One of the 4 largest (and probably the nicest) monasteries in Mongolia and it mostly survived the purges of the 1930s. Located in the Iven valley near the Selenge river, the monastery is about an hour off the main paved road connecting Erdenet and Darkhan. About 30 monks live in the monastery.
The monastery was constructed between 1727 and 1736 on the orders of the Manchu Emperor Kang Xi in honour of Zanabazar, the 1st Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, or leader of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, who invented the Mongolian Soyombo script and is one of Mongolia's most famous artists and influential leaders in the 17th century. Zanabazar's body was interred here in 1788. At its peak, the monastery had 3,000 monks and 40 temples laid out with a symmetrical unity according to exacting design specifications of the Emperor of China. The communists closed the monastery, killed several of the monks, and destroyed 10 of the temples in 1937. Luckily, 26 of the temples survived and have been partially restored through help from UNESCO and the Indian government. Several new stupas and a large statue of Buddha have been added recently to the neighbouring hills.
The isolated site surrounded by miles of sparsely populated steppe make it seem as though you are seeing it as it was before the rise of communism and modernization.
Localisation on OpenStreetMap.
There is no public transport to the monastery as it is in a very rural and isolated location, not accessible by roads. You can access the monastery either from Erdenet or Darkhan by hiring a driver. From Erdenet, use the paved road towards Darkhan, and then turn north at the sign (about 81km from Erdenet) and follow the track during the remaining approximately 33km. A bus from Ulaanbaatar's "Dragon Bus Centre" to Darkhan is 4 hours and costs 10,000 MNT. The bus to Darkhan leaves on the hour beginning at 9 a.m.
One way from Darkhan with a local taxi driver will take 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on conditions (summer or winter) and the driver's knowledge of the area. You can easily explore the monastery, the statues on the hills and the surrounding area in 3 hours. The cost of a day trip from Darkhan (including vehicle, driver and petrol) will cost anywhere between 100,000 to 130,000 MNT($50-65). Erdenet should be similar, if a bit cheaper.
The monastery itself takes about an hour to see.
You can also explore the stupa and statues that have been placed on hills right behind the monastery. It's a nice walk up to these and there are paths that connect the different sites. You could spend a couple additional hours wandering through the grounds, but three hours is more than enough to see everything at a leisurely pace.
Monks usually collect a 5,000 tögrög per person entry fee for foreign visitors. You'll be issued a ticket after you pay.
There is a daily "chanting" ceremony at 10 a.m., so leave Darkhan at 7 a.m. if you want to make that. Novice monks practice chanting later in the day.
There are several small shops next to the monastery that sell items such as soft drinks, water, chips, lollies, vodka, beer and other common items. They also sell candles, matches and other items used to honor the Buddhist statues that overlook the monastery on the hills behind it.
There are also a few local families who sell khuushuur (Traditional Mongolian cuisine/meat pastry) and tea from their Ger. Look for Gers with large sheets of advertising on them in Mongolian. (These might be closed, depending on the time of day.)
There's also a ger that sells khuushuur and milk tea at the highway turnoff.
There are no hotels or hostels next to or around the monastery – it is in the middle of nowhere! In summer there is plenty of space to set up a tent and stay overnight and conditions will be perfect to do this. Do not attempt this in winter!
There are several local families living next to the monastery in their gers. You may be able to lodge with them for a night, for a fee, but you would require a contact, to risk it or someone to translate the request upon arrival. Best to arrange this advance or better yet, do a day trip from Darkhan or Erdenet.
The trip to the monastery, either from Darkhan or Erdenet requires off-road travelling for at least an hour from the main road. There are several tracks in this area, so it is possible to get lost, especially as there is either no or weak mobile reception for the first 40 minutes of the off road part of the trip.
In winter, getting "bogged" in snow, or being unable to get over slippery hills is a risk, depending on the vehicle.
To avoid either getting lost, bogged or being unable to get over hills due to the slippery conditions, it is recommended that you hire a mongolian driver who knows local conditions (and who can ask for help in Mongolian to local nomads if required) at the very least. A 4WD vehicle is ideal for these conditions, but a normal vehicle with good wheels and a local driver is fine. It is not recommended that a tourist attempt this drive alone in winter, especially due to the icy conditions and there being no roads.
There is great mobile reception at the monastery due to a small tower recently being installed there. However this reception only extends to about 5 minutes away from the monastery.