Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mongolia | Fifth of the Nine-Nines | Tavisan Budaa Khöldökhgui

The Fifth of the Nine-Nines—nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather—begins today, January 27. This is Tavisan Budaa Khöldökhgui, the time when “Cooked Rice Cannot Be Frozen.” I must admit I really don’t understand the definition of this period. It seems to me that cooked rice would be frozen at any temperature below freezing, and we can certainly expect colder temperatures than that during the last week of January and beginning of February. Anyhow, the Fourth of the Nine-Nines was supposed to be coldest of the Nine-Nines, and indeed it has warmed up a little since nine days ago; at 8:30 am it was -23 ° F / -30 ° C. Tsagaan Sar begins in a week, however, and with the new moon we might well have a cold snap. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mongolia | World’s Fourth Coolest Country

Yes, Mongolia is the Fourth Coolest Country In The World, exceeded in the hipness factor only by Jamaica, Singapore (?!?) and Brazil, apparently the coolest place in the world (blame it on the Bossa Nova). 
My pal Enkha, celebrating her coolness on a mountaintop above Lake Khövsgöl
 Enkha: “Hey, I’m Cool!”
What is supposed to be not so cool about Mongolia: “Yak-based dairy products … at every meal,” is surely an exaggeration. Yak-based dairy products are found only in certain areas of Mongolia. Gov-Altai Aimag does boast of vodka made from the milk of yaks, however.
Yak Milk Vodka made in the Town of Biger, in Gov-Altai Aimag. Cool, if you like vodka. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Günjiin Süm | Temple of the Peaceful Princess

The 1657 danshig naadam held for Zanabazar at Erdene Zuu after his return from his second trip to Tibet marked the ascension of his influence among his Mongolian followers. As the Russian ethnographer A. Pozdneev points out, “The Gegen’s might in Eastern Khalkha reached its extreme limits at this time; they believed in him and came to him with the most extraordinary requests.” For instance, his nephew Galdandorj, son of the Tüsheet Khan, met with Zanabazar and implored him to cure his wife’s infertility and grant him a son. After numerous such entreaties Zanabazar finally said: 
I know that thou wouldst need a son; therefore when I set out in a miraculous manner for Tibet, I visited there the mountain of the hermits, and in a certain cave I found a lama named Arthasiddha, a reincarnation of Vajrapani. I told him that there was one prince among us who needed a son, and asked him for that; he replied to me that when he had completed his meditation he would be ready to be reborn as the son of that prince. In proof of his fairness, I demanded that he give me an acknowledgement, and I now present it to thee. This lama died today, and his soul ought to be incarnated in the womb of thy wife. 
Galdandorj’s wife did shortly thereafter become pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son who was given the name Dondovdorj. 

After Zanabazar recognized Manchu suzerainty in 1691 the Qing emperor awarded Galdandorj the title of Darkhan Chinwang (Chinese = qinwang, prince of the 1st rank). His son Dondovdorj was brought up in Beijing, in the Qing court of Kangxi, and in 1697 the emperor gave him a princess to marry. Most sources state that the princess, named Khichenguy Amarlinguy, was one of Kangxi’s own daughters, while some maintain she was the daughter of one of the first degree Qing princes. In either case, his marriage led to Dondovdorj’s further advancement in the Qing court, and in 1700, after his father’s death, he too was awarded the title of Darkhan Chinwang, in addition to becoming the new Tüsheet Khan. Dondovdorj was, however, a notorious boozer, a devil-may-care lady’s man, an all-around roisterer, and a poet to boot, and after gregarious affronts to public decorum he was finally forced to relinquish both his position as Tüsheet Khan and his Qing title of Darkhan Chinwang. 

Reduced in rank to a second-degree prince, Dondovdorj returned to Mongolia, presumably with his Manchu wife. He eventually distinguished himself on the battlefield and apparently fought against the resurgent Zungarian Mongols who under the leadership of Galdan Bolshigt’s nephew Tsevan Ravdan had Invaded Tibet in 1716. 

The Qing emperor Kangxi died in 1722. Zanabazar was in Mongolia at the time of Kangxi’s death. He immediately decided to return to Beijing and pay his respects to Kangxi’s remains, even though he was in his late eighties at the time. Accompanying him was Dondovdorj. The new Qing emperor, Kangxi’s son Yongzheng, forgave Dondovdorj’s previous transgressions and he was again elevated to the title of Darkhan Chinwang. As an additional perk he was given yet another Manchu princess in marriage. 

Not long after his arrival in Beijing Zanabazar fell ill. Sensing that his end might be nearing, his attendants asked him where and under what circumstances he would be reborn. According to tradition, Zanabazar replied, “The second wang [Dondovdorj] should bring into his home a maiden belonging according to birth to the year of the monkey or chicken.” This was interpreted to mean that Dondovdorj was to find a Mongolian girl born in either the year of the monkey or the chicken and that the second Bogd Gegeen would be born to her. Apprised of this prophesy, the emperor Yongzheng gave Dondovdorj permission to immediately return home and seek a new wife. Back in Mongolia Dondovdorj straight away found a nineteen-year old woman named Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu who had been born in the year of the monkey, and just a month or so after his marriage to his second Manchu princess he took her as his third wife. 

Zanabazar himself died in 1723 at the Yellow Temple in Beijing. In 1724, “at daybreak on the first day of the middle of the spring moon in the Wood Dragon year,” a son was born to Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu. In 1728 the boy took his first monastic vows and was given the name Luvsandanbidonme. In 1729 he was declared the Second Bogd Gegeen, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba. 

Dondovdorj’s second Manchu wife faded into the background and nothing more seems to be known of her. To this day, however, numerous folktales exist about the first one, Khichenguy Amarlinguy, who moved to Mongolia to live with her husband and eventually had seven sons by him. “The Peaceful Princess,” as she was called, came to love her adopted country and its people. She considered herself a Mongolian and according to legend she said that when she died she wished to be buried in Mongolia: “It is unnecessary to take my corpse back to China for burial. I became a Mongol person because of being the wife of a Mongol. It is thus necessary to bury me in Mongolia.” 

Yongzheng’s successor, Qianlong, apparently heard about the princess’s wish and after she died in 1739 or 1740 he ordered that a temple be built to hold her remains. Günjiin Süm, as the temple was called, consisted of five parts: a stele tower, the Bogd Entrance, a guard house, the central temple, and the grave of the princess. The complex was heavily damaged in the 1930s, however, and of the guardhouse and the Bogd Entrance now only remnants remain. The stele tower just in front of the entrance to the temple compound has been restored, however, and inside is a stone turtle with a stele mounted on its back bearing an inscription in Chinese and Manchurian, dedicating the temple to “The Peaceful Princess” (in some renderings the “The Quiet Princess”). 
The Temple
The temple itself was gutted but the shell remains and has been restored to a certain extent. The eight-foot-high brick wall around the temple encompassing a square about 200 feet long on each side is still in fairly good shape on three sides. 
North side of the walled compound
The princess’s grave, behind the temple, was reportedly looted in the early thirties not, according to local informants, by communist iconoclasts, but by common thieves looking for gold, silver, and other valuables believed to have been buried with her. 
The Peaceful Princess’s Looted Tomb
Researchers examining the site in 1949 found remains of the princess’s sandalwood coffin and what were apparently the ashes of her body, which had been burned by the looters. Next to the coffin was a body of a heavy-set man preserved sitting upright in the lotus position. His identity is unknown. The ashes of the princess have since been scattered to the four winds.

Location: N48°11.009 – E107°33.379, 35.6 miles northeast of Ulaan Baatar as the crow flies and sixty-four miles by road via the tourist center of Terelj; at the upper end of Khökh Chuluutyn Gol, a small tributary of the Dund Bayangiin Gol, which flows into the Tuul River near Terelj. Accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle, as several small streams north of Terelj must be crossed. In summer it might be necessary to walk the last mile or so because of the swampy road, but in winter, when the ground is frozen, it is possible to drive the whole way, assuming there is not too much snow.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mongolia | Fourth Nine Nine | Dönön Ükhiin Ever Khöldöne | Montblanc Pens

The Fourth of the Nine-Nines, known as Dönön Ükhiin Ever Khöldöne—Time When Four Year-Old Cows’ Horns Freeze—begins today, January 18. This is supposed to be the coldest of the Nine-Nines, nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather. It was chilly 36 below 0 F. (-38 Cº) at 8:30 am, which is about normal for This Time Of The Year.

Yet another story about luxury goods in Mongolia. The media seems obsessed with this subject. This time it is Montblanc Pens. There is even a religious angle:
In the past, Mongolian families used to hand down highly decorated snuff boxes from father to son. Now this is being replaced by Montblanc pens and watches, Mr Enkhbazar said. “Traditionally when people have a pen, it shows they are highly educated and they are really proud to have these pens,” he added. Pens sell better than watches, partly because the Dalai Lama also uses a Montblanc pen. Most Mongolians are Buddhists, so they want to follow their spiritual leader’s choice of writing instrument.
Of course there is no doubt about the Dalai Lama’s choice of computer:
One More Enlightened Mac User

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mongolia | Third of the Nine Nines | Gurvan Ükhrii Ever Khöldönö

The Third of The Nine-Nines begins on January 9. Gurvan Ükhrii Ever Khöldönö is the nine-day period of Winter when the horns of three year-old cows freeze. This period is supposed to be colder than the First of the Nine Nines and the Second of the Nine Nines. So far this has not been the case. At 8:00 this morning it was 24 below 0º F and 9 below 0º F at noon, warmer than nine days ago, and relatively mild for this time of the year.

Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian Lunar New Year, is coming up on February 3. We can expect some colder weather before then. The coming year is, of course, the Year of the Iron Rabbit