Introducing Amarbayasgalant Khiid
The star attraction of Selenge aimag, this monastery is considered to be one of the top three Buddhist institutions in Mongolia (along with Erdene Zuu in Kharkhorin and Gandan in Ulaanbaatar) and the country’s most intact architectural complex. It is well worth visiting on the way to/from Khövsgöl Nuur, or other areas in northern or western Mongolia. As it’s about five hours away from Ulaanbaatar on a decent road, you could also do it as an overnight trip from the capital.
Amarbayasgalant Khiid was built between 1727 and 1737 by the Manchu emperor Yongzheng, and dedicated to the great Mongolian Buddhist and sculptor Zanabazar, whose mummified body was moved here in 1779. It is in the Manchu style, down to the inscriptions, symmetrical layout and imperial colour scheme.
The monastery was largely spared during the 1937 purge, possibly because of sympathetic and procrastinating local military commanders. These days about 60 monks live in the monastery, compared with more than 2000 in 1936. The oldest monk is 102 years old.
The temples in the monastery are normally closed, so you’ll have to ask the monks to find the keys and open them up if you want to see any statues or thangkas (scroll paintings). About six temples are open to tourists. The monk with the keys can usually be found in the monks’ quarters, the yellow concrete buildings on the right side (south) of the monastery.
The main hall has a life-size statue of Rinpoche Gurdava, a lama from Inner Mongolia who lived in Tibet and Nepal before returning to Mongolia in 1992 and raising much of the money for the temple’s restoration. It’s normally possible to climb up to the roof for fine views of the valley.
Ceremonies are usually held at 10am, so arrive early or stay overnight to see them.
A couple of new monuments – a large Buddhist statue and a stupa – are situated on the hills behind the monastery. You could continue hiking up the mountains for even better views of the valley.
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