The “Great Place of Complete Joy.” If that doesn’t sell you on coming here, maybe the promise of chanting monks and promising prayers from some seriously stylish monks who will zen you out, or the world’s largest indoor statue, will.
If that doesn’t sell you on coming to Gandan Monastery, maybe the promise of throat chants and prayers by some seriously stylish monks who will zen you the fuck out, or the world’s largest indoor statue, will.
Gandantegchinlen Monastery, or Gandan for short (you try pronouncing that entire name three times fast), is one of Mongolia’s most famous Buddhist temples. And indeed, the most important to visit when you’re visiting Ulaanbaatar.
With several temples making up the complex, and plenty of space to find your inner zen, spending a morning here is an experience – not just another touristy AF thing to cross of a Mongolia bucket list.
Listen as monks hit the gongs in the towers overlooking the complex and follow the shuffle of people, chances are they know where to find the best parts of the complex to spend at least a few minutes. Don’t be surprised when most of the seats inside are filled – locals come here often to have their concerns and problems prayed for.
Head to the monastery early in the morning (before a day trip to Khustai National Park, perhaps) to hear the famous chants and throat singing these guys are known for doing – it is, quite simply put, otherworldly. They broadcast the chants almost daily as a Facebook live on the Gandan Monastery Facebook page, so even when you’re not in Ulaanbaatar you can be a part of the daily practices at the monastery.
Founded in 1838, more than 150 monks live at the monastery today, and while none of today’s monks will ever be as widely celebrated as the 13th Dalai Lama, who once called the monastery home way back in 1904, the ones you’ll find there today are still pretty incredible.
While there is plenty in the Gandan Monastery complex that will catch your eye, the world’s tallest indoor statue, a stunning 26.5-meter tall gold-leaf and gemstone covered Avalokiteśvara, built to depict the 8th Jebtsundamba, also known as Bogd Khan, who had claimed the title of Emperor of Mongolia, standing tall within the main temple certainly won’t go unnoticed.
The statue was dismantled by the Soviets in 1938 but was brought back to life in 1996 thanks to donations from locals across the city, putting into perspective just how beloved and sacred this temple is to the people of Mongolia. Be sure to give them the respect they deserve while you’re here as they make their offerings and ask for prayers, this is some seriously sacred stuff in Mongolia, and something even more sacred to witness as an outsider.
Author: Breanna Wilson
Hi! Sain uu! I’m Breanna, an American travel writer and adventurer living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for more than 5 years. I’ve written for and been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times, among others. Read more of my Mongolia travel articles here.
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