Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and Bodgkan Reserve are two must-see destinations for enjoying the Mongolian wilderness. They are located near Ulaanbaatar, offering all kinds of outdoor activities and accommodation facilities equipped with every comfort.
Mongolia has so much to offer to those who love nature and the outdoors. Hiking, horseback riding and camping in tents are among the best experiences the country can offer.
But you don’t have to travel to remote places to enjoy it: 3 of the 36 national parks located in Mongolia are actually within a couple of hours drive from the capital.
As you drive to reach them, peek out the window: the scenery is breathtaking. Sheep and grazing goats alternate with small groups of traditional gers, as the mountains and valleys get kissed by a magical light.
Terelj National Park is located about fifty kilometers east of Ulaanbaatar, Bogdkhan Nature Reserve stands south and Kuhustain National Park surrounds the capital to the west. These areas offer different types of excursions, from short treks on foot to horse racing, and represent the best choice to immerse yourself in the green just a few steps from the city.
While heading to Terelj, stop to visit the Chinggis Khan Statue Complex.
Located about 50 km from Ulaanbaatar, precisely in Nalaikh, the museum is entirely dedicated to the figure of Genghis Khan ( the Mongols call him Chinggis Khan and will not understand you if you pronounce it as Europeans do). Its majestic figure stands over the bucolic landscape, producing a truly remarkable view.
The colossus, 40 meters high and entirely made in silver, is the largest equestrian statue in the world. After visiting the museum, it is possible to take an elevator and climb up to the head of the horse, emerging on a really impressive panoramic balcony!
Terelj National Park is the favorite destination for Ulaanbaatar citizens looking for a bit of relaxation. Located at an altitude of 1600 meters, with beautiful alpine scenery, forests and valleys, the park is equipped to offer unique experiences: hiking, trekking, horseback riding, dog sledding and even skiing. The resorts scattered in the area ensure every comfort to visitors.
Not being a lover of extreme sports and fatigue, I opted for a relaxing walk in a valley south of Terelj. The route starts from the evocative Turtle Rock, a curious rock formation which winds and geological eras have shaped as a giant turtle. It is the most famous attraction in the park and people say it brings good luck to those who cross it.
My walk continues to Aryapala Temple, a newly built meditation center with a beautiful mountain view.
To reach it, you have to cross a wooden bridge suspended on a cliff, which swings at every step and grants adrenaline experience to people with vertigo.
The 108 steps that follow are designed to remind the trunk of an elephant and stimulate the meditation of the faithful before reaching the main altar.
I must say the view of the valley really has an extraordinary impact, empties the mind and reconciles with creation. Visit the temple in the afternoon and wait for sunset by spinning the wheels of Tibetan prayer: the sunlight gradually disappearing behind the mountain peaks is sensational.
The surroundings of Terelj are provided with many camps accepting tourists. Nights in Mongolia offer truly romantic starry skies and if you choose the right accommodation, you could spend an unforgettable night.
My stay at Farmhouse Retreat, for example, was nothing short of exceptional. I don’t usually advertise the facilities where I stay, but this is an exception because I was literally bewitched.
The camping resort has an amazing greenhouse, where all kinds of vegetables are grown. It is also used as a restaurant, so you can dine in a truly charming atmosphere. The lady who runs the facility told me even the eggs I ate come from her hens!
Guest rooms offer many options: you can sleep in private rooms in the main chalet, or outside, in the typical Mongolian gers heated by wood and coal stoves.
There is also a triangular wooden structure, placed close to the rocky formation at the resort border. It kind of looks like an Alpine chalet, which perhaps departs from the typical Mongolian style, but it’s really delicious. The beds are placed in the attic and heated by electric plates plugged into the floor. You’ll love this during the cold Mongolian nights!
Leave Terelj and head to Bogdkhan Nature Reserve, which is nothing less than the oldest reserve in the world. Established in 1778, it was initially guarded by 2000 monks armed with sticks. Poachers were caught, beaten really badly and locked up in prison.
The main attraction of the reserve is Mandshir Khild (or Manzushir), an ancient monastery which housed 350 monks before Stalin destroyed it during his religious purges.
In the 90s it was partially restored and turned into a museum, where you can admire photos and historical finds, but the oldest buildings remain in ruins. It is located 1640 meters high and can be reached with a short trek.
The ruins do not offer a particularly interesting visit, but you can spend a few hours immersed in nature. If you climb over the temple, you can reach the top of the mountain and enjoy the view.
Back in Ulaanbaatar, you can finish visiting the remaining sites, do some shopping, treat yourself with a throat singing performance and book a typical dinner.
Have a good trip!
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