Karakorum (360 km tarmac)
Karakorum was the capital of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Empire in the thirteenth century. In 1220, Genghis Khan ordered the building of Karakorum on the ruins of Turug and Uigur cities in the Orkhon valley at the eastern end of the Khangai Mountains. During the reign of Ugedei Khan, it was completed 15 years later. The town was very multicultural and culturally accepting.
The silver tree, which was once part of Möngke Khan’s palace, has become Karakorum’s emblem.
From 1220 to 1260, it was at its most prosperous. Karakorum existed as the great capital of the Euro-Asian Empire, with Mongolia at its heart, and as the epicenter of politics, trade, culture, faith, intellect, and diplomacy, as well as the most visible link in international relations.
Between 1260 and 1380, Karakorum lost its status as the capital of the Great Mongolian Empire and became Mongolia’s capital. When Kublai Khan and his younger brother, Ariq Boke, assumed the throne of the Mongol Empire in 1260, they moved their capital to what is now Beijing. Karakorum was reduced to the administrative center of a Yuan Dynasty provincial backwater.
After 110 years after Kublai Khan transferred the Empire capital to China in 1260, the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty fell in 1368, and the center of Mongolian government was shifted to its homeland. It allowed Karakorum to regain its former glory.
The town was captured and destroyed by Ming troops under General Xu Da in 1388.
Nothing remains of this legendary city today.
When Abtai Sain Khan and his brother, Lord Tumenkhen, went to the 3rd Dalai Lama in 1580 to express their desire to create a temple in Mongolia, he advised them to restore an old temple in Karakorum. The Main Zuu temple of Erdene Zuu monastery is a temple in Takhai ruins that was restored in 1588 at the Dalai Lama’s suggestion.
Erdene Zuu Monastery is now all that is left of what was once a massive monastery with 100 temples and over 1.000 lamas. You’ll walk around the grounds of Erdene Zuu Monastery, which is encircled by huge 400 m X 400 m walls. You will be guided around the 3 remaining temples: the Dalai Lama, Zuu of Buddha and Lavrin Temple.
The Karakorum Archaeological Museum will be another stop on your itinerary. It’s a tiny museum, but it’s housed in a new, well-run structure with good lighting and simple English labels on display cases. The displays contain hundreds of artefacts from the 13th and 14th centuries that were discovered in the immediate region, as well as those from other provinces’ archaeological sites, including prehistoric stone tools. Pottery, bronzes, coins, religious sculptures, and stone inscriptions are among the objects on display. A half-excavated kiln is also sunk into the museum floor. The scale model of ancient Karakorum, which attempts to reflect the city as it would have existed in the 1250s and is based on descriptions written by the French missionary William of Rubruck, is perhaps the most intriguing. A Turkic noble tomb with wall paintings and artefacts, including gold objects and jewels, is on display in another chamber. A short video of the actual burial site is available.
You can also visit the Turtle Rock and the Phallic Rock, as well as a small market hidden behind walls that showcases local artists’ work.