Further adventures in Central Mongolia: Tövkhön Khiid

After seeing all the sites in Kharkhorin thrice over, Swiss Friend and I decided to do a day trip to Tövkhön monastery on the recommendation of our ger camp buddies. Gaya, ger camp manager extraordinaire, hooked us up with a relative of hers for a ride, and with surprisingly little fuss or issues, we were off.

But in Mongolia, life isn’t easy for very long, and in our case, it was easy for about an hour before our car got stuck. How stuck, you ask? This stuck.
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In a stroke of luck that we made sure to appreciate very, very hard, we got stuck within sight of a few gers that housed an extended family of horse herders. Amazingly, these people also owned a tractor, so we let them get to it while we:

1) Wandered around for two hours looking at the baby horses
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2) tried (and then declined) massive bowls of fermented horse milk
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3) chased away the cows that wanted to join our picnicDSC01139DSC01140

and 4) climbed mountains

Find the stuck jeep in that picture.

Eventually our car was freed from the mud, an event our driver and rescuers celebrated with various alcoholic beverages, as is only appropriate when you’re about to go drive on cliffs and things.

And then we were off!




Our drive finished at the base of a forest on a hill.

After half an hour of hiking, we reached monastery base camp, or whatever the official name is.

Monastery base camp sold iced tea, vodka, potato chips, and very little else.

Up we go!

The view from the top was…well, it was Mongolia, what do you expect?





Oh, and the monastery was pretty aiite too.


Tövkhön is the one of the oldest monasteries in Mongolia and has stood on this site in one form or another since 1648 when a fourteen-year-old monk looking to build a monastery decided this was a nice spot. You know, as opposed to fighting the Manchus, like every teenager with a head on his shoulders was doing at the time.



But the mountain kept going, so up we went. At one point we had to do some actual rock scaling to get to the top, only to discover the giant sign that said women weren’t allowed on that part of the mountain because insert reason here. In such instances, I like to pretend I’m illiterate.


And then our friend showed up! The day before, we had befriended a Dutch tour guide, so while his group ran around the mountain, we happily hung out with him.

After we got back to the ger camp that night, we discovered Gaya had somehow read our minds and booked us bus tickets back to UB for the next day. So instead of stressing, we packed our bags and spent the rest of the evening chilling with our ger camp buddies and being overwhelmingly happy that we had come to Kharkhorin after all.

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More Adventures in Central Mongolia: Kharkhorin

After our absolutely amazing horse trekking trip to some hot springs, Swiss Friend and I decided to check another piece of Central Mongolian awesomeness off our list, this time heading to Kharkhorin in Övörkhangai aimag. Kharkhorin is the site of the ancient Mongol city of Karakorum, which at one point was the capital of the Mongol empire. As a result, every tour bus doing the close-to-Ulaanbaatar route stops here.

We said a legitimately sad goodbye to the absolutely amazing Fairfield Guesthouse in Tsetserleg, and after much struggle, did eventually find the one man in the whole town who would take us to Kharkhorin for the going rate, rather than the going rate x 5 in foreigner tax. That guy also turned out to be an absolutely terrifying driver, so instead of relaxing for four hours, we spent two white-knuckle hours planning our funerals. In our eagerness to get out of the car, we forgot that we had absolutely no idea where we were staying that night, and as a result had him let us out nowhere near…anything.DSC01099
Cue several hours of 1) us wandering around looking for the ger camp we had arbitrarily picked out of Lonely Planet, 2) not finding said ger camp, 3) finding a hotel playing terrible karaoke music that wanted to charge us exorbitant prices, 4) leaving said hotel, 5) me sitting alone on the side of the road throwing rocks at dogs while Swiss Friend tried to (unsuccessfully) find some other ger camp, 6) me eventually remembering that in our trek to the ass-end of nowhere, we had passed a sign in English advertising Gaya’s Guest House, 7) Swiss friend sitting alone on the side of the road throwing rocks at dogs while I trekked back to the sign; 8) prayers to Zeus that the number on the sign would work, 9) talking to the owner of the camp’s 12-year-old daughter whose English was weirdly excellent, and 10) getting picked up by the pre-teen ten minutes later in a cab she had wrangled for us.

That in combination with Kharkhorin’s relatively unspectacular scenery  (Western Mongolia snobs that we are) lead us to initially regret our decision to bother with this godforsaken, ugly, tourist-trap corner of Mongolia. We made a deal: we’d give ourselves 24 hours, and if Kharkhorin continued to suck, we’d jet.
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We arrived at the ger camp mid-afternoon-ish, so we were all alone and really not feeling the place. So we went exploring–and discovered some pretty interesting things on our hike. These included:

Ovoos:
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The skeletal heads of Naadam horse race winners:
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A turtle rock, which apparently marked the borders of ancient Karakorum.DSC01106
And a giant rock carved to look like a goat, and by goat I mean penis.
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According to the internet, this monument to manhood was put here to remind the monks at the nearby monastery to stay celibate. To me, erecting (ha) a giant statue of a penis to remind you not to use yours sounds less like Buddhism and more like a sex ed class in Clayhatchee, Alabama. What I can say is that right as we were playing on the rock penis, the sun came out, so Swiss Friend and I decided then would be as good a time as any to practice some yoga…because where else are you going to do it?

That evening we headed back to Gaya’s ger camp to eat dinner, get acquainted with Gaya (who turned out to be just as lovely as her daughter), and befriend…everyone who was staying there. After getting off to a bad start, our opinion of Kharkhorin was finally starting to turn around.

The next day we caught a ride down the hill with some ger camp buddies to go explore Erdene Zuu Khiid, the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia.
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It was huge and lovely and neat!DSC01124DSC01119DSC01122
We explored all the temples we were allowed in and may or may not have snuck into a few we weren’t.DSC01116DSC01121
We also got to hang out and listen to some chanting. We had a wonderful day walking around the grounds and making more friends.

Later the afternoon, Swiss Friend and I decided to explore in town, where we made even more friends and convinced some particularly awesome ones–two French women, two French children, and two Mongol dogs they’d picked up in their travels–to come back to Gaya’s with us.
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That evening, after having a big group dinner at Gaya’s, Swiss Friend and I roped our ger camp friends into going on a walk with us:
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Nothing like travel friends, kids, dogs, and a walk in the Mongol twilight to remind you how amazing your life is.

Yay, Kharkhoriin!