Staying slightly out of the centre we decided to attack the city in a full-on tourist onslaught in one day and set off early to Gandan Khidd, our timely arrival rewarded with the morning ceremonial chantings. Monks gathered within one of the few remaining temples, almost all of the original 100 temples were destroyed in the Stalinist purges of 1937. Sitting amongst the hypnotic chants amidst brightly painted thangka paintings and hundreds of ornate statues it is hard to believe that Buddhism was only openly practised here again since 1990. A magnificent 26m high copper and gold statue of the Buddha of compassion stands majestically in the main temple; the original statue was melted down and rumoured to be made into bullets for the Russian army. A huge pair of golden feet stand defiantly amidst hundreds of spinning prayer wheels.
Balancing precariously along kerb edges and flooding streets we navigated a main road (being splashed by less than considerate drivers) until we reached the main Sukhbaatar square, flanked by impressive government buildings, stock exchange and ballet and opera theatre. The square was the location of the violent protests in 1990 which eventually led to the fall of communism, but today presents a peaceful scene with a scattering of waterproof-clad tourists and groups of locals in traditional, brightly embellished, Del dress, all overlooked by (a rather obese-looking) Genghis Khaan statue. We sidestepped into the cultural palace and stopped for a much-needed lunch at a North Korean restaurant (a culinary first for both of us). A slight over-ordering brought a delicious array of spicy noodle soup, stir-fried chicken and beef, marinated potatoes and aromatic salads- a welcome change from greasy mutton and heavy dumplings.
Time for a quick nip back into the Grand Khan pub for a couple of opportune pints of Chinggis Beer and then a late stop to the Mongolian Barbeque (sightseeing is hungry work). An entire sheep’s head (complete with teeth and all skull contents) and an assortment of customary meat/flour combos, washed down with Mongol Ale rounded the day off perfectly. All the stray dogs, beeping horns and clattering trucks in the entire city could not have woken us from our rooftent slumber that night.