Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Eej Khairkhan Uul

Eej Khairkhan Uul (Mother Dearest Mountain)
Eej Khairkhan Uul (Mountain), one of the most revered sites in Gov-Altai Aimag, is steeped in legend. It seems that once, a long time ago, Eej Khairkhan was married to Aj Bogd Mountain far off to the southwest. But Aj Bogd was old, his head was topped with white year round, and his wife was not happy. Far off to the northeast she could see Burkhan Buudai Mountain. Burkhan Buudai was so handsome, standing tall and proud against the turquoise sky. Aj Bogd’s wife could not take her eyes off of him. With each passing day she liked Aj Bogd less and felt more and more desire for Burkhan Buudai. Finally she decided she must flee to Burkhan Buudai. But Aj Bogd became suspicious of his wife. Every night after she went to sleep he would hide her deel so she would have nothing to wear if she decided to run away. One night his wife woke and decided the time had come to run off to her heart’s desire. But she could not find her deel. In her haste she put on Aj Bogd’s deel and then ran off to Burkhan Buudai. Her husband woke up and saw her fleeing across the desert. In his anger he grabbed a big handful of sand and threw it at her. His deel was much too large for his wife and the hem was dragging on the ground behind her. The sand landed on the tail of the deel and held her down. She could not move. She has remained to this day in her present location halfway between Aj Bogd Uul and Burkhan Buudai Uul. The sand which fell on the tail of her deel can still be seen as the big dunes to the southwest of the mountain. But fate was not entirely unkind. Her past was forgotten and she was no longer remembered as an unfaithful wife. Her twin peaks, resembling breasts, standing alone in the desert brought comfort to countless lonely caravan men who could see her from far off and eventually she became known as Eej Khairkhan Uul (Mother Dearest Mountain).
Another View of Eej Khairkhan Uul
Another View of Eej Khairkhan Uul
Eej Khairkhan Uul is ninety-nine miles as the crow flies south of the Gov-Altai Aimag capital of Altai and 24.6 miles west of the sum center of Bayan Tooroi, an oasis town which is the headquarters of the vast Gobi A Protected Area. The unpaved road from Altai—at 7153 feet, the highest aimag capital in Mongolia—to Eej Khairkan and Bayan Tooroi first passes through the Shar Shorootyn Mountains Via 9099-foot Dötiin Pass, then drops down into the Biger Depression and the Town of Biger at 4300 feet (famous for its vegetables, especially enormous potatoes, and vodka made from yak milk). From Biger the road climbs some 5200 feet, crosses the main spine of the Gov-Altai Range via 9428-foot Öliin Davaa, and then passes through the town of Tsogt before dropping down to the desert floor of the Gobi. The twin peaks of Eej Khairkhan Uul are clearly visible standing alone to the south. A parking lot and informal campgrounds are located near the base of the mountain (N44º56.066' – E096º15.125', 4256 feet elevation). There is no water near the mountain. The most convenient place to get water is Bayan Tooroi.

The flanks of the mountain are covered with unusual rock formations, many of which have legends attached to them. Some of the rock formations appear to have been carved by water, leading some to speculate that the flanks of the mountains were lapped by the waters of the vast seas which once covered what is now the the Gobi Desert.
 Water-carved flanks of Eej Khairkhan Uul
 Water-carved flanks of Eej Khairkhan Uul
The sides of the mountain are strewn with rocks assuming fanciful shapes, most of which have legends attached to them.
 This is the famous Sea Gull Rock
 In the background is the Sea Gull Rock. In the foreground is the Hungry Mouth Rock. The Uvela at the back of the mouth can be clearly seen. 
This is the Babies’s Footprints Rock. The rock is covered with what looks like the footprints of babies. Women who want to get pregnant often come here to make a milk offering and pray for children. 
This rock is shaped like the silver ingots which used to be used in Mongolia for money. Thus people make khadag (prayer scarves) offerings here if they want to get rich.
Another view of the Silver Ingot Stone
 
The Dinosaur’s Head Rock 
The most famous rock formations are the so-called Nine Pots, a series of nine cascading pools which are filled with rain water (locals do not advise drinking this water, although it could be boiled and drunk in an emergency). The bottom-most pool is a third of a mile from the parking lot at N44º55.941' – E096º14.816'.
Three of the Nine Pots
The bottom two Pots
The Bottom Pot. Said to be eighteen feet deep. At least two people have drowned in this pot in the last several years. Alcohol was a factor in both incidences. 
The Bottom Pot
One of the upper Pots
The Bottom Pot
The Bottom Pot
The Bottom Pot
Further up the valley, at N44º55.647' – E096º14.458', three-quarters of a mile from the parking lot, is the hermitage of a monk known as Ravdan. A Torgut Mongol, Ravdan was a disciple of Dambijantsan, the Notorious Ja Lama. After Dambijantsan was assassinated in 1923 at his Fortress At Gongpochuan, in current day Gansu Province, China, Ravdan came here to Eej Khairkhan Uul and made a shelter for himself by building a wall over the entrance of a natural cave. He kept one white horse and one white camel and soon became known as the “Lama with One White Horse and One White Camel,” perhaps an echo of Dambijantsan’s nickname of the “Two White Camels Lama.” Ravdan lived alone at the hermitage he built but there was a woman named Munidari who lived nearby and brought him food every day. Some locals now say the two got married; others say not. Ravdan soon became known far and wide for his spiritual qualities and many people came to him for his blessing and advice.
Ravdan’s Hermitage
Ravdan’s Hermitage
A pilgrim at Ravdan’s Hermitage
The interior of Ravdan’s Hermitage
An eight-two year old man named Sodnompil who currently lives in the Village of Tsogt near Eej Khairkan says his father once gave Ravdan a horse. Every day Lama Ravdan would take this horse and water it at a small rivulet known as Tsoojiin (“Lock”) Gol, on the south side of the mountain (this rivulet is now reportedly dry). He also says Lama Ravdan was well-known for producing rain. He says there was a herdsman on the west side of Eej Khairkhan Uul who also farmed some small fields. There was a drought one summer and his crops were dying. Lama Ravdan came and offered to make it rain. He sat down and began various meditations. Although there was a perfectly clear sky a dark cloud soon appeared from beyond Eej Khairkhan Uul and then drifted above the farmer’s fields. Soon it rained and then the cloud disappeared. Lama Ravdan fame, Sodnompil claimed, spread even farther after this incident.

Ravdan died in 1928. Munidari went on living by herself for many years. Ravdan’s hermitage is now a much revered pilgrimage site, visited by people from all over Mongolia who come to pay their respects to the Lama with One White Horse and One White Camel.

Not far from Ravdan’s Hermitage is the famous Penis Stone. Young women often come here to pray that they will find a good husband.
 Pilgrim awed by the Penis Stone
 Pilgrim worshipping the Penis Stone
 Pilgrim worshipping the Penis Stone
Pilgrim exuberant after a visit to the Penis Stone

11 comments:

  1. Hi Don:

    A lovely post - one I can relate to a bit more than the ever advancing hordes. I especially like the legend of the unfaithful wife and the pilgrim and penis stone series of photos.

    Thanks for an enlightening - boots on the ground - view.

    Laura

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  2. I have been to Eej Khairkhan three times. It is one of my favorite places in Mongolia. Indeed, southern Gov-Altai Aimag is one of my favorite areas of Mongolia. Wonderful Camel Country!

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  3. Fascinating stories, as always, but you know, I can't help but want to travel to see that magnificent stone of love and the surrounding rock formations.

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  4. A tourist agency here in Ulaan Baatar may soon be organizing a tour of Eej Khaikhan for lovelorn ladies. I will let you know when this happens.

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  5. Personally, I want to take a dip in the pools. Do people do that?

    -A mes

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  6. The pools look a little stagnant on close inspection. Then again, they may hold the door to the underworld.

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  7. I have never heard of people swimming in the pools. Around these sacred mountains there are often a lot of unwritten rules; I do not know if there is an actual prohibition against this or not. As I mentioned, people have fallen in and drowned. Very few of the local people in the Gobi know how to swim. When they fell in they probably panicked and were unable to get out. The sides of most of the pots are quite steep.

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  8. It is true that the water does not look real appealing. It gets flushed out only after heavy rains, which are not that common in the Gobi. There are rumors that entranceways to the underground Kingdom of Agharti are found around Eej Khairkhan. By the way, the current incarnation of the “Hutuktu of Narabanchi” mentioned in the linked article is Telo Tulku Rinpoche, with whom I recently visited Mandshir Khiid. It is also rumored that there is an entrance to Agharti near Mandshir Khiid.

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  9. I am fearless! If the water's scary, give me scuba gear, and I'm going in (see you guys later)! It'd be interesting to see what it looks like below the surface and if there are creatures that live in those pools.

    -A mes

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  10. When I look up "pots in the Gobi" I get this article:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28034925/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/worlds-oldest-marijuana-stash-totally-busted/

    -A mes

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  11. You are welcome to try scuba diving in the Pots. The entranceways to Agharti might well be underwater. You would probably be the first scuba diver ever in Gov-Altai Aimag. And there might be some Yuezhi Potheads in the area.

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