Shrouded in mystery over the years as a city without a permanent location, changing periodically over the years as a result of centuries’ worth of tradition, Ulaanbaatar is the capital and largest city of Mongolia, now permanently located in a valley on the confluence of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. Initially formed as a city for a once-upon-a-time nomadic Buddhist monastery, Ulaanbaatar has grown over the years since its permanent placement in 1778, and now it exists as a testament to the industrial side of Mongolia, one that many people outside the country are not aware exists.
Ulaanbaatar is hard to get a feeling for at first glance, being nothing more than drab, grey buildings that look far from appealing or overwhelming in any sense of the word. But once you begin to move past the façade you will discover that this is the cultural heart of Mongolia, a tablet of the country’s history laid out in the form of a city, showcasing the slow change of many from the nomadic way of life to the modern. And while it’s true that many in the outer regions of Mongolia still live the way their ancestors have for centuries, here in Ulaanbaatar things are different.
Ulaanbaatar has long held a place of special importance for Buddhists, and the amount of monasteries to visit while in the city is without par. From the Gandan Monastery to the Choijin Lama, there are plenty to choose from. Beyond that, Ulaanbaatar is well-known for its many museums, telling the story of the Mongolian people over the centuries. The surrounding countryside is a testament to the beauty that draws visitors in year after year, and there are several festivals which are well worth attending, such as Naadam in July, with Mongolian athletes competing in wrestling, horse racing, and archery. All in all, Ulaanbaatar is the paramount example of what it is to be Mongolian, and should be your first stop when entering the country to get a feel for things.