Getting under the skin of Mongolia’s history + culture in Kharkhorin
Kharkhorin itself might seem like a small, nondescript Soviet-built town at first glance, but if you dig a little deeper, you will discover why this area is so important and really quite fascinating in terms of Mongolian history and culture.
Situated in central Mongolia, east of the vast Orkhon Valley, Kharkhorin’s surrounding countryside is certainly beautiful – filled with wide-open plains, deserts, waterfalls – and home to interesting animals and birds. Central Mongolia is integral to most of our trips and a visit here is a great introduction to this remarkable country. You will drive over the steppe, visit national parks to see the amazing and diverse wildlife, stay with nomadic families and learn a great deal about the tremendous history here. Kharkhorin makes a great base for exploring the staggering Orkhon Valley, which is particularly incredible for both horse riding and hiking. In the town itself, you will find the ruins of the ancient town of Karakorum, the former capital of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire in the 1200s.
The best way to get stuck in is to begin at the Kharkhorin Archaeological Museum, which is exactly what I did with my excellent private guide, Chuka. The museum offers evocative insights into the region’s golden era and is a good representation of the history surrounding the Orkhon Valley, as well as housing some intriguing archaeological findings. After an hour here, I was enthralled by the significance of this small corner of Mongolia and was ready to explore further.
It was about a 20-minute walk to the Erdene Zuu Monastery Khiid, where Chuka proudly informed us of how the remains of the city, destroyed by the Manchurians, were used to construct the monastery in the 16th century. Understandably, this complex draws in visitors and can get busy. Therefore, we advise getting up early in time to hear the novice monks’ call to prayer. The light at this time of day makes for some excellent photographic opportunities and you will really feel part of the experience.
As soon as you enter, your guide will show you many of the incredible artefacts that had been left over and saved from the ancient capital. One hundred and eight stupas are spaced evenly along the walls, which enclose an area of 1,600sq m and several temples that escaped the communist purges of the 1930s.
Kharkhorin is a wonderful stop-off for active clients and history buffs alike. However, in our opinion, you must have a top-notch specialist guide to really bring it alive – which is where we can help. You can be sure that we will match you with the very best experts in the region.
For my time in Kharkhorin, I was based at Anja Ger Camp, located beneath the Imperial Map Monument that depicts the various empires that were established here. Of all the places I stayed, I was particularly taken aback by the impeccable hospitality of this charming, family-run retreat. I didn’t want to leave, and when I do return to Mongolia one day, here is where you will find me, deep in the heart of the country.