Monday, June 3, 2019

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Onon Hot Springs

Took a break and did a nine-day horse trip to the ultra-exclusive (during the high-season you can only get there by horse, which keeps out the hoi-polloi in their Land-Cruisers and Hummers) Onon Hot Springs Resort and Spa on the Upper Onon River. With me on the trip were Töv Aimag herdsman and Gazarchin Zevgee,  his wife Tümen Ölzii, his son Batdorj, and his grandson Puntog.  I have done eleven Previous Horse and Camel Trips with Zevgee,  including a trip to Asralt Khairkhan, the highest mountain in the Khentii Range, This would make the twelfth trip with him.

Zevgee’s ger on the Upper Kherlen River
This was my third trip to the Onon Hot Springs. The first was in 1997, as described in Part 3 of my book Travels in Northern Mongolia. I returned to the Hot Springs in 2003 while doing a Khora around the Sacred Mountain of Burkhan Khaldun. This time we were planning to take three days of treatments in the famously therapeutic waters of the various springs at the complex.  

Starting from Zevgee’s ger on the upper Kherlen Gol we rode up the Kherlen River Valley for a couple hours and then returned east up the Shirengetei River Valley, where we camped for the first night. The next day we rode up to the headwaters of the Shirengetei Gol, crossed over Baga Davaa (Little Pass) to the valley of the Elüür Gol, and then crossed Ikh Davaa (Big Pass) into the drainage of the Onon Gol.
Our group at Ikh Davaa. From left: Puntog, Zegvee, Batdorj, and Tümen Ölzii
Zevgee preparing a pot of ever-welcome Iron-Goddess-of-Mercy Tea at our second night’s camping place on a tributary of the Onon Gol.
Late on the third day we arrived at the Hot Springs Complex on the banks of the Onon.

 Lounging in front of the Boutique Guesthouse at the Hot Springs.

Tümen Ölzii at the Guesthouse

View of the Hot Springs Complex from the Guesthouse

Lush vegetation typical of that found near hot springs
As I pointed out in my book Guide to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar it was Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia (1635–1723) who reportedly first studied the medicinal properties of the Onon Hot Springs Complex.  They are thought to be especially suited for treating lower back problems, which is why Zegvee and I came here. There are nine bathhouses at the Hot Springs, each with water of differing water temperatures. The usual course of treatment is to soak in the cooler hot springs and then proceed to the hotter ones. 

Bathhouse containing Baga Tsenkher Hot Spring, supposedly named by Zanabazar himself. Warm to medium hot. 

Bathhouse containing Ikh Tsenkher Hot Spring, also supposedly named by Zanabazar himself. Warm to medium hot. 

Danzan Ötsiit (?) Hot Spring, cool to lukewarm

Kheeriin Khaluun Spring. This spring is so hot I was never able to enter it. The water was near boiling.

The first four bathhouses

Aglambiin Khaluun, luke-warm to warm

Two pits each with water very close to boiling

Baatariin Khaluun Spring Bathhouse. Very hot. I could enter it only very, very slowly, a few inches at a time until I was up to my neck in water. Then I had to be very careful not to disturb the water, causing fresh hot water to well up into the bathing pit.  This new water was too hot to stand. 

Sign describing the medicinal properties of the Baatariin Khaluun Spring

Balbarin Khaluun Spring: the roof of this bathhouse has caved in and it is no longer in use. The water is medium warm to hot. 

Noyen Khutagt Öndör Nuruut Spring. Medium Hot.

Nomin Khaani Khoyer Khaluun Spring. This one was too hot for me to enter. Near boiling.

Zevgee and Tümen Ölzii in front of the Buddhist Temple at the Hot Springs

Interior of the Buddhist Temple

Interior of the Buddhist Temple

Ovoo on the hill above the Hot Springs

The Upper Onon River Valley
After three days at the Hot Springs we rode back to Zevgee’s ger on the Kherlen Gol. It turns out we made the trip right on the cusp of summer and fall. On the first two days temperatures were an uncomfortable 95º or hotter and we were plagued by flies and mosquitoes. On the last two days it had cooled off to the point where we had to wear a jacket or deel while riding, the flies and mosquitos were almost gone, and there was a distinct smell of Autumn in the air. The total distance we traveled by horse was 105 miles measured between fourteen checkpoints. When we arrived back to Zevgee’s ger we found his grandson Kherlenbat eagerly awaiting our return. 


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Tibet | Takten Damcho Ling | Taranatha

I posted previously on The Great Stupa of Jonang and Dölpopa. A couple of miles down the side valley in which the stupa is located, fronting on the main valley of the Tsangpo River, is the monastery of Takten Damcho Ling, founded by the famous historian and Kalachakra practitioner Taranatha, the previous incarnation of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. 
The lower section of the Takten Damcho Ling complex, with the Tsangpo River in the distance
Another view of the lower part of the complex. 

Taranatha (1575–1634) was, at least within the Jonang tradition, thought be an incarnation of Kunga Drölchok, who like Dölpopa had been born in what is now Nepal. Also like Dôlpopa,  Kunga Drölchok was first a follower of the Sakya sect. He eventually received the Jonang transmission of the Kalachakra Tantra and other Jonang teachings. Later he was asked to head the Jonang sect. After he died, Taranatha become leader of the Jonangpa. In the words of Cyrus Stearns, author of The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen:
In the history of the Jonang tradition, Taranatha is second in importance to Dölpopa himself. He is responsible for the short-lived Jonang renaissance in Tsang and Central Tibet during the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries, and the widespread revitalization of the shentong theory in particular. 
He was one of the last great translators of Sanskrit tantric texts into Tibetan and was an incredibly prolific writer himself. His History of Buddhism in India and The Origin of Tara Tantra are still in print today. 

Takten Damcho Ling was established by Taranatha in 1615 with funds provided by the Tsang ruler Desi Puntsok Nyamgyal (the monastery is also known as Puntsok Ling). When it was finally completed in 1628 it was the largest Jonang monastery in Tibet, boasting of a large college, sixteen temples, and a printing press. Some 10,000 monks were said to live in the monastery and the surrounding area. According to monks there today many of the temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Currently eight of the temples are in use. The monastery also has a small guesthouse where I stayed when I visited. There are no other tourist facilities in the area.
Lower part of Takten Damcho Ling looking up toward the upper ruins
Ruins of upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling