Now back in the capital of Ulaanbaatar after our ten day tour of the Gobi Desert, we had two days left before departure again on the Trans-Mongolian Railway.
Following on from our discovery of dinosaur fossils at Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs), we visited the National Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs. Although under refurbishment at the time, there were some impressive dinosaur fossils inside, complete with life-size models for comparison.
We came face-to-face with a Protoceratops, of which we earlier believe (from our previous Bayanzag post) we had found a brother or sister still under the sands.
The Zanabazar Fine Art Museum was a fantastic museum showcasing the very best of Mongolian art, history and culture. Excellently displayed on two floors were rooms filled with Tibetan influenced thangka paintings, pottery figurines, bronze castings, weapons, statues, costumes and religious items.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos (although I managed to take this one before I got told off!). But someone in 1957 had taken many personal photos of Ulaanbaatar and normal Mongolian life, which were on display in a dedicated room. Very interesting to see that life here hasn’t really changed much at all.
The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan was a highlight.
Built between 1893 and 1903, this palace was the place where Mongolia’s eighth Living Buddha and last king, Jebtzun Damda Hutagt VIII (often called the Bogd Khan) resided for 20 years. Although the Summer Palace along the banks of the Tuul Gol (River) was completely destroyed during the Stalinist purges (again), the Winter Palace was spared. Perhaps due to the out-of-place Tsarist/European style building that was the Winter Palace itself.
Inside, the palace houses a neat collection of the Bogd Khan’s possessions, including furniture, clothing, royal throne, carriage, photos and musical instruments. You forget that this history is still so recent, yet unheard of in the western world.
An impressive, yet creepy collection of animals from all over the world, fill two rooms. Birds, fish, reptiles, animals, penguins, rodents in twisted expressions gaze lifeless back at you. There is even a ger lined with the skins of 150 unlucky snow leopards.
Creepy. But again, no photos.
Choijin Lama Temple Museum was an unlikely surprise. At first it appeared to be just another Buddhist monastery, much like what we had seen previously. However, we asked one of the museum attendants to unlock the doors to each of the temple buildings, and inside were grand displays of colour, statues and all sorts.
Incredibly detailed wooden cravings, brightly painted depicting various gods. More thangka paintings, bronze castings, golden Buddhas and one particularly erotic god. (You’ll have to see it for yourself!)
Seeing inside each of the temple buildings, which I’m sure most tourists overlook, made the place a hidden gem and very unique. Sorry again, no photos inside.
As we boarded our train bound for Russia, we left with a new picture of Mongolia. Perhaps the western world just doesn’t know enough about this ancient place. The era of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) and the descendants of the Mongolian Empire carved the world as we know it. There is much to learn about Mongolia’s rich history and more still to be discovered under the sands.
There is a new-found appreciation for Mongolia and its nomadic life that touches travellers such as ourselves.
Visited 15th to 17th August 2014.