Sunday, August 12, 2012

Terelj National Park & Chinggis Khaan Mongolia

The main reason we were excited about visiting Mongolia was to experience the beauty of its countryside. Since Scott is working during the week, we decided that we would take as many small trips over the weekends as we could. Our first trip out of the UB we headed to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. As we left the air-polluted, congested city I thought I might of stepped into another country. Unfortunately we did have rain most of the day but it didn't stop us from experiencing the beauty that everyone writes and talks about.

The park is about 50 miles northeast of Ulaanbaatar and takes about 2 hours. It actually would not take that long but there is a lot of traffic getting out of UB and the roads are pretty bad with a lot of pot holes. Classified as a National Park in 1994, the park is over 1.2 million acres and is mostly uninhabited by humans.
Before entering the park, we stopped to show our respect for the "Ovoo" which stood at the top of a hill.  Ovoo is the site of worship and consists of piles of rocks and other offerings to the Gods such as blue silk and money. To worship, you place your offering on the Ovoo and walk around clockwise three times. According to the ancient saying, if you do this ceremony you will be lucky. 
Inside the park there are over 400 species of birds. There is an area where you get the opportunity to not only take pictures of a few eagles and vultures but you can hold them too.

Scott held the eagle, such a beautiful bird!
Mike, a co-worker of Scott's, held the eagle too.
Of course I said "go big or go home" (no I really didn't) and held the vulture! It probably weighed 30+ lbs and I had to use my other hand as support.  A very cool experience!

Terelj National Park has many rock formations but the most popular isTurtle Rock.

Our next destination from Turtle Rock was to visit the Aryapala Temple of Meditation.  We had originally planned to hike or go horseback riding to the Temple but with the rain, we were unable to so we ended up driving. The Temple sits on top of a mountain so from the parking area, you still have some easy hiking to do.
This is a view about half way to the Temple looking back to the main entrance gate / parking area.  Along the way there are signs with Buddhist proverbs.
We are getting closer. 
Just have to cross over this bridge before you get there.
The center was established by Lama Byan Tsagaan in 1998, just eight years after Mongolia gained freedom from the Soviet Union. Mongolians were finally allowed to begin rebuilding its traditional spiritual culture, tantric Buddhism.
Below are prayer wheels and are used for spreading well being and spiritual blessings. Each wheel contains a mantra or prayer and spinning the wheel is considered just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. 
Inside the Meditation Temple. People come from all over the world to meditate in this beautiful surrounding.

The last part of our tour was to visit the the largest statue of Chinggis Khaan in the world. The statue, made of 250 tons of stainless steal, is 131 feet tall a top a 33-foot tall coliseum with 36 columns.
The men on horses are the nine generals that were under Chinggis Khaan.
Inside the two-story base of the statue is a replica of Chinggis Khaan's legendary golden whip, a history museum with over 700 exhibits, a sample of traditional clothing you can wear for photos and a traditional Mongolian restaurant.
A large replica of the boot known as Gutul, a traditional Mongolian boot ideal for horse riding. The uplifted front end prevents you from being caught in your stirrups, in case you fall off. Also the high bootleg protects you when walking in summer high grass and winter snow.
The statue commemorates the site where Genghis Khan found a golden whip which you can see he is holding in his right hand.
You can take an elevator and walk to the head of the horse through its neck. The panoramic views are wonderful.
Magnificent views of the countryside.
Overall, despite the rain, it was a great day trip out of Ulaanbaatar. If you only have a short amount of time this is definitely a tour I would recommend. Hopefully we can take a couple more trips where we can stay overnight in a ger, go horseback riding and experience the nomadic life of a Mongolian.
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