About fifteen kilometers South of Ulaanbaatar, across the wide-pine forests of Bogd Khan, lies the Manzushir Temple – what used to house three hundred Buddhist monks. When the Soviet Union turned Mongolia into a communist satellite state, the ideological ardor of Stalinist purges swept the nation, taking along with it institutional Buddhism, the lives of many practicing monks, and their temples.
In my brief tenure of six months in Mongolia, I’ve visited Manzushir on several occasions but had my time cut short for a number of reasons: once I got lost on the hike over and returned to UB after spending a day and a half wandering the forest, and the other was reined in by a raging hangover. This time the stark contrast of snowy hills to the open green steppe froze my jeans around the cuff as temperatures soared to -10C.
The first thing on our agenda was a short hike through the pistey valley peaks that enclosed the temple fringes. Up into the forest, around the the rock outcrops, and back down through the outlying mudbrick skeletons of politics gone awry. One of the coolest things that I saw was a gargantuan cauldron used to feed the monks back in the day – apparently you could boil a horse within its two tons of its caste-iron practicality.
We also took a short tour of one of the rebuilt temples and perused an old grainy photo collection, proof that the monastery had seen better days. Unfortunately the cold killed my phone battery about twenty minutes into the hike.