtle rock to the monastery. I highly recommend visiting this temple during spring. During this season, the surrounding nature blooms in different shades of green, covered with multiple wild flowers.

The main temple is dedicated to Kalachakra philosophy, the “wheel of time”. On the way from the entrance to the Aryapala Temple, there were 72 signs with 144 Buddhist teachings lining the sides of the path. Reading the teachings might be the initial goal to get you into a state ready for meditation when you finally reach the meditation center. Therefore, you need to climb another 108 stairs. Each learning / quote had an individual number assigned and after turning a wheel you would be told the teachings relevant for you.

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