Kharkhorin is also the site of Erdene Zuu Monastery, the largest, oldest, and most important religious center in Mongolia, established in the 1580s but destroyed, abandoned, and rebuilt several times since then
. Erdene Zuu was reestablished as a religious center most recently after the collapse of Communism in the early 1990s and with numerous temples and 108 (a Buddhist holy number) stupas along its defensive perimeter walls is a very impressive site. Like other temples in Mongolia, Erdene Zuu resembles Tibetan temples, since the majority of Mongolians practice the Tibetan form of Buddhism and revere the Dalai Lama as the highest religious authority.
We found a perfect campsite in a valley south of Kharkhorin along a shallow river with wooded banks, with comfy temperatures, no wind, and no bugs to speaks of. We must have pleased the Gods on our visit to the monastery since the only annoyance was the yaks munching on the grass around our tents throughout the night. Maybe my circling that stone turtle three times in the correct direction provided us with some good karma.
Kharkhorin was another dull, dusty town, a shadow of Chinggis Khan's great empirical capital, relocated here by Chinggis from farther east in Mongolia in 1220 and named Karakorum. Of course, even the great capital was essentially a nomad camp with few permanent buildings, so the only remains of the city are two stone turtles marking its corners. Karakorum was actually a short-lived capital since the Mongols moved the capital to Beijing after conquering China. Chinggis Khan ranks in Western thought along with Attilla the Hun and Timurlane as one of the most blood-thirsty leaders of the legendary Central Asian barbarian hordes but is revered in Mongolia as the great hero of the nation's golden age. His portrait adorns the currency, the leading beer and vodka brands in the country are both named after him, and in 2006 even the airport in Ulaan Baatar was renamed Chinggis Khan International Airport.