Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mongolia | Winter Solstice | Ist Nine-Nine | Nermel Arkhi Khöldönö

Well, it is that time of the year again! Get that Elk Antler Headdress out of the attic and shake the dust off your tambourines! The Winter Solstice occurs today at 1:30 p.m. (Ulaanbaatar Time), marking the beginning of Winter. See Winter Solstice 2010 at Stonehenge, the granddaddy of all Solstice celebration sites.

Here in Zaisan Tolgoi the sun rises at 8:39 and sets at 5:02 for a day of 8 hours, 22 minutes, and 54 seconds, the shortest day of the year of course. Tomorrow the day will be two seconds longer, which means we have turned the corner and are on the way to the Spring Equinox on March 20, 2012. My house plants have been slumping, and I can only hope that they will sense the turn of the seasons and perk up, since moping house plants are a little more than I can deal with right now.

In Mongolia the Winter Solstice also marks the beginning of the so-called Nine-Nines: nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather. The first of the nine nine-Day periods is Nermel Arkhi Khöldönö, the time when normally distilled homemade Mongolian arkhi (vodka) freezes. It was minus 22º F. at 6:30 this morning, ten degrees or so warmer than three or four previous mornings, but still cold enough, I think, to freeze first-water Mongolian moonshine, which is not as strong as store-bought vodka. The next Nine-Day Period starts on December 31. Stayed tuned for updates.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Aryaval Khiid

Bayantsagaan
Wandered by the crib of Bayantsagaan, head of Lam Rim Khiid near Gandan. He had called and asked me to stop and discuss a book he was writing. He does not speak much English and of course my Mongolian is limited, but we usually manage to get by without a translator. Indeed, we had no problem discussing the publishing project he had in mind. But then he started talking about Aryaval Khiid, another temple in Terelj National Park north of Ulaanbaatar which he himself had founded. He could not seem to get his point across, so he got out his mobile phone, a new smart phone the brand of which I did not notice (I am not a mobile phone freak) and made a video-call to his daughter in the United States. Holding the phone in front of us, we had her translate while we watched her on the screen. So, I thought, this is the world we live in; we are sitting in Mongolia and making a video call to the United States to have someone translate for us. His daughter, Erdenetsetseg, is currently in Las Vegas. What is the daughter of a lama who is also a noted author, artist, sculptor, and founder of temples doing in Las Vegas? Let’s just say the apple did not fall close to the tree. 
 Erdenetsetseg (her name means “Glorious Flower”)
What Bayantsagaan wanted to tell me was that he had made various additions to Aryaval Khiid over the past summer.  I have made innumerable visits to Aryaval Khiid over the years (also see Here and Here, and also the  Aryaval Temple Brochure I made) and even have photos of the temple in various phases of its construction. So he was wondering if I would go out and document the latest features. These included a paved walkway from the parking lot to the temple which is lined with placards and four new rock carvings on the cliffs above with temple which Bayantsagaan himself had done. 

It was a chilly 35º degrees below 0 F (–37º C.) at 8:30 a.m. on the morning we went to the temple. Although the place is usually jammed with tourists, pilgrims, and local day-trippers in the summertime we were not surprisingly the only people there on this frigid day. 
New walkway from the parking lot to the temple
Saka, who kindly agreed to drive me to Aryaval Khiid, by one of the signs
Rock Carving of the White Grandfather Buddhist Teacher, a common motif in Mongolian Buddhism
Detail of the White Grandfather 
Another change since I was at Aryaval last is that several of the already existing rock carvings have been painted.
Newly-painted Buddha Rock Carving 
Buddha Rock Carving in summertime before it was painted. (Don’t tell anyone, but I think it looked better unpainted.)
Detail of Buddha Rock Carving
Saka offering a khadag at the Buddha rock carving in more salubrious weather
Sign on the path to the temple: “It is hardly likely that one could easily follow the highest path of the Buddha when it is so difficult to follow just an ordinary path in this degenerate age.” 
Another sign on the path to the temple
Bridge leading to the Aryaval Temple
Bridge leading to Aryaval Temple. The sign says, “The Bridge to Deliver You Beyond Wisdom.”
Aryaval Khiid
The new rock carvings by Bayantsagaan on the cliffs above the temple turned out to be mostly covred with snow, so I could not get good photos.
The four new stone carvings by Bayantsagaan can barely be made out in this photo
Three of the stone carvings can be seen here
A slightly better view of one of the stone carvings
These carvings—the Power of Ten Symbol and the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra have been here for awhile, but have recently been painted.
As soon as the snow is gone—either blown off or melted—I will return to Aryaval and get better photos of the new carvings. But don’t hold your breath.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Naqshbandi’s Tomb

Baha-ud-Din Naqband  Bukhari, right
Today, the 10th of December according to the increasing irrelevant Gregorian calendar, is the 14th day of the month of Muharram, according to the Islamic Lunar Calendar. (It is also the day of the Full Moon, an auspicious day according to the Mongolian Lunar Calendar.) As most of you probably know, this is the birthday of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari (1318–1389), the founder of what would become the Naqshbandi sect of Sufis. During a recent sojourn in Uzbekistan I wandered by his tomb, located in the village Kasri Arifon eight or so miles from Bukhara
Entrance to the Mausoleum of Baqshbandi
Tomb of Baqshbandi
Tomb of Baqshbandi
Tomb of Baqshbandi
Monument in the Mausoleum Complex
Uzbekistan Roses in all their resplendent glory just outside the Mausoleum Complex

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chingis Khan Rides West | Flight of the Khorezmshah | Balkh | Nishapur


When we last left Chingis Khan he was At the Walls of Samarkand. Before addressing the siege of Samarkand, however, we should examine the flight of Khorezmshah. 

Chingis Khan may have hurried on to Sarmarkand in the hopes of finding the Khorezmshah himself in the city. After all, since 1212 Samarkand had been the de facto capital of the Khorezm Empire, and when the Mongol threat had first loomed on the horizon the Khorezmshah had personally overseen the  repair and upgrading of the city’s fortifications. He had also stationed a considerable portion of his armies in Samarkand, and Chingis might well have expected him to remain in the city and take personal command of his troops.  If so, the Mongol khan was disappointed. Upon arriving at the walls of Sarmarkand he immediately received intelligence that not only was the Khorezmshah not in Sarmarkand, but that he fled Mawarannahr altogether. According to Juvaini: 
 . . . 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.
He had crossed the Amu Darya River into Khorasan “in a state of terror and bewilderment,” according to Juvaini, near the city of Termez and was now holed up in the vicinity of Balkh, in what is now Afghanistan.  He professed that he had left Mawarannahr to rally his troops who were stationed in Khorasan for a final showdown with the Mongols, but to many in the cities north of the Amu Darya it must have appeared that their Sultan had abandoned them altogether. Chingis Khan, perhaps remembering How Khüchüleg Had Escaped from his grasp and had remained as a thorn in is side for years afterward, now declared, “It is necessary to make an end to him and be well rid of him before men gather around him and nobles join him from every side.” Chingis would remain behind to invest Samarkand, but he immediately dispatched two of his best generals, Jebe and Sübetei,  in pursuit of the errant Khorezmshah. Jebe had of course already earned his stripes by Hounding Down and Killing Khüchüleg in the High Pamirs. Sübetei was an up-and-coming commander who would eventually distinguish himself in campaigns in China, Hungary, and elsewhere and become one of Chingis Khan’s most illustrious generals. Under their command were 30,000 troops, “each of whom was to a thousand men of the Sultan’s army as a wolf to a flock of sheep,” according to the ever-gushing Juvaini.

From Samarkand the Mongol pursuit party rode south 190 miles to the Amu Darya and crossed the river at the well-known Mela Ford, near the town of Panjab sixty miles east of Termez and close to the mouth of the Vakhsh River. The river here currently serves as the boundary between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Ibn al-Athir described the manner of the crossing: 
They [the Mongols] made out of wood something like a large water-trough, covered them with ox-hides, in order that they should be water-tight, placed their weapons and utensils in them, led their horses into the water, grasped their tales (with their hands), having fastened these wooden troughs to themselves, so that the horse towed the man and the man towed the trough filled with weapons, etc., and thus everything crossed at the same time.”
Barthold questions this account, citing the scarcity of wood for making troughs along the Amu Darya, and suggests that the Mongols used the method of crossing rivers described by Plano Carpini in which the gear was placed in tightly bound leather bags and not wooden troughs. The men sat on these bags, which served as rafts, and were pulled across the river by their swimming horses.

From here it was about fifty miles as the crow flies southwest to Balkh. The Mongols  arrived at city only to find that the Khorezmshah had already fled westward even before they had crossed the river. The city fathers, who at this point had no beef with the Mongols, sent out a deputation to parley with Jebe and Sübetei. The spokesmen, in hopes that Jebe and Sübetei would leave them in peace, offered provisions for the Mongol army and a local guide to assist them in their pursuit of the Sultan. With their eye on their main objective, the Mongol generals led their men onward. Thus Balkh escaped unscathed from this first encounter with the Mongols. 

They came next to the city of Zava, the current-day city of Torbat-i-Haidari in Iran,  480 miles south-southwest of Balkh, where Jebe and Sübetei demanded more provender for their troops. Here the city fathers were less cooperative. They closed the city gates and refused to give any assistance to the Mongols. At this point apparently still under orders to track down and capture the Khorezmshah and not to invest cities, Jebe and Sübetei decided to bypass the city. But after they had left word reached them that the citizens of the city were celebrating what they perceived to be a victory by beating on drums and pouring out streams of abuse at the Mongols who were apparently afraid to attack their city. This proved be to be too much for Jebe and Sübetei. The reputation of the Mongols as an invincible force was at stake. They wheeled their army around and returned to put the city under siege. One the third day, according to Juvaini, “they scaled the walls and left not alive whomsoever they saw; and being unable to stay they burnt and broke whatever was too heavy to carry.”

No sooner had they sacked the city than an enormous earthquake, the worse in living memory, hit eastern Khorasan (the area is notorious for earthquakes; huge temblors have rocked the area as late as 1986 and 1997). Juvaini could not resist the conclusion that these two events were somehow connected: “It was as though this fighting and slaying were the clue to the calamities of Fate and the disaster of cruel Destiny . . . an earthquake shook Khorasan, and from hearing that event, whereof they had never heard the like, the people were seized with terror.” Jebe and Sübetei, however, were not to be delayed by mere earthquakes. They and their men hurried on east to the city of Nishapur, sixty-five miles northwest of Turbat-i-Haidari where according to the latest intelligence they had received the Khorezmshah was now holed up.

The Sultan had arrived in Nishapur from Balkh on April 18, 1220. If we are to believe Juvaini, he had by this time effectively abdicated all responsibility for his empire and had returned over the command of his armies to his son Jalal al-Din. For almost a month, until May 12, he instead gave himself over to bacchanalias:
Here he turned his back on the affairs of his realm, amusing himself with songstresses and songs . . . He therefore constantly applied himself to the quaffing of cups of wine and had no fear of the arrows of reproach . . . Because of arranging the jewels on his women he could not concern himself with the training of his men, and whilst pulling down the garments of his wives he neglected to remove the confusion in important affairs.
The Khorezmshah was approached by numerous of the town fathers and other important personages of the area who petitioned him on various matters of state and business—he was in their eyes, after all, still the Sultan of the Khorezm Empire—but all came away “perplexed and bewildered” by his dissolute behavior. Finally, having seen enough of their unwelcome guest, they assembled at the gate of the local vizier, Mujir-al-Mulk, and protested against the unseemly behavior of the Sultan. Mujir-al-Mulk, although a highly respected official, admitted that there was not much he could do:
What you say is perfectly true, and your complaints are fully justified . . . Because of my duties as a pander [qavvadagi, or pimp], I cannot attend to the business of leaders . . . and because I must see to the provision of damsels I have no time to check the registers. Some days ago the Sultan commanded us to provide so and so many ornaments for the singing girls and to do nothing else. The Sultan‘s orders must be complied with . . .
It was at this moment, according to Juvaini, that news arrived in Nishapur that Jebe and Sübetei and 30,000 Mongols had crossed the Amu Darya into Khorasan and now like the very hounds of hell were hot on the trail of the Khorezmshah.  The Sultan had indulged in the belief that regardless of what happened to his realm in Mawarannahr he was safe here in Khorasan. Now he was exposed to the harsh light of reality. ‘Having drunk every drop in the goblet of pleasure he ought to have expected the sting of the headache that followed,” pontificated Juvaini, adding “And for every joy there was substituted a sorrow and for every rose was exchanged a thorn.” Alerted to the imminent arrival of the Mongols in Nishapur, the Khorezmshah absconded from the city on May 12, 1220, according to Juvaini.

While Juvaini’s account of the Khorezmshah’s titillatingly scandalous behavoir in Nishapur is certainly entertaining, it must be mentioned that Nasavi, who as the secretary of Jalal al-Din, the Sultan’s son, should have been well-informed on the Sultan’s movements, implies that the latter in his haste to escape the Mongols passed right through Nishapur without even stopping for a day.It is possible, however, that Nasavi did not want to dwell on the reprehensible behavior of the Khorezmshah, the father of his patron, while in Nishapur, and choose instead to simply ignore this interlude.


The Flight of the Khorezmshah (See Enlargement)