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Manzshir Khiid Monastery
Manzshir Khiid Monastery

Only 5 km on foot to the north-east of Zuunmod, and 46km from Ulaanbaator, is Manzshir Khiid. Manzshir Monastery is located in the luxuriant valley of the Bogd Khan Mountain National Park in Tuv aimag, and one hour drive from Ulaanbaator. It was established in 1733 with 20 temples and 300 monks.

Destroyed in 1932, the only remaining temple has been restored and a museum at the site tells the story of the monastery.

The main temple has been recently 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 Ulaanbaator - it is the beautiful setting which makes a visit worthwhile. Many brochures about Manzshir, which you may pick up from travel agencies, still claim that religious tsam dances are held once a year at the monastery. In fact, they haven't taken place here for decades.

Manzshir Khiid overlooks a beautiful valley of streams and pine, birch and cedar trees, dotted with granite boulders. The monastery, and most of the area between it and Zuunmod, is part of the Bogdkhan Uul Strictly Protected Area, where wildlife, including wolves and foxes, is abundant. Endangered species of hare and deer are theoretically protected from hunting.

As you enter from the main road from Zuunmod you'll be required to pay an admission fee of T1000 per person and T500 for any car, including a taxi if you take one at the main gate. The entrance fee also allows entry to Bogdkhan Uul Strictly Protected Area (though you are already in it). From here it's a couple of kilometres to the main area, where there is a shop, a museum, a restaurant and several gers offering accommodation. Look for the huge two-tonne bronze cauldron, which dates from 1726.

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 exhibits on the layout of Manzshir and some photos which show what it looked like before. The museum also has some fine Buddhist art and tsam masks, as well as several examples of 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 Buddhist rock paintings. At the top, the views are even more beautiful, and you'll find yourself in the midst of a lovely pine forest. You can continue from here all the way to Ulaanbaator if you are equipped for an overnight trip.

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