If Mongolia's yin is its pristine countryside, then Ulaanbaatar conforms nicely to its yang. Located in north central Mongolia, fabulous Ulaanbaatar is the cultural, industrial, and financial heart of the country. The city was founded in 1639 as a movable (nomadic) Buddhist monastic centre, and in the twentieth century, Ulaanbaatar grew into a major manufacturing centre. Mostly described, as sunny, peaceful and open, Ulaanbaatar is a city of contrast where modern life comfortably blends with Mongolian traditional lifestyle. Wide streets are flocked by modern cars, while horsemen and cattle are still common scene. An enormous city of pulsating commerce, wild traffic and bohemian counter-culture, the Mongolian capital elicits as much shock as it does excitement. Despite being the national capital and largest city, Ulaanbaatar retains a relaxed, small-town atmosphere. It is a very pleasant place to visit and to base yourself for trips around the country. The city has interesting monasteries and museums and excellent cultural shows. It is the centre of Mongolia's road network, and is connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system. This ever-changing city may be the biggest surprise of your Mongolian adventure.
Ulaanbaatar was composed of yurts, a type of dwelling structure made from felt and wood and traditionally used in the steppes of Central Asia. It was a meant as a mobile monastery for Buddhist monks and the seat of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, a Mongolian spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1924 it was officially renamed Ulaanbaatar, or “Red Hero”, in honor of the communist victory against Chinese occupation. Interestingly, Ulaanbaatar is also the world’s coldest capital!
Ulaanbaatar is located on the bank of beautiful Tuul River. It lies at the foothills of Bogd Khaan Mountain at an altitude of 1350 meters above sea level. More than million people live in the Capital city. The Capital city of Mongolia represents the symbol of struggle of Mongolians for freedom and independence, and it provides the history of political, economic and religious center of an independent country.The first recorded capital city of the recent Mongolian empire called Orgoo and was originally located at the monastery Da Khiiree, some 420km from Ulaanbaatar.
The city was often moved (probably around 25 times) to various places along the Orkhon, Selenge and Tuul rivers. Throughout such movement, the city was given some fairly unexciting official and unofficial names, including Khiiree (Camp) in 1706. In 1778 the capital was built at its present location and called the City of Felt. Later, the city became known as the Ikh Khiiree, or Great Camp, and was under the rule of the Bogd Khaan, or Living Buddha. Khans of Khalkha prepared headquarters for Zanabazar and delivered to him their subjects as apprentices and followers. The headquarters became the foundation of the former Urgu, present Ulaanbaatar. In 1654 construction works were launched and expansion of Urgu finished in 1680. Later on the city was renamed Jikhe Khuraee. However, during the following 200 years Mongolia was under the Manchu domination.
In 1778 Ikh Khuree moved to the Selbe river valley and settled on the site of present Ulaanbaatar. In construction of monasteries Mongolians capably used and developed the national ger-style structure alongside with the Chinese and Tibetan architectural tradition. In the 19th century Ikh Khuree was not only a religious center, it grew into a bigger town serving as an important political, administrative and cultural center, and a big junction of trade. At this time, its population deemed to be around 15-20 thousand.
By the end of 19th century Ikh Khuree began to be a main junction of religion, politics, and trade, national and social conflicts. The Capital city was named Nyislel Khuree after Mongolia's re-establishment. The name of Nyislel Huree was used till 1923, when capital city of Mongolia was renamed as the city of Ulaanbaatar (Ulaan Baatar - Red Hero) and declared the official capital of an 'independent' Mongolia. The Khangard (Garuda) was declared the city's official symbol. In 1933 Ulaanbaatar gained autonomy.
In many ways Ulaanbaatar has always been a city of contradictions – the permanent capital of a country of once nomadic herders. Ulaanbaatar has changed so much in the last few years, it is a lot more accessible to visitors but things have gotten more expensive and the new buildings are really sprawling out.
The ancient Gandan Khiid Monastery was one of the few Buddhist monasteries to survive the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, which destroyed most of the religious institutions here. Before that Mongolia was heavily Buddhist, with monks making up a considerable proportion of the population.
In the south of the city, a war memorial perched on a small hilltop tells of a different period of Ulaanbaatar’s history. The communist-era Zaisan memorial features a large mural with scenes celebrating the Russian victory over Germany in the Second World War, and the strong relationship between the former Soviet Union and Mongolia. A giant portrait of Genghis Khan has been created out of white blocks of rock, staring out over the city and keeping watch over the Mongolian lands.
In the evenings, downtown Ulaanbaatar comes alive with young families and couples. Around the bars and restaurants on central Peace Avenue the atmosphere is relaxed and family-friendly. Ulaanbaatar is a thriving cosmopolitan city on the verge of massive growth, it is a city filled with contrasts and contradictions.