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Erdene Zuu monastery + Kharkhorin

Saturday 2nd July

It was raining lightly and we didn't really stop on our way to Erdene Zuu.

Erdene Zuu is the "head monastery" of Mongolia. It's a huge compound — a square nearly half a kilometre a side, surrounded by a wall topped with stupas — but it's now mostly empty, with only a few scattered temples remaining. Most were destroyed in 1937.

It was an overcast and gloomy day, not so good for photography.

the compound is mostly empty
an elaborate door-knocker
a painting
monks chatting

We looked at three buildings, in one of which monks were praying and eating — and in one case answering a mobile phone.

one of the temples
dramatic stupas against the sky

a dog watches over
the remains of old Kharkhorin
Having visited the monastery, we didn't stop to look at the modern town of Kharkhorin, but drove off to see a "phallic rock". This is just a half metre long stone penis — accompanied by vendors with tables of souvenirs, wrapped up against the drizzle in plastic which was whipped off when we arrived. The slope behind the rock, where there's a crease in the ground decorated with some low vegetation, is apparently known as "vagina slope".

More appealing was a stone turtle which is one of the surviving cornerstones of the old city of Kharkhorin — again, with tables of souvenirs.

Kharkhorin is often confused with the "Karakorum" (the mountains and highway between Pakistan and China) but it is actually pronounced "Harhorin" and its etymology is disputed. It was pretty much the "capital of the world" from 1220 until 1260, when Kublai Khan moved the Mongol capital to Beijing, and was the Xanadu in Coleridge's famous poem.

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