Trek: Darkhan to Amarbayasgalant Khiid

Ido and Lotem suggested and tested the trek - June 2009

Trek main points
Trek Length: 70Km, 3-4 days
Navigation: easy.
Start point: Darkhan - there is daily transportation from Ulaanbaatar.
End point: Amarbayasgalant monastery.
Getting out: hitch a ride on the 35km dirt road to the main paved road.
Gers: several gers along the trek.
Horses: Half way through the trek, there is a horse farm.
River crossing: Orkhon river, no bridge, walk across, or on horse.
Events: August and September there are  Buddhist ceremonies.
Tourist Ger camps: near the monastery.
Maps: Download trek maps - a 4 page document ready for printing.
More maps and trek details are at the end of this page.

See this trek story as described by Hugh Wilson (2018)
In Fodor's travel:  A Hike To Stop Time (Almost) 

Monastery - Amarbayasgalant Khiid

The trek follows valleys from Darkhan to the magnificent monastery Amarbayasgalant Khiid, once one of the three largest Buddhist centres in Mongolia. It is located in the Ivon Gol River Valley at the foot of the Burenkhan Mountains. It was built over a period of 10 years from 1726 to 1736. A few thousand resident monks served and studied at the monastery. The monastery was built to honor the memory of Zanabazar one of the great Buddhist leaders of Mongolia. After he died his remains where brought to be buried in this monastery.
During the Soviet purge the monks were persecuted, and some of the temples demolished. Restoration of the monastery began in 1990 after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are 50 resident monks, including ordained monks and those studying at Amarbayasgalant. They range in age from 11 to 104. Head of monastery is Luvsansonom (Olonbayar).

Special ceremony mid August

The trek highlight is Amarbayasgalant Khiid. In mid August  a special ceremony named in Mongolian "Gongoriin Bombani Hural" will take place. Hundreds of Mongolians are expected to attend.

Read a blog of  ceremony by Jeffrey Staggs

Tsam Dance

Skilled monk dancers will perform at the ceremony the ritual of Tsam Dance, performed with large masks. The masks resemble the ten wisdom's of mankind, portraying characters of different apostles, devils, animals and real people. The dancers will express during the dance the three moods; anger, calm and humorous.


The monastery was built to honor the memory of Zanabazar one of the great Buddhist leaders of Mongolia. Undur Geghen Zanabazar (1635-1723) was Mongolia's most famous sculpture, painter, poet, healer and publisher. He was also the supreme spiritual teacher of Mongolia. Zanabazar founded many temples and monasteries, spreading Buddha's teachings across Mongolia.

Among his many accomplishments, Zanabazar is probably best remembered for his bronze statues. During his lifetime, notes a modern-day art historian, he was the greatest Buddhist sculptor in Asia. His bronze statues are now the centerpieces of several museums in Ulaan Baatar. Although few if any privately owned Zanabazar statues have been put up for sale, so-called School of Zanabazar statues—made by artists emulating the style of Zanabazar—have recently been featured at high-profile art sales in New York City. Some of School of Zanabazar pieces at these sales sold for several hundred thousands of dollars. Zanabazar’s own works must be considered “priceless.”

The legend of the "Amarbayasgalant" name
Don Corner tells about the origins of the name of the monastery: In his will Kangxi (Chinese Emperor) had bequeathed 3,860 kilograms of silver with instructions to his successor that it be used to construct a monastery to house Zanabazar’s remains. In 1727 Yung Cheng finally ordered the construction of the monastery. According to legend, he sent a team of researchers to Mongolia to seek out an appropriate location. In the valley of the Even River, a tributary of the Orkhon, they found a little boy and girl playing together. When asked their names the boy said “Amar” (amar = happiness, peacefulness) and the girl “Bayasgalant” (bayasgalant = joy, pleasure, happiness). This was deemed auspicious, and it was decided to build the new monastery on this site and call it Amarbayasgalant. According to the legend, when Amar and Bayasgalant died they were buried in the front courtyard of monastery.

Trek highlights
The trek from Darkhan to Amarbayasgalant monastery follows a green steppe valley. The trek crosses the Orkhon river (not an easy task). The Orkhon river begins in the Khangai mountains in center Mongolia, it flows across the border to Russia into the Baikal lake, one of the largest lakes in the world.
About half way along the trek you will come across a nomadic family with horses; they will be happy to offer you a horse ride to the monastery.

Navigating along the trek is easy. It starts at Darkhan, a large town with daily connection to Ulaanbaatar. The trek itself follows valleys. There are Ger's all along the trek, enabling you to use the Mongolian GPS (Ger Positioning System), just ask about the way to Amarbayasgalant Khiid (the monastery).

Trek Description
The trek starts from Darkhan and takes 3-4 days. Except for crossing the Orkhon river there are no technical challenges. The length of trek is 70Km; about half of the trek follows a gentle slope along the river; the second half of the trek descends towards the monastery.

Crossing the Orkhon river
The 2 crossing locations marked on the map are relatively shallow.
You can walk through. The water will reach your waist at the most.
There are horseback riders in the region; one can hitch ride across.After heavy rain in the Khangai mountains the river might be high; wait to see if locals or horseback riders are crossing.

[Hitching a ride across the river]

to Darkhan
There are daily buses, and minivans leaving from Dragon station. The cost is 6,000 Togrog.
Taxis are available at Teevriin Tovchoo next to Idre's Guest House . There are also daily trains going north that stop at Darkhan.

The ride from Ulaanbaatar directly to the monastery (350km) takes about 7 hours. Most of the way is on paved road, the last stretch of 35km is on dirt road.

Return trip (from the Monastery)
With patience you can hitch a ride on the 35 km dirt road to the paved road connecting Erdenet and Darkhan.
You can arrange in advance for a van from Darkhan to come and pick you up. You will have to pay the driver for both ways.

Contacts in Darkhan
Altai - Translator, guide, driver
Phone: 99396952

Tourist Ger Camps
There are tourist camps, one next to the monastery, and a larger one 17km south of the monastery. Cost is $35 a night including 3 meals.
Contact the monastery tourist camp manager at 99011818

Trek map
Zoom in by clicking the +

View Trek: Darkhan to Amarbayasgalant Khiid in a larger map

View topographic maps
Edited from Russian maps in scale of 1:100,000

Click on map to see full view (large files).

Download maps in a document -
4 pages ready for printing
on a home printer.

Map Index


Becky the Great said...

This may be a dumb question, since everything you've written that I've seen focuses on the festival at Amarbayasgalant, but I've read that Dashchoilon Monastery also celebrates this festival. Do you have any information on it?

To Mongolia said...

Hi Becky
This article is about Amarbayasgalant monastery.

You are right, similar ceremonies are performed at the Dashichoiling (Дашчойлин Хийд) monastery in Ulaanbaatar.
You may see a photo of a Tsam dance on the Dashcoilin website.

The ceremony dates change from year to year.


Pavel said...

Hi Dan!
Have we got an opportunity to observe the practice of Tsam dance ritual on 11th and 13th of Sept 2015 or only on the 12th of Sept as mentioned here
Thank you in advace.

Anonymous said...


The information I have is that the ceremony lasts 3 days 10,11,12 September 2015.
The facebook link you posted belongs to TTR Mongolia a tour operator.
If you are going independently, I suggest you take a tent with you. The few tourist gers will be packed.
Enjoy the festival.