You spent time in Ulaanbaatar and now you are ready to see more of Mongolia. The easiest adventure from Ulaanbaatar is Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a beautiful natural area just a short drive from the capital. However, given its proximity to Ulaanbaatar, unless you trek well off the beaten path, don’t expect to be alone or immersed in authenticity. The park is popular with tourists, Mongolians, and school groups. Even on a Saturday, we shared the sights with seven busloads of school children.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
For us, Gorkhi-Terelj was a day trip en route to our homestay along the nearby Tuul river. We enjoyed the sites, but a short day was plenty. If you do not have time to travel to other parts of Mongolia, Gorkhi-Terelj has many, many highly touristic ger camps. In no way should you compare this experience to an authentic homestay, but it does give you a chance to spend the night in a ger.
Things to See in Gorkhi-Terelj
The main sites of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park are:
- Turtle Rock
- Ariyabal Meditation Temple
- Genghis Khan statue (you caught me…not actually in Gorkhi-Terelj, but close enough)
- Hiking in the natural landscape
There are other activities offered, such as camel riding, eagles, family visits, etc. You should be wary of the authenticity of the experience…and consider how much that matters to you.
Turtle Rock is a 24m high rock in the shape of a…turtle! In Mongolia, turtles are associated with longevity, which gives the rock special significance and may be why there is an ovoo located here. An ovoo is a sacred stone heap used in Mongolian shamanism.
Ariyabal Meditation Temple
From Turtle Rock, you can hike (45 minutes) or drive (3 km) to the gate of Ariyabal meditation temple. Either way, from the gate you will walk 1 km to the temple. First, you will walk along an uphill path lined with 144 signs quoting Buddhist teachings. When the signs end, there is a large prayer wheel. A pointer on the ceiling will land on a number that corresponds to a fortune posted along the second half of the walk, which includes a rickety suspension bridge. You then come to the temple approach itself – 108 stone steps up to the temple. 108 is the number of beads on Tibetan Buddhism prayer beads. The view at the top is worth the climb!
Ghenghis Khan Statue
Ok, the Genghis Khan statue is not actually in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, but it’s close enough that you can include a visit. The whopping 40-meter tall stainless steel statue (50 meters including the base) was built in 2008, supposedly on the spot where Genghis Khan found a horse whip, an auspicious symbol that worked out well for Genghis. The complex has two Guinness Book of World Record awards – Tallest Equestrian Statue and Tallest Boot. Once you’ve admired the overly large boot and perhaps wondered where the second boot is stashed, climb the stairs (or ride a lift part way) to the top of the horse’s head for a countryside view.
Although we normally prefer independent travel, we used Eternal Landscapes to coordinate our Mongolian travel outside of Ulaanbaatar and to western Mongolia. We wanted to do homestays and these are nearly impossible to coordinate on your own. Eternal Landscapes organized a trip assistant, driver and van, and homestays for our trip. We would use them again and do not hesitate to recommend them to other intrepid families.