Russia Day 11 – Gandan Monastery

It was a late start for the tours today which meant I could go out for a longer run first thing in the morning. This however was in theory – in fact a very sleepless night meant that I got up for breakfast at 08:00, and afterwards went for a run of only 5km. A little shorter than planned, and with many stops due to the traffic lights on busy roads, but it being at a higher altitude than normal did at least make up for it a little.

By the time I got back there was just enough time to shower and repack my suitcase before being collected for today’s tour. For the morning we were heading over to the nearby Tibetan-style Buddhist Gandantegchinlen monastery. When communism destroyed a lot of religious buildings, part of this one survived as a museum. The original copper statue of Buddha was melted down by the Soviet army in 1938 to cast bullets with. This however was replaced in 1996, six years after the independence of Mongolia, and the statue Avalokiteśvara is now the tallest indoor statue in the world.

To start with we went around some of the smaller buildings around the monastery and was told about Buddhist beliefs and a little about Buddhist lama life as we went around them. One of the ones we went in included a number of lamas that were praying around the middle of the room. We had to go around the room clockwise and was told we should not have our backs at any point to the Buddha statues.

The last building we went to was the one that housed Avalokiteśvara. Although we weren’t supposed to take photographs in the other buildings, in this one we could if we paid a fee of USD$10. As always I didn’t really want to miss out on the chance to take some photographs so paid the fee. Shortly after someone told me I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures of the Buddha, but as soon as I shown them my pass they nodded and walked off.

Having finished our tour there, we then headed to the city centre to the Genghis Khan square. It was very busy though as a large number of schools were using it for graduation photos, and was also being set up for their “Mother and Children” day which is a national holiday. Once we’d been told about the place, the guide let us then wander around the square with an agreed place for meeting up.

It took quite some effort to get to the government building to photograph the statue of Genghis Khan, but eventually did manage this. As we were around a quarter of the way around the guide came over to us thinking we’d lost her. We hadn’t though and carried on walking around.

We’d still got some time left over afterwards so the guide took us to a nearby souvenir store where I bought some Mongolian stamps for 10,000 Tughriks a pack, and a fridge magnet. We were then shown to a nearby cafe that had free Wi-Fi and also a nearby restaurant where she recommended we make a reservation for 18:00. By this time it was 13:00 and so was taken to a European style restaurant where we’d be eating lunch.

The lunch stop today was “Castle Restaurant” inside an amusement park, and we had to be escorted into the castle so they could be sure we didn’t want to use the playground. Despite the fact we’re a little old for that. The castle was empty except for one table that was setup for us and the guide. This was then a four course meal – something similar to bolognese on a pastry wafer, then soup, and then a main course of beef sausage meat wrapped in bacon and pastry, and for dessert a chocolate sponge.

The afternoon was then ours to do with as we wished. We were dropped off at a shopping mall and advised how to find the souvenir shop in there. I bought a t-shirt for USD$7, and then we wandered around for some time before heading over to Cafe Bene for a cup of tea and to use their Wi-Fi.

Although our reservation was for 18:00 we headed over to the Broadway restaurant at 17:30 to make sure we had time to eat before meeting the guide at 18:45. It didn’t matter we’d made a reservation anyway as the table we’d reserved they’d decided couldn’t be used anyway. We weren’t really hungry though as it wasn’t that long since we’d finished a large lunch. Despite this I had a lasagna and drink and we made it to the meeting point a little early.

The traffic, for once, was not crazy either, so we also reached the train station with 1hr45 to spare so our guide decided to take us somewhere we could buy a drink, which I didn’t need, and to use their internet. I didn’t really need to use the internet for anything but somehow managed to waste the time we had there before being taken over to the train station.

We said goodbye to the guide and boarded the train where we’d be staying for over a day. This train was a little nicer than the last one, and there was a tiny bit more room due to it being 4-berth, but this did also mean it didn’t have it’s own basin like the last one. Unfortunately this one also didn’t have power in the cabins, so realised the next day would be without the ability to charge laptops or Kindles.

Just after 20:15 we were on our way back to Russia for the last part of the trip and was given Mongolian customs forms to complete along the way.

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