Kharkhorin is located at the lower end of the upper valley of the Orkhon river, part of the World Heritage Site Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape and 320 km from Ulaanbaatar. Nearby are the ruins of the ancient town of Karakorum, which for a short time served as the capital of the Mongol Empire under Ogedei Khan in 13th century. Another landmark is the Erdene Zuu monastery.
The Erdene Zuu Monastery is probably the most ancient surviving Buddhist monastery. The Erdene Zuu monastery was built in 1585 by Abtai Sain Khan, upon the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia. Stones from the ruins of Karakorum were used in construction. It is surrounded by a wall featuring 108 stupas. The number 108, being a sacred number in Buddhism, and the number of beads in a Buddhist rosary, was probably envisioned, but never achieved. The monastery was damaged by warfare in the 1680s, but was rebuilt in the 18th century and by 1872 had a full 62 temples inside.
In 1939 during the communist period the monastery was ruined. Three small temples and the external wall with the stupas remained; the temples became museums in 1947. Erdene Zuu was allowed to exist as a museum only; the only functioning monastery in Mongolia was Gandantegchinlen Khiid Monastery in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. However, after the fall of Communism in Mongolia in 1990, the monastery was turned over to the lamas and Erdene Zuu again became a place of worship. Today Erdene Zuu remains an active Buddhist monastery as well as a museum that is open to tourists.