June 13, 2011

Hiking with my students

A group of my students, led by Ganbaa, took me hiking this weekend. We went to Mandshir Khiid, which is about 45km from Ulaanbaatar. It is the site of a destroyed monastary. We had a bit of lunch, and then from there hiked up to the top of the mountain to Tsetsegun Uul (7,400'), about 2-3 hours of climbing. Reminded me a lot of the Appalachian Trail in the US. It was a cool day, overcast and threatening rain (which didn't start until we got in our cars to leave), so a great day for hiking. Undraa was our youngest student at 14 and she was so excited because this was her first 'outing' on her own. I had a wonderful time.

At Face Rock with Baskaa and Deegii

Taking a break on the climb

The ovoo on Tsetsegun Uul

Our hiking expedition

Lonely Planet Information:
Bogdkhan Uul Strictly Protected Area

Legend has it that Bogdkhan Uul (2122m) is the world’s oldest nature preserve. It was founded in 1778 and for the next 150 years it was guarded by 2000 club-wielding lamas that protected the mountain from poachers. Lawbreakers were hauled away in chains, beaten within an inch of their lives, and locked inside coffin-like jail cells.

These days it’s perfectly safe and legal to walk on the mountain and you can enjoy some terrific hiking and horse-riding trails. From Ulaanbaatar the mountain appears dark and menacing but, once you’re on top, the forests and rocky outcrops are a beautiful sight.

Mandshir Khiid

For the 350 monks who once called this place home, the gorgeous setting around this monastery must have been a daily inspiration. Like most monasteries in Mongolia, Mandshir Khiid was destroyed in 1937 by Stalin's thugs, but was partially restored in the 1990s. Just 6km northeast of Zuunmod and 46km by road from Ulaanbaatar, the monastery is a perfect half-day trip from the capital, or can be used as a starting point for hikes into the Strictly Protected Area.

The main temple has been restored and converted into a museum, but the other buildings in the area remain in ruins. The monastery and museum are not as impressive as those in Ulaanbaatar - it is the beautiful forest setting that makes a visit worthwhile.

As you enter from the main road from Zuunmod you'll be required to pay an admission fee of around Tug5000 per person, which covers the around Tug2000 museum entrance fee and the around Tug3000 national park fee. You'll have to buy both tickets even if you don't plan on entering the museum.

From the gate it's a couple of kilometres to the main area, where there is a shop, a lacklustre museum, a restaurant and several gers offering accommodation. Look for the huge two-tonne bronze cauldron, which dates from 1726 and was designed to boil up 10 sheep at a time.

The remains of the monastery are about 800m uphill from the museum. The caretaker lives in the compound next door and will open up the main building for you. The monastery museum has tsam masks, exhibits on the layout of Mandshir and some photos that show what it looked like before Stalin's thugs turned it into rubble. Look out for the controversial Ganlin Horn, made from human thigh bones.

If you have time, it's worth climbing up the rocks behind the main temple, where there are some 18th-century Buddhist rock paintings. The views from the top are even more beautiful, and you'll find yourself in the midst of a lovely pine forest.

Mandshir Khiid to Ulaanbaatar Hike

This approach to Tsetseeg├╝n from the south side is the easiest route by far. As you face the monastery, cut over to your right (east) until you get to the stream. Just follow the stream until it nearly disappears and then head north. About three hours' walking should bring you out over a ridge into a broad boggy meadow, which you'll have to cross. If you've walked straight to the north, the twin rocky outcrops of the summit should be right in front of you.

When you start to see Ulaanbaatar in the distance, you're on the highest ridge and close to the two large ovoo (a shamanistic pyramid-shaped collection of stones as an offering to the gods) on the summit (GPS: N47° 48.506', E107° 00.165').