"I could never resist the call of the trail" - Buffalo Bill

KARAKORUM

The Orkhon valley was a center of the Xiongnu, Göktürk and Uyghur empires. To the Göktürks, the nearby Khangai Mountains had been the location of the Ötüken, and the Uighur capital Karabalgasun was located close to where later Karakorum would be erected. This area is probably also one of the oldest farming areas in Mongolia.

In 1218/19, Chinggis Khan rallied his troops for the campaign against the Khwarezm Empire in a place called Karakorum, but the actual foundation of a city is usually said to have only occurred in 1220. Until 1235, Karakorum seems to have been little more than a yurt town; only then, after the defeat of the Jin empire, did Chinggis' successor Ögedei erect walls around the place and build a fixed palace.

The name Karakorum or "Kharkhorin" in Mongolian language might be translated as "black quarter/space". "Khar" means "black" and "khorin" probably shares the same root as the verb "khori (to imprison/hold)" as in "khorigdoh" that means "to be imprisoned/held". "Khori" also means "twenty" like "khorin mori (twenty horses)", but it is unlikely that there would be a "black twenty".

Under Ögedei and his successors, Karakorum became a major site for world politics. Möngke Khan had the palace enlarged, and the great stupa temple completed. They also commissioned the famous Silver Tree of Karakorum at the city center. The sculptor was Guillaume Bouchier. A large tree sculpted of silver and other precious metals rose up from the middle of the courtyard and loomed over the palace,with the branches of tree extended into the building. Silver fruit hung from the from the limbs and it had four golden serpents braided around the trunk. At the top of the tree rose a trumpet angel. When the khan wanted to summon the drinks for his guests, the mechanical angel raised the trumpet and to his lips and sounded the horn, whereupon the mouths of the serpents began to gush out a fountain of alcoholic beverages into the large silver basin arranged at the base of the tree.

William of Rubruck, a Flemish Franciscan missionary and papal envoy to the Mongols reached Karakorum in 1254. He has left one of the most detailed, though not always flattering, accounts of the city. He compared it rather unfavourably to the village of Saint-Denis near Paris, and was of the opinion that the royal abbey there was ten times as important as the Khan's palace. On the other hand, he also described the town as a very cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant place, and the silver tree he described as part of Möngke Khan's palace has become the symbol of Karakorum. He described the walled city as having four gates facing the four directions, two quarters of fixed houses, one for the "Saracenes" and one for the "Cathai", twelve pagan temples, two mosques, as well as a Nestorian church.

When Kublai Khan claimed the throne of the Mongol Empire in 1260—as did his younger brother, Ariq Boke—he relocated his capital to Shangdu, and later to Dadu (today's Beijing). Karakorum was reduced to the administrative center of a provincial backwater of the Yuan Dynasty founded in China in 1271. Even worse, the ensuing wars with Ariq Boke and later Kaidu hit the town hard. In 1260, Kublai disrupted the town's grain supply, in 1277 Kaidu took Karakorum, only to be ousted by Yuan troops and Bayan of the Baarin in the following year. In 1298/99 prince Ulus Buqa looted the markets and the grain storehouses. However, the first half of the 14th century proved to be a second time of prosperity: in 1299, the town was expanded eastwards, in 1311 and again from 1342 to 1346 the stupa temples were renewed.

After the collapse of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 Karakorum became the residence of Biligtü Khan in 1370. In 1388, Ming troops took and destroyed the town. Saghang Sechen's Erdeni-yin Tobči claims that a khuriltai in 1415 decided to rebuild it, but no archeological evidence for such a venture has been found yet. However, Karakorum was inhabited at the beginning of the 16th century, when Batu-Möngke Dayan Khan made it a capital once again. In the following years, the town changed hands between Oirads and Chinggisids several times, and was consequently given up permanently.

The model of the city Karakorum in the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar.
Erdenezuu monastery stands near the site. Various construction materials were taken from the ruin to build this monastery.
The actual location of Karakorum was long unclear. First hints that Karakorum was located at Erdene Zuu were already known in the 18th century, but until the 20th century there was a dispute whether or not the ruins of Karabalgasun, or Ordu-Baliq, were in fact those of Karakorum. In 1889, the site was conclusively identified as the former Mongol capital by Nikolai Yadrintsev, who discovered examples of the Orkhon script during the same expedition. Yadrintsev's conclusions were confirmed by Wilhelm Radloff.

The first excavations were done in 1933/34 under D. Bukinich. After his Soviet-Mongolian excavations in 1948/49, Sergei Kiselyov concluded that he had found the remains of Ögödei's palace. However, this conclusion has been put into doubt by the findings of the 2000-2004 German-Mongolian excavations, which seem to identify them as belonging to the great stupa temple rather than to Ögödei's palace.

Findings of the excavations include paved roads, some brick and many adobe buildings, floor heating systems, bed-stoves, evidence for processing of copper, gold, silver, iron (including iron wheel naves), glass, jewels, bones, and birch bark, as well as ceramics and coins from China and Central Asia. Four kilns have also been unearthed.

 



 

KARAKORUM

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BOOKING FORM

KARAKORUM

Duration: 7 days /6 nights
Date: June-September
Transport: 4WD Jeep/Van
Individual: 1-3 pax
Small group: 4-6 pax


Day-by-day Itinerary

DAY 1  Ulaanbaatar

Arrival at Chinggis Khan International airport of Ulaanbaatar, our guide and driver will meet you at the airport and transfer to 3-star hotel. At the welcoming lunch we will give you detailed trip briefing and in the afternoon we go on half-day city tour - visit Sukhbaatar Square and Museum of National History, then Zaisan Hill and Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum. (L/D)

DAY 2   Ulaanbaatar – Hustai Nuruu National Park
Drive to Hustai Nuruu National park. Visit local Information Center and watch documentary film about the park. Driving and hiking to see wild horses of Przjevalski in the evening. O/n in ger camp. (B/L/D).

DAY 3  Hustai Nuruu National Park - Elsen Tasarkhai
This morning we continue towards Elsen Tasarkhai - border of three natural zones: steppe mountain and desert. After lunch we will visit the ruins of Hugnu Khan monastery, hike on the Mongol Els sand dunes. Optional camel ride at sand dunes. Visit nomadic family, horseback riding in the evening. Overnight in ger camp. (B/L/D).

DAY 4  Elsen Tasarkhai - Karakorum
Today we head toward Karakorum – the ancient capital of Mongolia which was established by Chinggis Khan in 1220 in the Orkhon valley. For 140 years Karakorum served as the capital of the United Mongol tribes until it was destroyed by the Chinese troops in 1391. The remains of the capital that stood at the crossroads of the Silk Road are extensive underground archaeological assets and two granite turtles that once stood at the main gate to the city. Four of these turtle sculptures used to mark the boundaries of ancient Karakorum, acting as protectors of the city (turtles are considered symbols of eternity). After lunch we will visit the newly founded Karakorum museum to see the relics from the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire. Overnight in ger camp. (B/L/D)

Day 5 Karakorum
After breakfast we will visit legendary Monastery Erdene Zuu, the first Buddhist monastery in Central Mongolia founded in 1586 and it was built on the ruins of the 13th century capital. Vast walls of 400m in length with 108 stupas surrounding the monastery are the symbol of Karakorum. Time and history were not merciful to Erdene Zuu monastery but it still carries the traces of its former glory and provides a great insight into the rich religious and cultural past of Mongolia. Monks chanting and morning prayer will be observed. Then we will drive to Turkish Historical site - Kultegen Inscription. Overnight in ger camp. (B/L/D)

Day 6  Karakorum - Ugii Nuur Lake
Today we continue our trip to the lake Ugii Nuur - a wonderful place for birdlife - cranes and ducks, to name just a few species, migrate to the area around late April. Ugii lake is also renowned for its fishing. Ugii is a lake, 1,387m above sea level in Ugii Nuur County in Arkhangai Province. It covers 25sq km, and is rich in Perch and Pike. Swan Goose, White Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican have been recorded. Overnight in Ugii Nuur Lake ger camp. (B/L/D)

DAY 7  Ugii Nuur Lake – Ulaanbaatar - Departure
After breakfast we drive back to Ulaanbaatar. Lunch is in Lun County of Central Province on the way. Then we go for optional souvenir and cashmere shopping. Enjoy evening cultural show – Tumen Ekh National Folklore group. Farewell dinner. Transfer to Chinggis Khan International Airport/Departure. (B/L/D).

SERVICE INCLUDES
Meals as listed, 3-star hotel in Ulaanbaatar, accommodation in ger 2pax sharing, transport to/from airport, experienced driver with private 4WD vehicle on field trip, tea coffee and water during the trip, transport in Ulaanbaatar on city tours, English speaking guide, horse and camel riding for 1-2 hours in countryside on Day 4, excursions as per itinerary (Museums and Monasteries) and entrance fees, evening cultural show by Tumen Ekh Folklore Ensemble, local taxes and admission fees.

SERVICE EXCLUDES
International air ticket, travel insurance, any alcoholic beverages, photo and video charges in museums and monasteries, expenses of private nature.

Total Cost:
Individual: US$

Small Group: US$

KARAKORUM

Book this trip or customize to fit your needs

BOOKING FORM

KARAKORUM

KARAKORUM

Book this trip or customize to fit your needs

BOOKING FORM