The Winter Palace was built between 1893 and 1903 for Mongolia’s eighth living Buddha and last king, the Bogd Khan. He lived there for 20 years.
Although the Summer Palace was destroyed, the Winter Palace was spared destruction by the Russians. Now it is a museum, and a good one at that.
Amongst the exhibits are a Ger lined with the skin of 150 leopards, a robe made out of 80 foxes, a pair of gold boots gifted by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, and a parasol gifted by the British and made entirely out of peacock feathers. A tour through the palace brings you into two rooms full of taxidermied animals. These were two of the most amazing rooms I have ever been in! The first was full of exotic birds in every colour of the rainbow – some of them were tiny and beautiful, others were massive and freaky-looking. Toucans and even penguins were amongst the animals brought to the Bogd Khan’s palace. At the back of the second room (filled mostly with reptiles) was an armadillo, a sloth, and, most incredibly, a tiger swinging a bloodied gazelle in its jaws. A pretty surreal place.
You weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum so I’ve nicked some off the Internet:
It’s fair to say that the Bogd Khan was keen on animals – he had a brown elephant calf walked through the Gobi desert for him to keep at the palace. He was particularly fond of this elephant, and there is a black and white photograph of it in the exhibition. Next to this photograph, in a glass cabinet, you can see the elephant’s red ceremonial hat which it wore on special occasions. My colleague told me that the elephant was cared for by the tallest man in the world at that time — so tall he could reportedly walk along next to the palace walls and pick up people walking on the other side without bending down.
A little further through the exhibition you can see the framed certificate of Mongolia’s Declaration of Independence from China (1911), and then the bedroom of the king and queen. The Bogd Khan and his wife slept separately, in beds surrounded by painted glass. However, the doors of these glass cubes were pointed towards each other, so that the king and queen would see each other when they woke up in the mornings. Also in the bedroom was the Bogd Khan’s musical chair, which I imagine he probably considered throwing out of the ornate window one or two times.
There are six temples in the palace grounds, and most of these are filled with golden bronze and copper bronze statues inlaid with coral and turquoise, as well as richly coloured tapestries and wood carvings. There is a whole room dedicated to paintings of the ‘White Tara’, many of which were painted in a single day.