For our first outing in Mongolia, we headed into Ulaanbaatar to the Gandantegchinlen Monastery – Gandan for short. In 1990 (Mongolian Revolution, marking the start of the end of socialism in Mongolia) the monastery was restored and revitalized, when the restrictions on worship were lifted. We learned that Mongolia has strong ties with Tibet, and that the 13th Dalai Lama even stayed at Gandan in 1904.
Under the influence of Stalin in the 1930s, the communist Mongolian government destroyed all but a few monasteries and killed more than 15,000 lamas (teachers of Buddhism). Gandan was spared, and in 1944 was able to reopen as a token hommage to Mongolian culture and religion. Lonely Planet explains:
“Building was started in 1838 by the fourth Bogd Gegeen, but as with most monasteries in Mongolia, the purges of 1937 fell heavily on Gandan. When the US Vice President Henry Wallace asked to see a monastery during his visit to Mongolia in 1944, Prime Minister Choibalsan guiltily scrambled to open this one to cover up the fact that he had recently laid waste to Mongolia’s religious heritage. Gandan remained a ‘show monastery’ for other foreign visitors until 1990 when full religious ceremonies recommenced. Today more than 600 monks belong to the monastery.”
Gandan is located in the middle of Ulaanbaatar, a bit of color constrasting against the bleakness of the city. We enjoyed walking around the grounds and seeing temples and monks.