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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Silk Road | Cook Books and Recipes

Just beefed up the Silk Road Section of my Scriptorium with two new cooking titles: the first is Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey.
I am an omnivore but I do like vegetarian food and this coffee table-type book has some great recipes to say nothing of nice photos and interesting essays on various aspects of the Silk Road. 


I have read through both books and will have updates on the various recipes soon. In the meantime here is a Good Kebab Recipe from Sasha Martin at Global Table Adventure.
Mouth-wateringly delectable Kebabs 
Sasha Martin
Although I have had it in the Scriptorium for quite a while, perhaps now is the proper time to mention A Baghdad Cookery Book

This book is not only of culinary but also of historical interest, since it dates to the thirteenth century, presumably before the arrival of Khülügu Khan in Baghdad in 1258. Arabist A. J. Arberry first translated the text in 1939; the current translation is by culinary historian Charles Perry. Provides some interesting insights into what was tickling the palates of Mesopotamians during the Caliphate. For more on this you might also want to see Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | The Fall of Bukhara

Chingis and his army arrived at Bukhara in February or March of 1220 and camped before the gates of the citadel. The number of defenders inside the city is disputed: Juzjani says there were 12,000 calvary; Juvaini says 20,000 “auxiliary“ troops from the Khwarezmshah’ army; and Nasawi claims 30,000. Among those leading the forces holed up in the city were Ikhtiyar al-Din Kushlu, the Grand Equerry of the Sultan; Hamid Pur, a Khara Khitai taken prisoner by the Sultan in 1210 who later joined his army; a commander by the name of Inānch Khan, and a certain Khökh Khan (Blue Khan), also known as Gürkhan (not, of course the Gürkhan of the Khara-Khitai, who had died in 1214). This Khökh Khan was a Mongol who had earlier deserted to the cause of the Khwarezmshah and achieved a position of some prominence in Bukharan society. Later historians would float the wild rumor that this Khôkh Khan, or Gür Khan, was none other than Jamukha, Chingis’s bosom buddy as a young man (they had slept together under the same blanket for two years, according to the Secret History) and later his arch-nemesis, who had somehow escaped from Mongolia only to pop up again here in Bukhara as the perennial thorn in Chingis’s side. Jamukha did hold the title of Gürkhan (“Universal Ruler) and this may have led some to confuse him with this Mongol deserter who had assumed the same moniker. As the Secret History make perfectly clear, however, Jamukha had been executed by Chingis’s order back in 1205. Whoever Khökh Khan was, he was not Jamukha. 

Surrounded by an army “more numerous than ants or locusts,” it did not take long for these commanders to conclude that they did not want to stay and defend what now appeared to be a doomed city. Three days after the arrival of the Mongols they led their troops (20,000, according to Juvaini) out of the city gates. Juvaini adds that numerous inhabitants of the city decided to take their chances with the bolting soldiers. They finally managed to battle their way through the Mongol cordon and flee south. These escapees from the city hoped to reach the Amu Darya River and cross over to the supposed safety of Khorasan, where the Khwarezmshah was thought to be gathering an army to finally confront the invaders. Mongol detachments sent in pursuit harried them all the way to the Amu Darya. Almost all of the absconders were hounded down and massacred. Hamid Pür was caught and killed before he reached the river. Only a handful of men led by the Inānch Khan managed to cross the river and escape. Thus was the ignominious end of the men the Khwarezmshah had tasked with the defense of Bukhara. 

Khökh Khan and 400 die-hard troops who had refused to abandon the city remained holed up in the Citadel, but the remaining inhabitants of the Bukhara had no choice but to forfeit the rest of their their city. A judge by the name of Badr a-Din led a delegation sent to negotiate the surrender. On the 10th, or the 16th, of February, depending on whose account we believe, Chingis Khan made a triumphal entry into the hitherto noble city of Bukhara. He and his son Tolui rode their horses into the big Friday Mosque, where Tolui dismounted and ascended the minbar, or pulpit. According to Juvaini Chingis then asked if this was the palace of the Khwarezmshah; he was informed the imams in attendance that it was the House of God. He too then dismounted and climbed up onto the pulpit. Although it may have been the House of God, he had more earthly concerns. The Mongols’ horses were hungry and must be fed, he ordered. The city’s granaries were opened and the grain dispensed for horse feed. Chingis’s men dragged the cases which were used to store Qurans out of the mosque, dumped out the sacred books, and used them as feeding troughs for their horses. Their horses having been seen to, they ordered up wine and dancing girls for their own entertainment. Soon the mosque rang with the sound of Mongol songs bellowed by the celebrating inebriates. 

Juvaini, although a scribe in pay of one of Chingis’s descendants, was a Sunni Muslim himself, and he could not keep a note of disapproval out his account of these carryings-on. Hitherto dignified imams, sheiks, and sayyids, he tells us, were made to look after the Mongol horses while their owners partied. When the bacchanalia was over the Mongols rode away, trampling under the feet of their horses the leaves of the Qurans which had been scattered around the courtyard of the mosque. At this point, an imam named Jalal-al-Din Ali b. al-Hasan Zaidi, “chief and leader of the sayyids of Transoxiania . . . famous for his piety and asceticism,” turned to an imam named Rukn-ad-Din Imamzada, “one of the most excellent savants in the the world,” and lamented, “ . . . what state is this? That which I see do I see it in wakefulness or in sleep, O Lord?” Apparently all of which he had just seen seemed like a nightmare to him. His companion replied, “Be silent: it is the wind of God’s omnipotence that bloweth, and we have no power to speak.” The wind was not about to abate, and for many in Khwarezmia the nightmare was just beginning.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | March to Bukhara

While the Siege of Otrār was in progress Chingis Khan and his youngest son Tolui led the main Mongol army southwest to Bukhara. No mention is made in any of the sources about crossing the Syr Darya, usually an intimidating operation, which leads Barthold to opine that the river was frozen over by the time the Mongol army reached it and that they crossed over on the ice. This could have occurred no earlier than late November or early December. The first major town the Mongols encountered south of the Syr Darya was Zarnuq. “When the king of planets raised his banner on the eastern horizon [at sunrise, to the more prosaic-minded],” Chingis and his army appeared before the city walls, according to Juvaini. The inhabitants retired into the Citadel, closed the gates, and at first were determined to resist the Mongol attack. A man named Danishmand (danishman means “consultant”), either a commander of one of the Turkish auxiliary units or a Khwarezmian trader who had attached himself Chingis’s army, was sent into the city to talk some sense into the local panjandrums. After they threatened him with bodily harm, he shouted at them: 
I am . . . a Moslem and a son of a Moslem. Seeking God’s pleasure I am come on an embassy to you, at the inflexible command of Chingiz-Khan, to draw you out of the whirlpool of of destruction and the trough of blood . . . If you are incited to resist in any way, in an hour’s time your citadel will be level ground and the plain a sea of blood. But if you listen to advice and exhortation with the ear of intelligence and consideration and become submissive and obedient to his command, your lives and property will remain in the stronghold of security. 
After this verbal blast the local dignitaries thought it wise to surrender. But they insisted that Danishmand be held hostage while they went out to negotiate terms with Chingis. If any of them were harmed it would mean Danishmand’s head. First they sent forth a delegation with gifts for the Mongol potentate. Chingis did not appreciate this gesture. He dispatched a message to the city fathers telling them to quit wasting time and to appear in person before him immediately. Receiving this summons “a tremor of horror appeared on the limbs of these people” and they presented themselves to Chingis forthwith. Without further ado he accepted their surrender and then ordered all the inhabitants to vacate the city. During a headcount young men were singled out and drafted as levies for siege work in the anticipated attack against Bukhara. Then while the people of Zarnuq were encamped on the the plains outside the city the citadel was leveled. Juvaini does not specifically say the abandoned city was looted, but presumably it was. Still, the inhabitants had escaped with their lives and whatever personal possessions they had managed to keep out the hand of the Mongols. After the invaders left they were free to return to what remained of their city. The relatively benign fate of Zarnuq led Chingis’s soldiers, perhaps Turkish auxiliaries, since the words are Turkish, to nickname the town Qutlugh-Baligh (“Fortunate” or “Blessed” Town). 

To reach Nur, the next big town before Bukhara, the Mongol army had to cross a fearsome stretch of the waterless Kyzyl Kum Desert. Normally this would have been a daunting if not impossible march for a large army, but a Turkmen caravan man in Zarnuq, apparently with a grudge of his own against the Khwarezmshah or in return for coin of the realm, showed Chingis a secret road from Zarnuq to Nūr, greatly facilitating the Mongol advance. Henceforth this route became known as the Khan’s Road (Juvaini tells us that he himself traveled this road years later, in 1251.) Again the belief of the Khwarezmshah’s advisors that his army would have an advantage over the Mongols because of their knowledge of local roads and terrain proved false. At least some elements of the local populace were proving to be more than willing to assist the invading Mongols. 

A Mongol commander by the name of Dayir led the Mongol vanguard to Nur. On the outskirts of town they stopped in some groves of fruit trees—now barren, as it was January—and camped. That night they cut down trees and used the wood to fashion scaling ladders. The next morning they rode up the city walls holding the scaling ladders in front of them The sudden appearance of this Mongol vanguard via a route thought to be known only to merchants caused the watchmen on the walls to mistake it at first for a trading caravan. As the horsemen got closer the watchmen saw the ladders and realized that that the mounted men were invaders. The city gates were thrown shut and the city fathers commenced debating among themselves what course of action to take. After much argument it was decided that they had no choice but to throw in the towel. An envoy was sent to Chingis Khan, who was still advancing across the desert with the bulk of his army. Accepting the city’s surrender, he ordering the city fathers to submit to his general Sübetei, who had already arrived at Nur in the wake of the vanguard. Sübetei herded the inhabitants out of town, allowing them to take along only “what was necessary for their livelihood and the pursuit of husbandry and agriculture, such as sheep and cows . . .” He further ordered that “they should go out on to the plain leaving their houses exactly as they were so that they might be looted by the army.” In return for this acquiescence the Mongols agreed not to inflict bodily harm on anyone. 

When Chingis Khan finally arrived in town he ordered the city’s inhabitants to cough up 1500 dinars, the same amount they paid in taxes to the Khwarezmshah each year. Half of this sum, we are told, was paid in women’s earrings. The fact that the locals still had dinars to pay, and women earrings to hand over, would seem to indicate that individuals had not been robbed of the possessions on their persons, even though the town itself had been sacked and looted. As usual, young men were dragooned as levies, although according to Juvaini only sixty were taken. 

Compared with the devastation the Mongols would later inflict on cities which resisted them, Nur, like Zarnuq, got off rather lightly, even if the women did lament the loss of their earrings. Both cities were essentially sideshows. By February of 1220 Chingis and his army were on the outskirts of Bukhara, and the main event was about to begin.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mesopotamia | Loveland

Read the Mesopotamian’s Love Letter To An Old Flame.
 The Mesopotamian

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Otrār Besieged

From their rallying point in the Seven River Region the armies of Chingis Khan descended upon the city of Otrār. As noted, Nasawi wrote that the Khwarezmshah sent 20,000 horsemen to defend the city. Juvaini on the other hand claimed that the Khwarezmshah sent a commander named Qaracha Khass-Hajib to Otrār with 10,000 men and had also sent 50,000 troops from his auxiliary armies. In any case. it appeared at first glance that the city was well-defended. The Gāyer Khan had strengthened and reenforced the walls of the the Rabad (outer city, the Shahristan (walled inner city), and the Ark, or citadel, and had laid in a vast store of weapons. Despite all this when he climbed the city wall to view the arrival of the Mongol army, he “bit the back of his hand in amazement” at the “tossing sea of countless hosts and splendid troops” arrayed before him, according to Juvaini. The entire multitude may have numbered 150,000 men. 

The siege of Otrār probably begin in September of 1219. Chingis realized early on that his entire army was not needed to take Otrār, and he may have not wanted to give the other cities of Transoxiania more time to prepare their defenses. After the city was surrounded and no escape possible for its defenders he decided to split up his army. Several tümen, including a tümen of Uighur auxiliaries (a division numbering 10,000 each) of troops), under the command of his two middle sons Chagatai and Ögedei were ordered to stay and continue the siege of Otrār. His oldest son Jochi and several tümen were dispatched down the Syr Darya toward Jand and other cities. Half a tümen proceeded up the valley of the Syr Darya to Khojend and Fanakat. Chingis himself and his youngest and perhaps favorite son Tolui would lead the main body of the army to Bukhara, the city which rivaled Samarkand as the most important in Transoxiana. 

There were soon signs of rifts among the city’s leadership. After the Khwarezmshah had seized control of Otrār in 1210 city or early 2011 he had executed the father, uncle, and various other relatives of a prominent local official named named Badr al-Din al-Amid. Despite the transgressions of his family members Badr al-Din al-Amid had remained on as the civil governor of the city. He nursed a grudge against the Khwarezmshah, however, and he was only too eager to avenge the murder of his relatives by siding with the Mongols who now appeared at the city’s walls. He may have also realized he was buying his way out of a doomed city. Intimately familiar with the political situation in Transoxiania, he was able to give Chingis detailed intelligence about the fault lines in the Sultan’s court, including dirt about the feud between the Sultan and his mother and the military party she headed. Chingis would later put this information to good use. Also, it will be remembered that one of the proposals given by the Khwarezmshah’s military council had been to allow Chingis into Transoxiana and then use the defenders’ supposedly superior knowledge of the the local countryside to corner and ambush his troops. This advantage quickly evaporated as Chingis received intimate knowledge about the roads and conditions in the countryside from Badr al-Din al-Amid and other Muslim collaborators. As Barthold points out, “The strategic plans of Chingiz-Khan and their brilliant execution prove that the geographical conditions were well known to him.” 

For four months the battle raged before the walls of Otrār. As it become increasingly obvious the city would never escape from the noose the Mongols had thrown around it the military commander Qaracha Khass-Hajib advised surrender. Gāyer Khan refused, knowing full well that given his role in The Plundering Of The Mongol Trading Caravan and the execution of Chingis’s emissary he could expect no quarter from the Mongols. To surrender was to die. Instead he argued: “‘If we are unfaithful to our master [the Sultan], how shall we excuse our treachery, and under what pretext shall we escape from the reproaches of Moslems?” 

Juvaini’s account of what happened next is muddled. Apparently one night Qaracha Khass-Hajib opened the Sufi-Khana Gate to the city and sent some of his forces outside the walls to do battle with the Mongols. That night the Mongols somehow entered by the same gate and managed to take Qaracha Khass-Hajib prisoner. Apparently now that he was in the hands of the Mongols he and some of his officers attempted to switch allegiance and throw in their lot with the besiegers. Unfortunately for Qaracha Khass-Hajib, the Mongols took a dim view of such expedient, self-serving behavior on the battlefield. “Thou has been unfaithful to your own master in spite of his claims on thee on account of past favors. Therefore neither can we expect fidelity of thee.” Qaracha Khass-Hajib and his companions were then introduced to the Destroyer of Delights. There is no mention by Juvaini if they were tortured before their executions or how they died. He says only that he and his companions managed to “attain to a degree of martyrdom.” 

Both the outer and inner sections of the city were overrun by the Mongols. The entire populace was herded outside the walls ”like a flock of sheep” and the now-empty city looted by the victorious Mongols and their auxiliaries. If Gāyer Khan had harbored any remaining doubts about fighting on against the Mongols the fate of Qaracha Khass-Hajib must have squelched them. He and 20,000 of his men retreated behind the walls of the Ark (citadel) and prepared to fight “as long as one of them had breath in his body.” They did not go down easily. “They set their hearts upon death and having bid themselves farewell sallied forth fifty at a time and spitted their bodies upon spears and swords.” They got their wish for martyrdom but not before inflicting serious damage. Even Juvaini admits that “many from the Mongol army were slain.” 

After a month of vicious fighting only Gāyer Khan, two of his bodyguards, and members of his harem remained alive. They took final refuge on the roof of the Citadel. The Mongols had strict order to take Gāyer Khan alive. They killed his bodyguards and Gāyer Khan finally shot the last of his arrows. His women then handed him bricks which he hurled down on his tormenters. Finally even these were exhausted. In light of his eventual fate he would have been well advised to commit suicide by jumping off the top of the Citadel. Instead, he allowed himself to be captured and bound in heavy chains. Eventually he was taken to Samarkand for his inevitable meeting with the Destroyer of Delights, the details of which will be related later. The Citadel was demolished and the walls of the city completely razed. Many of the common people of the city were rounded up and made to serve as levies in upcoming battles. Artisans among the populace were ordered to practice their crafts for the benefit of their new Mongol overlords. Thus the deaths of the 450 merchants in the Mongol trade caravan and the execution of Chingis Khan’s emissary to Gāyer Khan were avenged. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | The Khwarezmshah Prepares for War

Even before the arrival of the last Mongolian embassy led by Ibn Kafaraj Bughra the Khwarezmshah had sought the advice of his military and political advisors about what to do in the case of war with Chingis. Thus he himself had probably concluded that the massacre of the merchants in Otrār had made war inevitable. One of his military advisers, Shihab ad-Din Khiwaqi, counseled that the Khwarezmshah should concentrate his entire army on the banks of Syr Darya and confront the Mongol army in one huge battle before the Mongols had time to recover from their long march. The downside of this idea was the all of the Khwarezmshah’s generals, many of whom belonged to the Turkmen aristocracy loyal to his mother, would be gathered together in one place along with all of their soldiers. Their loyalty to the Sultan himself was by no means certain, and there was a very real possibility of a coup d’état by generals who would overthrow their command-in-chief. This proposal was dismissed. 

Another proposal was to allow the Mongols to enter Transoxiania uncontested and then, taking advantage of the defenders’ knowledge of the local countryside, ambush the invaders on numerous fronts. Still others advised abandoning Transoxiania to its fate and retreating south to Khorasan. The Khwarezmshah’s armies would then have to defend only the fords on the Amu Darya to keep the Mongols bottled up in Transoxiania north of the river. Others, the most pusillanimous of his counselors, argued that both Transoxiana and Khorasan were indefensible and that the Sultan and his armies should cross the Hindu Kush Mountains and seek refuge in India. 

Having rejected the first option of confronting the Mongols with one massive army, the Khwarezmshah decided instead to place garrisons of troops in most of the major towns of Transoxiana. According to Nasawi, twenty thousand horseman were sent to Otrār, where it might be expected that Chinggis Khan would strike first; 10,000 horsemen were stationed in the city of Shahrkent, 30,000 in Bukhara; 40,000 in Sarmarkand, and smaller detachments in other important cities. 

Since the last revolts had been put down in 1212 Samarkand had been the de-facto capital of Khwarezm and according to Juvaini it was the greatest city “in the Sultan’s empire . . . the most pleasant of his lands in fertility and soil and, by common consent, the most delectable of the paradises of this world among the four Edens.” Nasawi added that by defending Sarmarkand, the Khwarezmshah “would close before the enemy the path to other parts of his kingdom.” Thus he at first appeared determined to defend Samarkand at all costs. First he ordered the construction of a huge wall measuring twelve farsakhs (thirty-six miles) in circumference encompassing both the center of the city and its environs. In order to pay for this grandiose edifice he ordered his tax collectors to demand from the entire populace triple the amount of taxes for the entire year. 

Oddly enough, Juvaini makes no mention of this planned twelve-farsakhs-long outer wall and says only that the walls of the Citadel within the city “were raised to the Pleaides” and a moat was dug around this inner fortress. He claims that while the Khwarezmshah was overseeing the excavation of the moat he gloomily remarked that the Mongols would only have to throw in their whip handles to fill up the moat and ride over it. This supposedly demoralized the bystanders who overheard the remark. Barthold suggests the Juvaini make up this incident, since the Shah would surely not wanted to present such a depressing picture to the residents of the city. Then again, perhaps the Sultan was by this point already demoralized and may have not been able to resist spouting out the truth. 

Even if the remark was apocryphal it would appear that he had gotten cold feet, since at this crucial juncture he himself decided to repair across the Amu Darya to the city of Balkh in Khorasan (now in Afghanistan). He claimed that he went to rally those of his troops who were stationed in Khorasan but to many in the cities of Transoxiania it must have seemed that their Sultan had abandoned them. Juvaini remarks that, 
When the Sultan withdrew from the conflict, the control of firmness having slipped from his hands and the attraction of constancy having been replaced by flight; while perplexity and doubt had taken abode in his nature; he deputized the protection of most of his lands and territories to his generals and allies.
In his absent the twelve-farsakhs-long outer wall around Samarkand was never built, and there no record of what happened to the money that had been collected for its construction. 

Armchair generals would have field day judging the Khwarezmshah’s response to the Mongol threat. Nasawi, for one, believed that he should have exercised the first option presented to him and confronted the Mongols en masse: 
Had he stayed his position . . . the sultan would have been at the head of the most numerous army any one had ever heard of, but nothing can resist the will of God, who, alone, can accomplish what he has decided and has the power to overturn or transform all things, and to move empires from the hands of one leader to another
The Khwarezmshah, it appeared, no longer had God on his side.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Ride to Khwarezmia


Back in Mongolia Chingis had convened a Khuriltai to plan the invasion of Khwarezm. He was not one to ride off half-cocked. His anger over the murder of his envoy to Otrār had cooled, but his resolution to exact retribution had stiffened. His intelligence networks would have informed him that while the Khwarezmshah was inflicted by infighting among his family and court and by rising discontent among the populace he was still capable of putting half as million or so soldiers into the field. Chingis organized the invasion of Khwarezm in the same step-by-step methodical way he had attacked and finally defeated the Jin in northern China. Leaving the Mongolian Plateau in the spring of 1219, he and his assembled army crossed the passes through the Mongol Altai and dropped down into the upper basin of the Irtysh River, on the northern side of the Zungarian Depression. On the rich grassland straddled the Irtysh he and his men spent the summer fattening their horses. They no doubt also took time to engage in huge hunts for wild game which not only provided food but also served as training exercises for his troops. By the early autumn, when the grass began to yellow, commanders and men were familiarized with each other and their horses were fattened and well-rested. The march west began. 

Most accounts imply, even if they do not state outright, that his entire army proceeded en masse to the western end of the Zungarian Basin. (According to one alternative account, Chingis divided his army into two wings, one led by his son Chagatai which would take a northerly route via the Zungarian Basin and another under the command of his son Jochi which would take a southerly route through the Tarim Basin. ) Leaving the bottom of the basin, they rode through the Bor Steppe and by Lake Sayram, areas which as we have seen were in the domains of Ozar Khan and now his son Siqnaq Tegin, and then crossed over the Borohogo Range via the Ak-Tasi Pass. 
Lake Sayram
Then via switch-backed trails they dropped down the great ramparts on the western side of the Borohogo Range into the Ili Valley. (The importance of this route as a gateway from the Zungarian Basin, in current-day Xinjiang Province, China, into the vast Kazakh Steppes behind is underlined by the fact that the China government just recently built a new railway line from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, to the city Korgas, on the Chinese-Kazakhstan border, following this route, with a lengthy tunnel under the Ak-Tasi Pass.) 

Just west of Ak-Tasi Pass through the Borohogo Range. Chingis Khan and his army must have come this way.
Ramparts on the western side of the Borohogo Range
Following the Ili River past the last spurs of the mountains they soon emerged out onto the vast steppes of the Seven Rivers Region.
 The Ili River
 The Ili River
Here Chingis Khan rendezvoused with his various allies: from Beshbaliq in Uighuristan the The Idikut of the Uighurs, who had sworn allegiance to Chingis back in 1209; from the upper Ili Basin Siqnaq Tegin, the son of the now-deceased Ozar Khan; and already in the Seven Rivers Region the Arslan Khan, (with 6,000 men, according to Juzjani) who had earlier declared his allegiance to Chingis. Juzjani and other Persian historians numbered the assembled multitude at 600,000 men or more, but clearly this was an exaggeration. Barthold, after thoroughly examining all the various and conflicting accounts, concludes that Chingis’s assembled army, including auxiliaries, numbered about 150,000. Juvaini could barely restrain himself in his praises of the Mongol troops: 
They were archers who by the shooting of an arrow would bring down a hawk from the hollow of the ether, and on dark nights with a thrust of their spear-heads would cast out a fish from the bottom of the sea; who thought the day of battle the marriage-night and considered the pricks of lances the kisses of fair maidens.
This multitude was now ready to descend on Otrār. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | The Khwarezmshahs

Ala al-Din Mohammad, the sultan who had ordered or acquiesced to the Murder Of The 450 Muslim Traders in Otrār, was the fifth of the Khwarezmshahs to rule Khwarezmia. His line began when the Seljuk Turks conquered the province of Khwarezm, the area encompassing the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River and its delta where flows into the Aral Sea. Starting in the 11th century, the Seljuks Turks, originally nomadic tribesmen of Inner Asia, had created a vast empire encompassing much of current-day Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iran, Iraq, and Turkmenistan. In the early 1040s they invaded Khwarezmia and after taking control of the province appointed a succession of military governors. In 1073 a Turkish slave-soldier named Anustigin was named governor and given the title of Tastar, or “Keeper of the Royal Washing Bowls”. In 1097 his son Arslantigin inherited the position and assumed the title of Khwarezmshah, thus initiating a line of rulers who would oversee the province of Khwarezm and later the Khwarezm Empire for the next 130 years. 

Arslantigin’s son Atsiz rebelled against his Seljuk overlords in 1141–42 and was defeated in battle, but managed to retain control of Khwarezmia while remaining a vassal of the Seljuk Sultan Sanjar. Around this time the Khara Khitai impinged on Khwarezm from the east and they like the Seljuks demanded tribute from the Khwarezmshah. Atsiz’s son Arslan became Khwarezmshah in 1156. A year later the great Seljuk Sultan Sanjar died and Seljuk power in the province of Khwarezm waned. The Khwarezmshah Atsiz still paid tribute to the Khara Khitai, but he had a much freer hand with the decline of the Seljuks and in 1158 he invaded Transoxiania, thus giving rise to the nascent Khwarezm Empire. An invasion of Khorasan, the former territory of the Seljuks (modern-day eastern Iran) was initially aborted, but clearly the Khwarezmshahs were becoming dominant players in Inner Asia during the latter half of the twelfth century. 

Arslan’s successor, Tekesh, pursued his father’s expansionist policies in northern Khorasan while continuing to recognize the suzerainty of the Khara Khitai. To aid in his wars of expansion in Khorasan and elsewhere he sought the aid of Kipchak, Oghus, and other tribesman who nomadized around the Aral Sea to the north of the province of Khwarezm. Most of these Turkmen still followed the ancient chthonic religions of the steppe and while they proved to be fierce and effective warriors they soon earned hatred of the Islamic peoples of Khorasan for their unbridled violence and cruelty. In 1192 Tekesh invested Rayy, one of the leading cities of Khorasan, and claimed much of the province for himself. In 1194 he defeated and killed one of the the last great Seljuk sultans, Toghrul III (r. 1174–1194), cementing his hold on large portions of Khorasan. Tekesh was planning an attack on the Abbasid CaIiphate in Baghdad, the defeat of which would have made him essentially the ruler of the Islamic geosphere, when he died in 1200. 

Tekesh’s son Ala al-Din Mohammad, the Khwarezmshah who would confront Chingis Khan, eventually turned on his Khara Khitai suzerains and attempted to rule Transoxiania independently. He continued his father’s takeover of Khorasan and expanded his empire into northern Afghanistan. In 1217, as we have seen, he attempted to realize his father’s dream of seizing the Caliphate for himself by invading Mesopotamia and its capital of Baghdad. This venture failed, but nevertheless as the year 1218 drew to a close the Khwarezmshah appeared to be the most powerful potentate in Inner Asia. Yet all was not well in the domains of the Sultan. First and foremost, off to the the east loomed the ominous figure of Chingis Khan and his Mongols. 

The Sultan had been warring with the Khara Khitai under the Gür Khan for much of his reign and had only managed to win a decisive battle against them in 1210. Then just one small wing of Chingis’s army under the command of Jochi had swept into the territories of the Khara Khitai and not only quickly defeated and scattered the Khara Khitai forces but had also managed to capture and kill the pretender-Gür Khan Khüchüleg. Now the nascent empire of Chingis Khan were coterminous with his own empire. To make matters even worse, Jebe and His Mongols were seen as the liberators of the Muslims in the western Tarim Basin, while he himself was hated by the Islamic people of Khorasan for the deprecations of the Turkmen unbelievers who had been recruited into the Khwarezmian army by his father and himself. He had also tried to unseat the Caliph in Baghdad, a Sunni Muslim, and replace him with a Shiite sayyed, Ala al-Molk Termedi, thus stoking age-old sectarian rivalries and earning him the enmity of the Sunni majority in his realm. Indeed, there were rumors that the Caliph in Baghdad, Nasir, had initiated contact with Chingis Khan, asking him to attack Khwarezmia and overthrow the Khwarezmshah. Presumably the Caliph did not consider the nomads from Mongolia a threat to the Abassid Caliphate itself. If this is indeed the case, then Nasir, the Abassid Caliph, had made a miscalculation of inestimable proportions. 

And then of course the Khwarezmshah had just overseen the murder of 450 Muslim traders in Otrār, an act which would not endear him to the powerful Islamic mercantile class in his domains, a group whose ambitions were at odds with those of his own to begin with. Then there were the Sufis, orders of mystically-minded Muslims whose networks permeated Inner Asia. According to one modern historian,
 . . . Sufi histories came to claim that it was their spiritual masters who had invited Chinggis Khan to invade and decimate the Muslim world. In their view it was only by weeding out the old corrupt Muslim order that the true and righteous form of Sufi Islam could flourish.
There were also the problems in his own court. The first and foremost was his mother, Terken Khatun. She was originally from one of the Turkmen tribes who nomadized around the Aral Sea north of Khwarezm. Juzjani claims she was the daughter of the Khan of Kipchaq; Nasawi says she came from the Yemek, another Turkmen tribe. Juvaini adds that she was an “A’jami”—a barbarian or someone of non-Muslim birth. In any case, the Khwarezmshah’s father Tekesh had apparently married her in an attempt cement his alliance with the Turkmen tribesmen he needed to prosecute his wars in Khorasan and elsewhere. Juvaini had a low opinion of Terken Khatun’s people:
 . . . mercy and compassion were far removed from their hearts. Wherever they passed by, that country was laid in ruins and the people took refuge in their strongholds. And indeed it was their cruelty, violence, and wickedness that brought about the downfall of the Sultan’s dynasty. 
It was this behavior that had earned their commander-in-chief, the Sultan, the hatred of the people of Khorasan. 

After the death of her husband and the ascension of her son as Khwarezmshah Terken maintained a fiefdom of her own and insisted on keeping her own separate court. Juvaini maintains that from this position of independence she, the Khatun (Queen), thoroughly dominated her son, controlling his finances and giving orders to officials he had appointed. Also, many of her fellow tribesmen had achieved high rank in the Khwarezmian army and their ultimate loyalty was to her and not her son. And if we are to believe Juvaini she indulged in “secret revelries,” although the prim and proper historian does not go into detail about this. It did not take Chingis Khan’s intelligence network long to sniff out this potential riff in the royal family and he would soon attempt to exploit it for his own purposes. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mongolia | Zanabazar Guide | Kindle Version

This version has 108 illustrations. They appear in black and white on Kindles themselves, but of course they are in color on devices that support color using the free Kindle app, including Mac and Windows computers and the iPad. I must say the photos look great on the iPad. And you hard-core cheapskates can still get the Text Only Kindle Version of the book for even less! While you are at it, also order the Kindle Version of Travels in Northern Mongolia. If you have not yet upgraded to Kindle now is the time.  Dead Tree Books are so twentieth-century. Don’t be an old Fuddy-Duddy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Death of Khüchüleg

Juvaini believed that the arrival of the Jebe and his Mongols in the realm of the Khara Khitai was an act of Divine Providence: 
God Almighty, in order to remove the evilness of Küchlüg [Khüchüleg], in a short space dispatched the Mongol army against him; and already in this world he tasted the punishment of his foul and wicked deeds and his ill-omened life; and in the hereafter the torments of hellfire. Ill be his rest! 
Chingis Khan may have been acting out of more down-to-earth considerations. Khüchüleg had earlier escaped from the Mongols at both the battles at Tuleet Uul and on the Upper Irtysh and this must have rankled. Then he had gathered under his own banner all the disaffected tribesmen who had fled the Mongolian Plateau, thus posing a threat to the Uighurs and others at the western end of Chingis’s own domains. Perhaps the Naiman adventurer even had his sights set on some day leading his assembled forces back to Mongolia and challenging Chingis Khan on his home turf. And by 1216 Chingis, as we have seen, was already making overtures to the Khwarezmshah about trade relations between the Mongols and Khwarezmia. Now Khüchüleg, essentially a free-booting marauder, sat astride the great trade routes linking the two realms, ready to swoop down on any trade caravans which might pass through the territories over which he now ruled rough-shod. There is also the school of thought, promoted by various modern historians, that Chingis even at this stage of his career entertained some overarching vision of world conquest and considered Khüchlüg simply as one more obstacle which had to be overcome on the inevitable march west, perhaps even to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Whatever his motivations, in 1216, after he had defeated the Jin in northern China, Chingis sent his general Jebe west to at long last deal with the Naiman upstart Khüchüleg. Jebe was a member of the Taichuud tribe, once one of the young Chingis Khan’s many enemies. As a young man Temüjin, the future Chingis Khan, had been captured by the Taichuud and held prisoner. He later made a daring escape with the help of a man named Sorkhon who had divined a great future ahead for the young Temüjin and who would eventually become one of his followers. The Taichuud were just one of the many tribes Chingis would defeat in his rise to power. In the decisive battle against the Taichuud someone shot an arrow which according to the Secret History hit Chingis’s yellow war horse in the neck. It may have been Chingis himself who was wounded in the neck, but apparently he did not want to reveal this. Anyhow, after the battle the Taichuud who were taken prisoner were interrogated to find out who had shot the arrow at Chingis. “Who shot that arrow from the mountaintop,” Chingis demanded. A man named Zurgadai replied : 
I shot that arrow from the mountain top. If I am put to death by the Qahan (Chingis), then I shall be left to rot on a piece of ground the size of the palm of the hand. But I am granted mercy, then shall I go ahead on behalf of the Qahan .
I wlll attack for you:
I will slash the deep waters
and erode the shining stone.
At your word, I will go forwards
and smash the blue stones.
If you order me to attack,
I will slash the black stones.
I will attack for you.
Chingis Khan was impressed that the man had admitting to shooting at him, even though there was a chance he would be put to death for such an act, and had not attempted to lie his way out of it. A man like this, Chingis concluded, would make a good addition to his armies. Chingis gave Zurgadai the new name of Zebe, which means “arrow” in Mongolian, and proclaimed. “I shall use him as an arrow.” Zebe (or Jebe, as it is more commonly rendered in English) would become the arrow which would unfailingly fly at any target to which Chingis aimed him. The target now was Khüchüleg. 

Jebe headed westward, adding a contingent of Uighur troops to his army on the way, and soon arrived at Almaliq, in the basin of the Ili River, where he linked up with the tribesmen who had already declared their allegiance to Chingis. With these reinforcements he proceeded to the old Khara Khitai capital of Balagasun, where he defeated an army of some 30,000 men who had earlier obeyed the Gür Khan but who now were aligned at least nominally with Khüchüleg. Now reading the prevailing winds, other local rulers threw in their lot with Jebe and Mongols, including Yisimaili, a prominent Khara Khitai commander from the city of Kasan in the Ferghana Valley. With Yisimaili, who was apparently familiar with the country, leading Jebe’s vanguard, the Mongol army headed south to Kashgar, where Khüchüleg was reputed to be holed up. Hearing of the imminent arrival of the Mongols he fled south toward the Pamirs, perhaps hoping to eventually reach the dubious safety of India. 

Jebe and his army of 20,000 Mongols and various auxiliaries were viewed as liberators by the Muslim population of Kashgar. According to Juvaini the local people stated that: 
. . . each group of Mongols, arriving one after another, sought nothing from us save Khüchlüg [sic], and permitted the recitation of the takbir [call to prayer] and azan, and caused a herald to proclaim in the town that each should abide by their religion and follow their own creed. Then we knew the existence of this people to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace. 
After rounding up and executing all of Khüchüleg’s soldiers who had remained in the city Jebe and his men set out in hot pursuit of the Naiman runaway. They probably followed the old Silk Road caravan road (and now the route of the Karakoram Highway) up the valley and canyon of the Gez River, past Khökh Nuur (Blue Lake) and the immense massif of 24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata (later Marco Polo may have used this same route).
 The Pamirs 
 Valley of the Gez River leading into the Pamir
 Khökh Nuur (Blue Lake) and 24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata
Plateau of the Pamirs
Somewhere near the border of Badakhshan and the Wakhan region deep in the Pamir Knot (perhaps in modern-day Tajikistan) Khüchüleg took the wrong road (Juvaini cannot help opining that “it was right that he should do so”) and ended up in a dead-end valley. 

Jebe, coming up behind, met some local hunters and made them a deal: if they would bring him Khüchüleg no harm would come to them; if they did not they would to be aiding and abetting Khüchüleg’s escape and would have to face the consequences. They captured the errant Naiman and brought him to Jebe, who rewarded them with much of the loot—jewels and money—which they had seized from Khüchüleg’s traveling party. The Naiman adventurer, born on the steppes of Mongolia, had led a wild and tumultuous life since 1204 when he had fled Mongolia, throwing a good portion of Inner Asia into turmoil, but it all ended here in a desolate valley in the high Pamirs. He was executed and his head cut off. One source maintains that Jebe took his head back with him and displayed it in Kashgar and Khotan to prove that the oppressor of the local Muslim populations was finally, at long last, dead. 

With the death of Khüchüleg Chingis’s favored general Jebe was now the de facto ruler of a huge swath of land from Khotan north to the Seven Rivers region. Did the thought cross his mind that at this point he could have declared himself the new Gür Khan and founded an empire of his own? Apparently back in Mongolia even Chingis Khan began to worry that Jebe “in the pride of victory would mutiny,” as Barthold puts it. But Jebe was made of different stuff. He had sworn his loyalty to Chingis Khan back when his life had been spared after the defeat of the Taichuud and he was not about to turn on his sworn lord and master. As a sign of his fealty.he gave to his commander-in-chief a gift of 1000 yellow horses like the one Chingis had been riding at the final battle with the Taichuud, the horse he, Jebe, had supposedly hit in the neck with an arrow. Tracking down Khüchüleg and seizing his territories was certainly a feather in his cap, but his greatest exploits as a general in the Mongol army were yet to come. He would remain loyal to Chingis until his death in 1225. 

Khüchüleg died sometime in 1218. Around this time the merchants of the Mongol Caravan To Otrār had been killed, along with the emissary Chingis had sent to demand compensation for the massacre. War with the Khwarezmshah was now inevitable and the Last Obstacle between the Mongols and the Khwarezm Empire—the Naiman adventurer Khüchülüg—had been removed. Now Chingis Khan was ready to ride west

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mongolia | Arkhangai Aimag | Zayain Khüree

Wandered out to Tsetserleg, capital of Arkhangai Aimag, to visit Zayain Khuree, the monastery of Khalkh Zaya Pandita, a contemporary of Zanabazar. The monastery is located just in front of the huge granite massif known as Bulgan Uul, which rises to height of 7903 feet, over 2200 feet higher than the valley of the Tamir River just to the north. According to local tradition the massif is also known as Erdene (precious) Bulgan Uul. It has nine different parts, or peaks, each named after one of the Nine Precious Stones and Metals; gold; silver, bronze, pearl, coral, turquoise, brass, copper, and lapis lazuli. The northernmost part of the massif is known as Altan (gold) Bulgan Uul. It was at the base of Altan Bulgan Uul that in 1631, four years before the birth of Zanabazar, a rich local herdsman named Dugar constructed a temple for a lama named Sandui. Sandui had studied in the monasteries of Tibet and was renowned for his intelligent. He was said to be especially proficient at various magical practices. This temple was the foundation of what eventually became Zayain Khüree.
Zayain Monastery with Altan Bulgan Uul behind
In 1642, near Mukhar Khujirt in what is now Arkhangai Aimag, was born a boy who became known as Luvsanperenlei. His family was said to be extremely poor. At the age of three, however, lamas recognized him as a khubilgan, or reincarnation, and he was eventually given the title of Zaya Pandita. As was the case with many promising monks, he was sent to Tibet to study. Local informants claim that he initially went to Tibet with Zanabazar on the latter‘s first trip there in 1649. If so, he would have been only seven or eight at the time.

There are some indications that Luvsanperenlei stayed on in Tibet after Zanabazar returned to Mongolia in 1651. According to a legend now related by local monks he studied at a monastery in Tibet attended by other Mongolian lamas, probably Gomang College at Drepung Monastery near Lhasa. He did not spend much time studied the required sutras, however, nor did he get along well with the other young monks. Finally a Mongolian ger was set up near the monastery and the young Luvsanperenlei went there to live and study by himself. One day a Tibetan lama came to the ger to check up on how Luvsanperenlei was doing in his studies. He found Luvsanperenlei playing a children‘s game known as “Sheep and Wolves” with small figures of sheep and wolves molded from flour. When the lama scolded Luvsanperenlei for wasting his time, the figures suddenly came to life and began chasing each other around the table. The utterly amazed Tibetan lama announced, “You are truly the Mongolian Zaya Pandita. It is not necessary for you to study sutras, since it is clear you already know everything.”

We do not know how long the Zaya Pandita stayed in Tibet. We do know he was in Tibet in 1673, when he and Zanabazar‘s brother Chakhundorj received tantric teachings from lamas there. (When Chakhundorj returned to Mongolia he constructed the Dalai Lama Temple at Erdene Zuu to commemorate this trip.) At some point after 1673, however, the Zaya Pandita did return to Mongolia to stay.

According to legend one day he, Zanabazar, and monk known as the Lamyn Gegen climbed up the side of Altan Bulgan peak and stopped on a broad shelf of rock to meditate. Spread before them was the broad valley of the Tamir Valley with the Khangai Mountains beyond. Impressed by the grandeur of the environs, they decided that the base of the mountain would be a very auspicious place to build a monastery. But who should build this monastery and who should it be dedicated to? The Zaya Pandita, Zanabazar, the first Bogd Gegen, or the Lamyn Gegen? Unable to decide, they placed their tea bowls in front of them. Whoever could first make a flower appear in his bowl would have the honor of building the monastery. They closed they eyes and became to meditate. When they opened their eyes some time later a flower had appeared in the bowl in front of the Zaya Pandita. Zanabazar was suspicious, however, and noted that the bowl looked like his. Zaya Pandita finally admitted that while they were meditating he had switched his bowl with Zanabazar‘s. Although the bowl had been Zanabazar’s, the flower had appeared in front of Zaya Pandita, however, so Zanabazar finally agreed that the Zaya Pandita should have the honor of building the monastery. But, Zanabazar told the Zaya Pandita that because of his act his disciples will always have a propensity for stealing.

The first temple of the new monastery—not including the temple built for the lama Sandui in 1631—was the Guden Süm, built according to local informants in the early 1680s. The Right, or Summer Semchin Temple, directly in front of the Guden Temple, was reportedly built in 1684, and the Left, or Winter Semchin Temple shortly thereafter. These then were the temples which were in existence when Galdan Bolshigt invaded Khalkh Mongolia in 1688. Unlike Erdene Zuu, Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, and many other monasteries, however, Galdan spared Zayain Khüree. This was because Galdan knew the Zaya Pandita personally and thought of him as his guru. Although there is no historical record of it, it is interesting to consider that Galdan and the Zaya Pandita met each other in Tibet. Galdan himself, before becoming the Zungarian khan and warlord, had been a monk and had studied in Lhasa at about the same time the Zaya Pandita had been there. (The Khalkh Zaya Pandita, Luvsanperenlei (1642–1715), should not be confused with the Oirat Zaya Pandita, Namkhaijantsan (1599–1662), who did in fact accompany Galdan when the latter went to Tibet as a small boy.) Galdan and the Zaya Pandita did meet at some point in time and it is clear the warlord held the Pandita in high regard. Not only did he refrain from trashing Zayain Khüree, he ordered that a new temple be built on a high knoll between the monastery Altan Bulgan Uul. It was named the Galdan Zuu Temple, and reportedly Galdan installed in it a large statue of Maidar (Maitreya) the Coming Buddha.

When Zanabazar returned to Mongolia from China in the early 1700s he decided not to rebuild Sardgiyn Khiid, which had been totally destroyed by Galdan. Instead, according to some sources, he decided to move Ikh Khüree, the center of Buddhism which had earlier been located at Sardgiyn Khiid, to Zayain Khüree. In 1706 Zanabazar reportedly dedicated the entire monastery to Tara and built a Tara Temple to house his statues of the Twenty-One Taras, including Green Tara (the Twenty-One Taras can now be seen in the Winter Palace Museum). Both Zanabazar and Luvsanperenlei wrote prayers to Tara for the consecration of the temple. (It should be pointed out that informants at Zayain Khüree today are not aware that the monastery was ever dedicated to Tara, nor do they know of any Tara Temple). In 1710 the Tsogschin Dugan, which became the main temple of the monastery, was constructed.

Luvsanperenlei, the First Zaya Pandita, apparently resided at Zayain Khüree full-time after his return from Tibet. One of the outstanding scholars of his time, he wrote a massive history of India, Tibet, and Mongolia, among numerous other compositions. Luvsanperelei served as one of Zanabazar’s collaborators and teachers and reportedly instructed him in the theory of poetics formulated in the Kavyadarsha Sutra. In 1715 the First Zaya Pandita died and his mummified body, sitting in the lotus position, was entombed in a stupa which was eventually placed in the Guden Süm.

Many more temples and other buildings were constructed throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and existing structures underwent extensive renovations, first in the in the 1880s and later in 1909-10. The entire complex at one time must have covered a hundred or more acres, and by the 1920s Zayain Khüree was one of the largest and most influential monasteries in Mongolia, with over 2000 monks attached to eight different colleges. The monastery was also famous for its tsam dances, the last of which was held in July of 1932.

Arkhangai Aimag, and particularly its monasteries, were reportedly a hotbed of anti-revolutionary fervor, and Zayain Khüree soon attracted the attention of the communist government. The Sixth Zaya Pandita was murdered by the communists in 1932 and eventually most of monastery, with the exception of the Guden Temple, the Semchin Temples, and the first temple built in 1631, was leveled. The Guden Temple was turned into a fire station and the 1631 temple was made into a small museum.

Since the early 1990s the remaining portions of the monastery complex have undergone extensive renovations. The Winter and Summer Semchins both now serve as well-appointed museums. In the Semchin Temple to the left, facing the main Guden Süm, can be found the robes of the first Zaya Pandita, musical instruments used by musicians who entertained the various Panditas, and a host of other historical artifacts. In the left temple of the Guden Süm (facing the mountain) are the stupas containing the sharils, or mummified bodies of both the first and second Zaya Panditas, a portrait of the first Zaya Pandita painted in 1995 but said to be based on an original done in 1680, a portrait of Jambatseren, the sixth Zaya Pandita, and his wife or consort, an interesting thangka of the Tavan Khaany, or Five Kings (see Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid, above) and other items.
Guden Süm
Stupa containing the remains of the First Zaya Pandita
The middle temple of the Guden Süm also serves as a museum and includes an a detailed scale model of the whole monastery as it existed before the 1930s. Just to the left of the walled compound containing the Semchin temples and the Guden Süm can be seen the ruins of the Tsogschin Dugan, once the main temple of the monastery. There are now plans to rebuilt this temple. In front of the ruins is a new stupa built in memory of those who suffered from the communist repressions of the 1930s on dedicated on 9 September, 2001.

On a high knoll behind the main monastery complex is the picturesquely located Gandan Zuu Temple. The original temple built by Galdan Bolshigt, was destroyed in the 1932, but the original foundation can still be seen. In 1993 people from the Kharkhorin area began taking up donations and eventually the current temple was built. The fate of the Maidar (Maitreya) statue placed in the temple by Galdan is unknown. 
Galdan Zuu Temple
On the cliffs behind the Galdan Zuu Temple can seen numerous paintings on the rocks, including images of Buddha, Green Tara, Tsongkhapa (Zonkhov in Mongolian), and others. Twenty-one of the images are said to have been painted either by the first Zaya Pandita himself or his disciples. There is a ledge right below the painting of Tsongkhapa where monks still go today to meditate and read sutras. One monk claims that due to some acoustic quirk no noise from the city reaches this ledge and that sitting here “one feels far removed from the earth,” as he put it.

Just over half a mile to the northeast of the main museum and temple complex, along the bank of a small stream, is the so-called Dalai Lama Spring. Local monks insist rather adamantly that the Fourth Dalai Lama visited this small spring and lived for awhile in a ger set up next to it. The Fourth Dalai Lama, great-grandson of Altan Khan, was the only Mongolian Dalai Lama, but he was born and spent his early childhood in what is probably now Qinghai Province of China. After he was recognized as the Dalai Lama he went to Lhasa to study and apparently he spent the rest of his life in Tibet. He died in 1617, at the age of twenty-eight. There is no record of him coming to Mongolia, and since no temples existed at Tsetserleg before 1631 there would have been little reason for him to come to this area. The informants may have somehow confused the Fourth Dalai Lama with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who did in fact visit Zayain Khüree while in exile from Tibet following the 1904 Younghusband Invasion. In any case, this spring does seem to be connected with the Dalai Lamas, since the 14th and current Dalai Lama, when he visited Mongolia in 1995, came to Tsetserleg and made a point of visiting this spring.

The original temple built at Tsetserleg in 1631, just in front and to the left of the walled compound, is now active once again and is now known as Togs Bayasgalant Buyaniig Delgeruulekh Khiid. There are thirty-five monks in residence. They specialize in chanting the Londongalsan Sutra, which was reportedly written by the First Zaya Pandita but updated to include the names of all the Zaya Panditas and the eight Bogd Gegens. Delegates of monks also come from Ulaan Baatar on occasion to perform the so-called Eleven Praises, one of which is performed each day for eleven days.

The Seventh Zaya Pandita has been recognized but currently lives in Ulaan Baatar, returning only occasionally to the monastery founded by his illustrious predecessor.