Located in Outer Mongolia, Karakorum is a small city with a glorious past.
Genghis Khan founded Karakorum in 1220. After his exploits on the Eurasian steppes, the city became the center of a substantial and growing empire.
The city has been razed several times since Genghis Khan's day. But in Mongolia, Karakorum remains a powerful symbol of past glory.
Karakorum lies 360 kilometers southwest of Ulan Bator, on Mongolia's main east-west route.
It takes a full day to drive to there from Ulan Bator. Most people split the journey into two days and stay at a ger camp en route.
Like many cities in Mongolia, Karakorum started life as a nomadic camp - and a nomadic city leaves few ruins behind. In fact, of the old city, only a stone tortoise remains.
You will find it near Erdene Zuu.
Erdene Zuu is a Buddhist Tibetan monastery which dates back to 1585. Built from the ruins of Genghis Khan's capital, Erdene Zuu is the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia today.
A soviet government partially destroyed Erdene Zuu in the 1930s, but the monastery has since reopened as a museum. I also saw evidence of religious activity...
Monks from the Erdene Zuu monastery erected another popular site...
You will find the phallic rock near the monastery. The rock points towards a vaginal hill.
During the days of Genghis Khan and his children, many conscripted artisans lived in Mongolia. Karakorum hosted several, including a Parisian silver smith called Guillame Bouchier.
Guillame fashioned a tree-shaped fountain which he entwined with a silver serpent and crowned with an angel. A different kind of alcoholic drink spurted out of each of four pipes. It has become the symbol of the city.
You can see a reconstruction in the grounds of a Karakorum motel - take a look at the back of a five thousand tugrik note for an artist's impression of what to look for.
Karakorum lies in a valley called Orkhon. The valley contains the ruins of three additional capital cities. Although largely forgotten, their historical significance has led the World Heritage to give the valley protected status.
The most prominent ruin belongs to Kharbalgas, former capital of the Uighur Empire.
The Orkhon Valley's name comes from Mongolia's longest river, which runs through it.
Not far from the city, the river drops twenty meters to create a spectacular waterfall...
In Mongolia, Karakorum has always held religious significance.
Below you can see an ovoo - a shamanistic monument. Travelers wish for a safe journey by walking around the shrine three times. These days, people often drive round three times instead.
If you can't find an ovoo, try spinning a prayer wheel at Erdene Zuu Monastery...
The Orkhon River hosts thirteen types of fish including Baikal, Sturgeon and Taimen. You don't need expertise to catch them...
I bought some line and a hook from a local market, picked up a broken stick, dug up a grub...
And managed to catch something...but it got away ;) No, I really did!
The local nomads will give you a warm welcome should you visit their dwellings. If you're feeling brave, they may allow you ride a horse.
Mongolian Nomads will likely serve you with a variety of mutton or milk based dishes. The dairy snacks come in one taste and texture: sour and hard.
Best advice: taste what they offer, and then pay a visit to a local restaurant.
Typical Mongolian drinks include salty-milk tea and airag - fermented mares' milk. Mongolians rate airag as having two-percent alcohol, but late in the season it can equal beer. Take your camel trek before you drink some!
Talking of beer - you must try the local dark beer: Khar Khorum (yet another way to spell the name of the city).
Forget hotels - they exist, but who comes to Mongolia or Karakorum to stay in a hotel?
You will find ger camps dotted all over the steppe. Gers are the circular white tents Mongolian nomads live in. Ger camps have varying levels of comfort.
Karakorum lies of the beaten track, but you can buy various texts, beads and other Buddhist artifacts from Erdene Zuu Monastery.
Take a different route home. There's so much to see in Mongolia (and Karakorum too!) - it would be a shame to drive home the same way.
Discover which other cities have laid claim to being the
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