The Summer Solstice, marking the longest day of the year, occurred here at 7:09 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21. For many years I have gone to the Summit of Bogd Khan Uul, one of the Four Sacred Mountains surrounding Ulaanbaatar, to celebrate the Summer Solstice. This year I decided to observe the Solstice by visiting Erdene Uul (mountain) in Töv Aimag, 92 miles east of Ulaanbaatar as the crow flies. Erdene Uul, overlooking the valley of the Kherlen River, is also known as Burkhan Khaldun. It is one of three Burkhan Khalduns identified by researchers D. Bazargür and D. Enkhbayar: Erdene Uul, the Burkhan Khaldun of the Uriangkhai; Khentii Khan Uul, the Burkhan Khaldun of the Khamag Mongols; and Asralt Khairkhan, the Burkhan Khaldun of the Keraits. Khentii Khan Uul is of course the most famous of the Burkhan Khalduns; this is the one where most people go on pilgrimages and to where the President of Mongolia is required to go once every four years.
Erdene Uul, however, is the mountain where Chingis Khan went to escape from the Merkits. You will recall from reading the Secret History of the Mongols that Chingis’s father had kidnapped his own wife—Chingis’s mother—from the Merkits, a tribe who lived south of Lake Baikal in what is now Siberia, and now that Chingis was a young man they had come to exact their revenge. By fleeing to Burkhan Khaldun (Erdene Uul) by himself Chingis managed to escape from the Merkits, but they were able to seize his wife, Börte. Chingis would later mount an expedition to Siberia to get her back—the beginning of his military career—but when he finally retrieved her she was pregnant, apparently by one of the Merkits, a circumstance which would have an inestimable impact on subsequent Mongolia history.
From the base of the mountain we rode by horse 7.8 miles to the ridge line leading to the summit.
7545-foot Erdene Uul (Burkhan Khaldun of the Uriangkhai) from the valley of the Kherlen River (click on images for enlargements)
Chingis Khan’s description of his escape on Burkhan Khaldun from the Secret History:
On Burkhan Khaldun,
My life like a louse’s,
I was hunted.
My life, the only one, was spared.
With only a horse
I followed the elk trails.
I made a yurt of willow twigs.
I climbed up on Khaldun,
On Burkhan Khaldun,
My life like a swallow’s,
I was protected.
Chingis’s Hitching Post. According to local lore, Chingis tied his horse to this rock while he was on Erdene Uul.
According to local legend the indentation in the center of this rock is a foot print left by Chingis Khan’s horse.
My own trusty horse. In the last few years I have ridden this horse over 600 miles. It is calm, well mannered, never panics in tight situations, and is not lazy; in fact, it possesses all the characteristics one might want in a wife but which are so difficult to find.
Delgerma, assistant horse wrangler on the trip