One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Erdene Zuu monastery located on the site of Chingis Khan’s capital city of Karakorum. The city was founded in 1220 by Chingis, and completed by his son, Ogedai, after his death. The city was abandoned by Kublai Khan when he expanded the empire and moved the capital to present day Beijing. Nothing is left of the former capital except for the rocks and bricks that were used to build the Erdene Zuu Monastery, and three of the four stone tortoise statues that marked the borders of the city.
Today the monastery is still active, although it is nowhere near it’s former glory. In fact, it is the only monastery that was allowed to stay open during the communist era, although it was just allowed to be a museum, and not an active place of worship. In its peak, it had over 1000 monks in residence, and 60 to 100 temples inside its walls. Physically, it is still quite impressive, with 108 stupas lining the massive white walls. Outside the walls, craftsmen and souvenir hawkers have set up stands waiting for the horde of tourists that haven’t come this year.
This is one of the few places in the country where the old Mongolian script is still quite visible. Looking around we saw many examples of the old writing in artwork, and carved into the temples themselves. While it’s completely incomprehensible to me, I think it is a lot more aesthetically pleasing then the more modern Cyrillic.
Finally before we headed off for our campsite of the evening we stopped to see what’s been named the phallic rock. Apparently this rock was carved to remind the monks of their vows before they headed over the nearby hills to entertain themselves with the local village daughters!