At 9am on Saturday morning in a private car, me and my site mates left our aimeg for Kharkhorin – a “super” soum lying in northern Övörkhangai Province.
This particular soum is referred to as a “super” soum not just because of its size but because of its tourist appeal. Many tourists come to Kharkhorin to visit Erdene Zuu Monastery and the famous phallic rock that continues to humorously serve as a reminder for monks to remain celibate but yet also symbolizes fertility. The land had also once been the capital of the Mongol Empire under Ogedei Khan.
During my training, I had gotten used to the bumpy rides over fields and dirt roads. But since arriving in my aimeg back in mid-August, I hadn’t been on a bumpy road trip in two months. There was a moment when I thought I was going to get ill. It was a three-hour drive to the soum. The car rode smoothly on a paved road for 30-minutes until our driver made a left onto a narrow dirt road. For the rest of the ride, we followed this trail that winded its way like a snake over fields, streams and through stunning valleys. The hills are sparse of vegetation. I saw some trees clumped together in pockets between hills or upon the foothills. Their leaves were bright yellow, a cheerful bright color amongst the never-ending shades of greens and browns.
Kharkhorin is large with roads and sidewalks traversing around its markets, restaurants, schools, gers, and homes. Kharkhorin made itself comfortable on the lower end of the Orkhon River and upon the eastern foothills of the Khangai Mountains. The Orkhon River is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.
On top of a hill is a massive oovoo surrounded by thin walls depicting the stages of the Mongol Empire.
An abandoned mill house adorns the bank of the river. Now its only visitors are spiders, cobwebs, and birds.
Tourists can stay in ger camps that offer beautiful scenery of the river and hills.
Erdene Zuu Monastery survived the communist purge of all Buddhist monasteries in the country. Joseph Stalin ordered for this monastery to remain in tact to show international visitors that there was some toleration of religious freedom. The monastery is surrounded by a high wall in a square-shape enclosure with 108 stupas sitting on top. Visitors can walk in for free.
Family, friends, and visitors can spin these canisters to show respect for the dead. They wrap all the way around the monastery.
Here is a list for more monasteries to visit in Mongolia.