The Ancient Capital Of Mongolia - Karakorum

Located in Outer Mongolia, Karakorum is a small city with a glorious past.

Why Go There?

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.

Erdene Zuu Monastery, Kharkhorin

How To Get There

Karakorum lies 360 kilometers southwest of Ulan Bator, on Mongolia's main east-west route.

(Click here for information on how to get to Mongolia and Karakorum.)

Road To Karakorum

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.

What To See

A Stone Tortoise

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.

Stone Tortoise In Karakorum

You will find it near Erdene Zuu.

Erdene Zuu Monastery

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 At Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum

Monks from the Erdene Zuu monastery erected another popular site...

The Phallic Rock

Phallic Rock, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum

You will find the phallic rock near the monastery. The rock points towards a vaginal hill.

Silver Fountain

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.

Historical Ruins In The Orkhon Valley

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.

Orkhon Waterfall

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...

Orkhon Waterfall, Karakorum

What To Do

Walk Around An Ovoo

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.

Mongolian Ovoo

Spin A Prayer Wheel

If you can't find an ovoo, try spinning a prayer wheel at Erdene Zuu Monastery...

Buddhist Prayer Wheels


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...

Fishing In Mongolia

And managed to catch something...but it got away ;) No, I really did!

Meet The Locals

Mongolian Nomad Children On Horseback

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.

What To Eat

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.

What To Drink

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).

Where To Sleep

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.

Mongolian Ger Camp

What To Buy

Karakorum lies of the beaten track, but you can buy various texts, beads and other Buddhist artifacts from Erdene Zuu Monastery.

Getting Out

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.

More Mongolian Cities

Read more about ancient and modern cities of Mongolia.

Discover which other cities have laid claim to being the

Mongolian capital.

Visited Karakorum?

Tell us your story and show us your pictures using the box below!

Or use the comments box at the end of this page.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.