July 18, 2009

7/18/09 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

After a nice complimentary breakfast at the Selenge Hotel, we got back on the road for our final day of traveling. It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and blue sky. And we were driving on pavement. Yippie!

A car in need of a wash

Our plan today was to visit Amarbayasgaland Khiid monastery, one of the top three Buddhist institutions in Mongolia (we visited the others, Erdene Zuu in Khorkhorin and I've been to Gandan in Ulaanbaatar). But to reach it, we had to do another 35-km (22-miles) back on the dirt tracks.

"The monastery was built between 1727 and 1737 and dedicated to the great Mongolian Buddhist and sculptor Zanabazar whose mummified body was moved here in 1779. The communists came in 1937 but miraculously only destroyed 10 out of 37 temples. The monastery was extensively restored from 1975 and 1990. These days about 30 monks live in the monastery, compared with more than 2000 in 1936."

Main temple at Amarbayasgalant Khiid

For all it's size and grandeur, the monastery seemed a lonely place. The grounds were overgrown and many of the roofs had grass growing between the tiles. There was still restoration work being done but it didn't feel like a living breathing center of Buddhist learning and study.

Afterward, we all stopped for our last lunch together. It was a joyous affair but with a touch of sadness. After we ate, there were a lot of goodbyes and pictures taken. It seemed like ages since we had left Ulaanbaatar together only eight days earlier.

David & Judith with their driver, Suya

Anand & Anu with their parents, Tsogo & Uyuna

Fran, Glenda, Jim, Gyatso, Lily

Once we got back to the highway, Gyatso put pedal to the metal and got us to Ulaanbaatar in record time. I am still so grateful that he did all the driving this trip. We were all happy to be back home (although the city just didn't have the same appeal after so long in the countryside).

Home Sweet Home

POSTSCRIPT: The rains that gave us so much trouble on Thursday and Friday were a natural disaster in Mongolia. Flash floods killed 8 in Ulaanbaatar and 15 in the countryside. Countless homes were swept away. Altan told us later that driving through the city was unlike anything she had ever seen with flooding everywhere. Bysa and his family arrived safely in Ulaanbaatar and services for his father were held a few days later.

For more pictures, click here!