In short it's 'Gandan'
I managed a flying visit to Gandantegchinlen Monastery this morning partly to try and get over the jet lag. In short, it's "Gandan", in case you're trying to explain the way to a taxi driver. This is a Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar, which was kept as token representation of religious tolerance during the communist era and then restored when normal life resumed in 1990. The main temple is lined 8 or 9 shelves high with the dolls in the blip - apparently these are images of "Ayush, the Buddha of Longevity" (I'm quoting 'Lonely Planet' here, no reason to doubt anything, but unfortunately cannot find other attribution). There is a sense of conspiracy about these dolls, like they're waiting for something; intrigued by this, I asked 3 younger Mongolian colleagues about the significance of the dolls but none of them had an answer. Instead, they told me that they, like most younger people in Mongolia, had no interest in religion.
I was determined to blip something in the temple so went back outside to find the money monk to pay the 7,000 Tughrik ($3) photo fee ("we don't have receipts") and then started my rushed tour by walking anti-clockwise to get away from the crowd. I had a monk appear quickly to point me clockwise, the correct way. I noticed people seemed to pick out and pray to particular dolls as they circled the golden statue of Avalokiteśvara standing in the middle of the temple and a highlight of the monastery. At the same time, every one spinning every one of dozens of bronze prayer wheels as he or she walked along. One needs time and a guide to really appreciate what one sees and senses here - I had neither. But will be back with both one day. On leaving I popped into one of the smaller temples to see the monks reciting their early morning chants (no photos allowed). One moment you're checking your email on your smart phone and the next one you're looking up at this ancient ritual.