Ulan Bator highlights: Bogd Khan Palace Museum (the Winter Palace)
The Bogd Khan Palace Museum (the winter palace) is one of the few Ulaanbaatar historical attractions not destroyed by the Soviet and Mongolian communists. It is a highlight of Ulaanbaatar and definitely worth a visit, and an outing here can be combined with a trip to nearby Zaisan Memorial.
The Bogd Khan palace grounds
Palace grounds overview
The Bogd Khan palace grounds offer a welcome respite from the dust and noisy traffic of Ulan Bator. The grounds contain a number of ornate arches with molded tiling and painted timbers. Paths lead through the unkept grasses and take you to about 8 different display houses, which hold buddhist statues, paintings, and embroided silk tapestries. They are something to behold, and are of particular significance to Mongolians trying to reclaim their religious past after most religious items were destroyed by the Communists. Unfortunately, the displays are poorly lit, and you will struggle to capture decent photos without good equipment (flashes are prohibited).
Overview of the Bogd Khan's winter palace
The palace lies at the East side of the grounds. It has on display a number of the Bogd Khan's furnishings and treasures, which are really worth seeing. When viewing this hoarde of wealth and splendour, it's worth considering the poverty suffered by Mongolians citizens at the time, who were living in penury just beyond the palace walls. While some of his subjects were dying and starving in the streets, the Bogd Khan had built four similar-sized palaces (only the Winter Palace survived destruction by the Communists) and amassed a huge fortune.
Animals from the Bogd Khan's private zoo have survived the communist years, but seem a little lethargic these days
Inside the palace is the jewelled regalia worn by the Bogd Khan's pet elephant, which he had specially imported. Also shown are the works of the 20 silk embroiderers he had working solely for the royal court. He owned ebony furniture with jewel inlays, a horse cart from Britain, animals from all over the world for his own personal zoo, and had a ger (yurt) covered in the skins of 150 snow leopards. With such societal injustice, no wonder the Communists found significant support in Mongolia!
The palace also displays a number of gifts given to the Bogd Khan by foreign governments, and Mongolia's declaration of independence (written in ancient script) from the domination of the Qing Chinese dynasty.
There is a mural painted by famous contemporary monk and artist, B. Sharav. It depicts the palace grounds and surrounds in a Buddhist surrealist style, with numerous events taking place simultaneously. Most tourists breeze past it, but take the time to look at it carefully. Apart from the typical tending of livestock, and travelling of trade merchants, it depicts the insalubrious activities of many Mongolians outside, including drinking and vomiting up fermented mare's milk (Airag), gambling, defecating, urinating, whoring, and other deviant activities which best not be described herein.
Regardless of the social implications of the Bogd Khan's treasures, a visit to the Bogd Khan Palace Museum is one of the top highlights/ things to do in Ulaanbaatar.
Scene from B Sharav's famous painting 'A day in Mongolia', c1920s. Such diversions certainly don't LOOK enjoyable, but one never knows
Getting to the Bogd Khan Palace Museum tourist attraction
To get to the Bogd Khan Palace Museum, you can take a taxi or join the locals on the number 7 bus (300 Tugriks per trip [i.e. 25 cents or so]. Keep a hold of your valuables, particularly if there's a crush when boarding the bus. The bus stops outside the Mongolian library, which lies on Chingis Orgon Road. This is the road which runs down the West side of Suhkbaatar Square, with the library about 200m south of the square. After you've crossed the long Peace and Friendship Bridge (which spans the railway tracks and some creek floodplains), you will see the Winter Palace on the right hand side as the road bends a bit to the left. The green tiled roofing of the palace grounds is visible from the road.
Note that Zaisan memorial lies another 600m or so further down the road, just across the bridge over the Tuul River.
The Bogd Khan Palace museum: book early for your next corporate event.
An entry pass to the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum costs T2,500 (about $2US). As with many Ulan Bator attractions, a photography pass is also required for taking photos (T10,000, or US$9!). Taking photos of the displays without a pass will be noted by security personnel viewing CCTV cameras throughout the grounds, and the surly staff will redirect you back to the security gate to purchase one.
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