Ulaanbaatar means RED HERO and was the third palace of Genghis Khan. It is now the capital and largest city of Mongolia, located in north central Mongolia at an elevation of 4,300 ft. It is the coldest capital in the world though it has 250 sunny days a year.
Until 1990 when they held their first free elections, the Mongolians had been under the rule of the USSR. One of the vestige's of the USSR was the city wide heating system that heated all homes, stores, and other buildings so even though it was cold outside our hostel room was almost over heated. The underground system that conducted the heat was the home of many abandoned and homeless children which is how they were able to survive the severe weather.
Despite the former Communist rule, Mongolia still is a very spiritual country. Mongolia's largest and most important Buddhist monastery, Gandantegchinlen, is in Ulaanbaatar. Like most monasteries, there are a number of temples and Gandantegchinlen also has four colleges and one university all of which are active.
Shamanism is also strong in Mongolia, for on a hill overlooking the city is an OVOO. This OVOO, like most, is a pyramid-shaped pile of rocks, though this one is larger then most. It has a flag on top and there is a place where offerings to the gods are placed. The Mongolian sky blue colored silk scarves are often the traditional offering, though other things can also be left . OVOOs are sacred, and as a sign of respect one is to walk clockwise, and only clockwise, around them three times. It is believed that to disrespect an OVOO will bring on illness and possibly even death. Though I don't remember seeing a Christian church, I know the Christian based Holt International Children Service has work here.
The winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, Mongolia's eighth Living Buddha and the last king, is now a wonderful museum. It had been made a museum by the Russians rather than destroying it as they had done to the Summer Palace.
There are six temples on the grounds which contain art pertaining to Buddhism. Gifts from foreign dignitaries are on display in the palace as is a yert which is lined with the skins of 150 snow leopards. All of these items were guarded by a colorful gate guard painted on the entrance or exit door.
Photos and story courtesy of Bob & Wilma.