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Closer to the Russian border than it is to Ulaanbaatar (the Mongolian capital), Darkhan crowns the dust-billowing steppe of the north with the stark outlines of USSR-built tenements and blocks. It has its origins in the industrial-military expansion of Russia in the 1960s. The powers that be envisaged the town as a manufacturing powerhouse of the east, drawing on the mineral and ground wealth of the surrounding plains.
Fortunes have been up and down for Darkhan, though. Booms and busts have come and gone, but it seems as though things are now clocking over nicely, as university students come to learn here, and travelers stop by in search of a taste of lived-in, authentic urban Mongolia.
However, the sights of most globetrotters aren’t focused on the city itself. They are much more likely to have the compass set for the wildernesses of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park that extends like a dog leg to the north-east. Darkhan tour guides can whisk you away to this grass blanket between rock-ribbed hoodoos and alpine mountains; there are traditional ger tents to sleep in, long-distance treks to complete, and even dog sledding when the snows fall.