Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is the main gate for trips to any destination within Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar is located on the bank of the Tuul River and surrounded by four sacred mountains. Well-known as a sunny, peaceful and open city, Ulaanbaatar is a city of contrasts where modern life comfortably blends with Mongolian traditional lifestyle.
Ulaanbaatar city is situated in the foothills of the Khentii mountain range. It is situated in the valley of the Tuul River, which flows from east to west in this location. Mountains and hill slopes define the northern (ChingelteiUul) and southern (BogdUul) limits of the city. There are also mountains to the east (BayanzurkhUul) and west (SonginoKhairkhanUul), but the river valley and its tributaries provide some open land in these directions. Ulaanbaatar experiences an arid continental climate and has four distinctive seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring. The summer extends from June to August when the average temperature is 15oC. Snowfall starts intermittently towards the end of the autumn. Winter extends from December to the end of February and is mostly cold with the average monthly temperature in February being –19oC. The minimum temperature reaches (minus) – 40oC during this period. The rainy season is from June to August, when about 74 percent of the annual rainfall occurs. The average annual rainfall for the last 20 years is 267 mm. The rapid population growth of Ulaanbaatar city located in the sensitive ecosystem adds to its vulnerability to natural hazards. Population of Ulaanbaatar city has been growing rapidly, due to mass migration of people from natural hazard prone rural areas to the city. Comparing with historical maps one can see the dramatic increase of urbanization and expansion of settled areas along the river basins and flood prone zones because of the intensive migration from rural to urban area of the last few years (Figure 1). Since 1986 the population of the city has nearly doubled. Existing statistical data shows that there was an increase in the number of poor people living in Ulaanbaatar till 2001. However, for the following years, which have had more intensive rural to urban migration, data on poverty is not available.
History of Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar the capital city of Mongolia, is the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. The city was founded in 1639.
The name of the city has changed for several times. It was initially named
URGOO in 1639-1706,
IKH KHUREE in 1706-1911,
NIISLEL KHUREE between 1911-1923, and renamed as ULAANBAATAR right after the proclamation of the Mongolian People’s republic in 1924
Formation of the Mongolian Capital has a trace from XVII century. In the year Yellow Rabbit by lunar calendar, exorbitant and influential noblemen proclaimed Zanabazar, son of the Tusheet Khan Gombodorj who was one of the 4 lofty noblemen as the Mongolian Buddhism and built a special monastery complex for him. It was more palatial-like than monastery. Later, Urgoo (means palace) had been
developing as Zanabazar,s reputation and influence grew in the Mongolian social life.
Returning home from Tibet in 1700, Zanabazar started extending Urgoo as the Mongolian religious centre. In 1706, under an order of Zanabazar was built a temple; Battsagaan; in the place named ErdeneTolgoi, and it was the foundation of the IkhKhuree (means Big Circle). Although, IkhKhuree had been stretching, its location had been changed several times.
Thus, IkhKhuree moved 17 times within 30 years period, even twice a year. The repeated moves, of course, delayed significantly the IkhKhuree’s development. Researcher’s survey shows that the transition process of IkhKhuree from nomadism to settlement basically finalized in 70 years between 1706-1778, and urbanization process is considered to be started from the very time.
In 1855, IkhKhuree removed to the Selbe valley, where residents started building
numerous monasteries and temples, in particular building firm and sturdy construc-
tions and houses, which more suited to settled civilisation.
In the wake of the struggle for liberty by Mongolian people Manchu ambassador Sando was exiled and in 1911, a ceremony for the proclamation of the BogdJabzundambaKhutugtu as the Theocratic Monarch and the Head of the revived Mongolian State was took place in IkhKhuree.
The first State Congress, convened in 1924, passed a decision on October 29 to rename NiislelKhuree as Ulaanbaatar, legalizing its status as the Capital of the
Mongolian People’s Republic.
The “Law on Capital’s Legal Status; was enacted just prior to the 355th anniversary of the city’s establishment. The Capital city carries out its independent urbanisation, socio-economic and it possesses its own flag and symbol”, was indicates in the law.
ChinggisKhaan (Sükhbaatar) Square
In July 1921 in the centre of Ulaanbaatar, the ‘hero of the revolution’, DamdinSükhbaatar, declared Mongolia’s final independence from the Chinese. The square now features a bronze statue of Sükhbaatar astride his horse. In 2013 the city authorities changed the name from Sükhbaatar Square to ChinggisKhaan Square, although many citizens still refer to it by the old name.
Peaceful anti-communism protests were held here in 1990, which eventually ushered in the era of democracy. Today, the square (talbai ) is occasionally used for rallies, ceremonies and rock concerts and festivals, but is generally a relaxed place where kiddies drive toy cars and teens whiz around on bikes. Near the centre of the square, look for the large plaque that lists the former names of the city – Örgöö, NomiinKhuree, IkhKhuree and NiislelKhuree.
The enormous marble construction at the north end was completed in 2006 in time for the 800th anniversary of ChinggisKhaan’s coronation. At its centre is a seated bronze ChinggisKhaan statue , lording it over his nation. He is flanked by Ögedei (on the west) and Kublai (east). Two famed Mongol soldiers (Boruchu and Mukhlai) guard the entrance to the monument.
Behind the Chinggis monument stands Parliament House , which is commonly known as Government House. An inner courtyard of the building holds a large ceremonial ger used for hosting visiting dignitaries.
To the east of the square is the 1970s Soviet-style Cultural Palace , a useful landmark containing the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery and several other cultural institutions. At the southeast corner of the square, the salmon-pinkish building is the State Opera & Ballet Theatre . Just south of the Opera House is the symbol of the country’s new wealth, Central Tower , which houses luxury shops including Louis Vuittan and Armani.
The bullet-grey building to the southwest is the Mongolian Stock Exchange , which was opened in 1992 in the former Children’s Cinema. Across from the Central Post Office is a statue of S Zorig , who at the age of 27 helped to lead the protests that brought down communism in 1990 (and was tragically assassinated in 1998).
Most Buddhist Monasteries in Mongolia were destroyed during the communist regime, which lasted until 1990. One of the only to survive was Gandan Monastery, being used as a showcase for visitors. It’s official name is GandantegchinlengKhiid, or in Mongolian script. This name signifies something like Great Place of Complete Joy or Great Way to the Cosmos. Literally it can be translated as:
– Gan = rejoyce
– Dan = perfect
– Teg = vehicle >Tegchin = Mahayna (Greater Vehicle)
– Leng = island
Which would result in Mahayana Island of Perfect Rejoice, with Island being a generally used metaphor for monastery.
Gandan is the largest and most important monastery of Mongolia, with over 400 monks.
Inside is a statue of MagjidJanraisig (the lord who looks in every direction). It is about 25 meters tall and is covered by a huge number of precious stones. Notice someone going round the stupa on the right.
The official name GandantegchinlenKhiid, translates into Mahayana Island of Perfect Rejoice, with Island being a generally used metaphor for monastery.
The first temple of Gandantegchinleng Monastery was established in 1835 by the Fifth Jebtsundamba, the highest reincarnated lama of Mongolia. In the following years temples for daily service, veneration of Avalokiteshvara and colleges of Buddhist philosophy, medicine, astrology and tantric ritual were established. In the beginning of the 20th century Gandantegchinleng Monastery was the centre of Buddhist learning in Mongolia. Many prominent Buddhist scholars in Mongolia as well as in Buddhist world were educated and trained by its various colleges and their works on Buddhist philosophy, linguistics, medicine, astrology and tantric practice became the most authoritative and accurate Buddhist texts.
During 30s the socialist government adopted a policy of banning all religious activities in Mongolia. As a consequence all monasteries were closed and monks were executed, jailed and disrobed all over Mongolia. In 1938, Gandantegchinleng Monastery was closed, but reopened in 1944 as the only functioning monastery during the socialist regime. After the democratic change took place in 1990 Buddhism regained its full right of worship. Gandantegchinleng Monastery has, as being the Centre of Mongolian Buddhists, been striving to propagate peaceful teaching of Lord Buddha among family and society. In the whole country 140 monasteries and temples have been (re)established and many sacred statues were reconstructed so far.
The Present-day Monastery
Currently Gandantegchinleng Monastery has over 400 monks; a Mongolian
Buddhist University (established in 1970); three colleges of Buddhist
philosophy; a Medical and Astrological College; a Kalachakra temple; a
Jud Tantric College and an Avalokiteshvara (MigjidJanraisig) temple.
The monastery complex consists of Zanabazar Buddhist University, three temples for Buddhist service and veneration of Avalokiteshvara, three Buddhist Colleges of Buddhist Philosophy, College of Medicine and Astrology and two Tantric College. The brief introduction of above mentioned temples and colleges are given in the below.
The Zanabazar Buddhist University was founded in 1970 and concentrates on Buddhist Studies and Indo-Tibetan Studies. Not only Mongolian students from all over Mongolia but also foreign students study in Zanabazar Buddhist University.
- Gandan temple is the first temple in Gandantegchinleng Monastery and was established in 1835. Grand services take place in this temple.
- Vajrapani temple was established in 1940 and daily services are performed here.
- Avalokiteshvara temple was built in 1912 and the icon of this temple is the BoddhisattvaAvalokiteshvara (MigjidJanraisig) with a height of 26,5 metre that was rebuild in 1996 under the leadership of current Prime-Minister Enkhbayar.
Colleges of Buddhist Philosophy
- Dashchoimphel was established by II Jebtsundamba and follows the tenet of GunchenJamyanShadba, Tibetan monk scholar of Gelugpa tradition.
- Gungaachoiling was established in 1809 and follows the tenet of BanchenSodnamdagva.
- Idgaachoinzinling was established in 1910 and follows the tenet of Sera Jebtsunba.
- College of Medicine and Astrology trains students in Mongolian traditional medicine and astrology.
- Jud Tantric College and Kalachakra Tantric College prepare students in Buddhist tantric ritual as well as knowledge of tantric practice.
Zanabazar Museum of Fine Art
Zanabazar Museum of Fine Art in Ulaanbaatar was founded in 1966. Visitors can enjoy works of Mongolia’s famous artists, and sculptors who lived before or in the early 20th century. Sculptures by Mongolia’s first BogdKhaan and famous sculptor Zanabazar (“Five Gods” and “Taras”), as well as appliques and sculptures in wood and stone by talented Mongolian craftsmen are among the 10 thousand exhibits of the museum. 25 of the 45 most precious works of art created by Mongolia’s artists can be found in the museum.
The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts has an excellent collection of paintings, carvings and sculptures, including many by the revered sculptor and artist Zanabazar. It also contains other rare – and sometimes old – religious exhibits such as scroll paintings (thangka) and Buddhist statues, representing the best display of its kind in Mongolia. A bonus is that most of the exhibit captions in the museum are in English.
At the top of the stairs is a glass folder with a detailed explanation of Zanabazar and his work. There are some fine examples of the sculptor’s work including five Dhyani, or Contemplation, Buddhas (cast in 1683) and Tara in her 21 manifestations.
Also worth checking out are the wonderful tsam masks (worn by monks during religious ceremonies) and the intricate paintings, One Day in Mongolia and The Airag Feast, by renowned artist ?. Sharav. These depict almost every aspect of nomadic life. The ground floor has some copies of portraits of the great khaans (kings) and some 7th century Turkic stone carvings.