Showing posts with label Chingis Khan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chingis Khan. Show all posts

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Burkhan Khaldun Khora

In 1997 I did a ten-day horse trip to the beginning of the Onon River and the Onon Hot Springs in Khentii Aimag, northeast of Ulaanbaatar, as described in my book Wanders in Northern Mongolia. On the return leg of the trip I ascended 8,040-foot Burkhan Khaldun, also known as Khentii Khan Uul, arguably the most sacred mountain in Mongolia. The mountain is mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols, a thirteenth-century account of the rise of the Mongols under Chingis Khan, and it was here, many believe, that Temüjin—the future Chingis Khan—hid from the Merkit tribesmen who had kidnapped his wife and wanted to capture him.  According to legend, Chingis Khan also came here to pray before embarking on his military campaigns. Later the mountain would be inextricably bound up in the cult of Chingis Khan and also become a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Still later some would claim that Chingis Khan was born near Burkhan Khaldun and was buried on its summit.


Not long after my trip two Mongolian historians, D. Bazargür and D. Enkhbayar, published a book entitled Chinggis Khaan Atlas. The Atlas contained thirty-seven maps (including insets) depicting in great detail the locations of many of the places and events mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols. After I had studied the Atlas in detail and interviewed Bazargür and Enkhbayar I decided that I would return to the Burkhan Khaldun area and investigate the places shown on the maps. 


In the meantime, however, I had made a pilgrimage to 21,778' Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain in Tibet worshipped by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Bönpos (followers of the Bön religion), shamans, and others,  and by then also a favorite destination for adventure tourism. No one is allow to climb to the summit of Mount Kailash, but thousands of people a year circumambulate the mountain via a thirty-two mile-long path. A pilgrimage circuit of a sacred place like Kailash is known as a khora. Khoras are always done clockwise around the sacred place or object, unless of course you are a contrarian Bönpo, who do khoras counter-clockwise (I encountered several Bönpos walking counter-clockwise around Mount Kailash). The Kailash Khora, the high point of which is the 18,200-foot Drölma Pass, is a strenuous endeavor. The week I was in the Kailash area at least ten people perished while circumambulating the mountain. Several, reportedly, were elderly Hindus from India who may have come here, consciously or unconsciously, to transmigrate at this sacred place. Some hardy Tibetans, however, do the khora in one day. Most people take two or three days (I made it in two and a half days). 

Mount Kailash in Tibet (click on photos for enlargements)

After returning from Kailash I got the idea of doing a khora around Burkhan Khaldun, which could be considered Mongolia’s equivalent of Mount Kailash . . . Continued.


Approaching the Black Crown of Burkhan Khaldun


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Uzbekistan | Dabusiya

As you know, the Great Silk Road City Of Bukhara fell to the Mongols sometime of February of 1220. By the beginning of March Chingis Khan was ready to march on Samarkand. The two Jewels of Mawarannahr, Bukhara and Samarkand, were linked by the so-called Royal Road, an ancient thoroughfare following roughly the course of the Zerafshan River. Samarkand is 135 miles east of Bukhara ATCF, but upstream from Bukhara the Zarafshan River loops to the north before continuing on east, and the distance between the two cities via the Royal Road, which roughly follows the river, was between thirty-seven and thirty-nine farsakhs (148 to 156 miles) This was a journey was six or seven stages, or days, by camel. 
The Zerafshan Valley (click on photos for enlargements)
Accompanied by the huge flock of levies who had been dragooned in Bukhara for the anticipated siege of Samarkand, the Mongol army proceed north on the Royal Road, probably passing once again through the towns of Shargh, Iskijkath, and Vabkent  and finally reaching the edge of the Bukhara Oasis at Tawais. After another eight miles they passed by the Caravanserai Of Rabat-i-Malik and continued on twelve more miles to Kermaniye. 
The huge portal of the Rabat-i-Malik Caravanserai
At some point beyond of the Bukhara Oasis Chingis Khan may have divided his army into two parts, with one contingent crossing the Zerafshan River and proceeding east on the north bank, and the other riding east on the south bank. According to a story told by the Chinese Daoist Chang Chunzi, who himself traveled along the north bank of the Zerafshan a year later, in 1221, Chingis Khan himself led the army on the north bank. The Chinese holy man saw “on the road a well more than one hundred feet deep, where an old man, a Mohammadan, had a bullock which turned a drawbeam and raised water for thirsty people. The emperor Chinghiz, when passing here, had seen this man, and ordered that he should be exempted from taxes and  duties.”

Beyond Kermaniye the Royal Road veered to the south-southeast and passed a region dotted with numerous cities and towns that had flourished for a thousand years in the rich oases lining the Zerafshan RIver. This was the very heart of old Sogdiana. Chingis Khan, in his haste to get to reach Samarkand, did not linger in this well-populated and prosperous region. According to the Persian historian Juvaini (1226–1283), “whenever the villages in his path submitted, he in no way molested them.” The historian al-Athir (1160–1233), however, asserts that Chingis Khan continued to seize able-bodied men in the towns he passed through, adding them to the already vast horde of levies he had dragooned in Bukhara. Al-Athir further asserts that these men were forced to march on foot alongside the Mongol army and that any who fell from hunger or exhaustion were killed. 

We hear of only two cities which put up any real resistance. The first was Dabusiya, located twenty-four miles south-southeast miles east of the current-day town of Karmana on the south bank of the Zerafshan. One of the half dozen or so major cities of ancient Sogdiana, Dabusiya had been a well fortified city as early as 112 a.d., and in the early eighth century over 10,000 Sogdian and Turkish troops had unsuccessfully defended the city walls against Arab invaders. It was later occupied by the Samanids, and was still a well-fortified city when it it finally fell to the Qarakhanids during the reign of Ismail II al-Muntasir, the last of the Samanid rulers. With the defeat of the Qarakhanids it became part of the Khwarezmshah’s realm. Although still heavily fortified, with mammoth walls facing the Zerafshan River, it did not provide much of an obstacle to the Mongols. Chingis left a detachments of troops to besiege the city while he and bulk of his army hastened eastward to Samarkand. We hear no more of Dabusiya from Juvaini or other historians, but eventually the city fell to the Mongols and was at some point destroyed. It was never rebuilt and today there is no city or town of Dabusiya, although the ruins of the old city walls still rear up from the south bank of the Zerafshan. 
Looking down the Zerafshan River from the ruined ramparts of Dabusiya
 The walls of Dabusiya
 Walls of Dabusiya
An old street running through the ruins of Dabusiya
 One of the city gates in the distance, with a street running through the city
Street running through the city
 The Zerafshan River upstream from the top of the city’s ramparts
 Local people taking the ferry across the Zerafshan
Nowadays people come here to visit the tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, a famous local saint, whose mausoleum now stands amidst the ruins of the old city.
 Mausoleum of  Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, situated amidst the ruins of Dabusiya
 Mausoleum of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
Tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
My driver (left), without whose help I would have never found Dabusiya; the imam in the charge of the mausoleum (center); and some guy who insisted on getting into the photo (right)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Uzbekistan | Qarshi | Chingis Khan | Sufi Tombs

We all know that Chingis Khan finally conquered the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand on March 19, 1220. He then dispatched his two middle sons Chagaadai and Ögödei west to Khwarezm with orders to take the city of Gurganj. His two Hounds, Jebe and Sübedei, were sicced on the Khwarezmshah, the erstwhile ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, who had fled from the Mongols across the Amu Darya into what is now Afghanistan. Jebe had earlier tracked down and brought to bay the Naiman Adventurer Khüchüleg, After spending a few weeks in the Samarkand area enjoying the fruits of his conquest, Chingis Khan himself and a contingent of troops proceeded to the Nasaf region, centered upon the city of Nasaf (current-day Qarshi) about sixty miles southwest of Samarkand. This area, watered by the 230-mile long Kashka Darya River, which begins in the outliers of the Tian Shan Mountains to the east, was celebrated for its lush pasture lands. (Cultivated in Russian colonial and Soviet times, the region was and is a big producer of cotton and wheat and has become known as the breadbasket of Uzbekistan). Here Chingis Khan and his men spent the summer resting and fattening their horses.

While relaxing in these rich grasslands Chingis Khan may have had occasion to meet with some Sufis who were living in the area. Throughout his career Chingis had always shown an interest in “holy men”, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims or Taoists, although of course he never actually professed to any of their teachings. Now at leisure near Nasaf, he met with two prominent Sufis, the brothers Khazrati Qussam Sheikh (1192-1338) and Djabbar Shoji, the grandsons of Akhmet Yassavi (1093–1166). Yassavi, born in Sayram in what is now Kazakhstan, is widely believed to have founded the first Turkic Sufi order, the Yassaviyya, and some credit him with being the first Turkic poet to write poetry in a Turkic dialect. Indeed, People Today In Bukhara are still making books using his poetry. 

Khazrati Qussam Sheikh and Djabbar Khoji, it may be assumed, were members of the Yasaviyya Sufi order. Just what these two worthies discussed with Chingis Khan, assuming this story is just not apocryphal, is unrecorded. At some point, however, Djabbar Khoji must have done something to earn Chingis’s ire. According to local legend, Chingis Khan ordered his execution. The tombs of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh and numerous of his relatives can still be seen in his large mausoleum complex just east of Qarshi. There is even a legend that Ögödei Khan, son of Chingis Khan, is buried in this mausoleum, although there is no proof of this assertion. Where Ögödei is buried, if anywhere, is somewhat of a mystery. There are three very elaborate tombs in the mausoleum not belonging to Khazrati Qussam Sheikh’s family. Even the otherwise very well informed director of the mausoleum claims not know who is entombed in them.
 The Mausoleum of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh (click on photos for enlargements)
The tomb of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh
 The tombs of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh’s relatives
 One of the three elaborate tombs in the mausoleum. Tales that Ögödei Khan, son of Chingis Khan, is buried in one of them are apparently apocryphal. No one seems to know who is buried in the tombs. 
Arabic lettering on the tombs
 Courtyard of the Mausoleum
 Graybeard who guards the Mausoleum
Graybeard
Djabbar Khoji, the brother allegedly executed by Chingis Khan, has his own mausoleum deep in the Kyzyl Kum Desert 65 miles west of Qarshi. Although quite isolated, it is an very popular pilgrim destination. The imam in charge of the complex is quick to tell  visitors, quite unbidden, that Djabbar Khoji was killed by order of the great Chingis Khan from Mongolia. 
Mausoleum of Djabbar Khoji
Tomb of Djabbar Khoji
 Tomb of Djabbar Khoji

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mongolia | Uzbekistan | Chingis Khan Rides West

Chingis Khan Rides West is now available on Amazon: Paper Version and Kindle Version. The Kindle version is best read on devices that support color. 

(Click on Photo for Enlargement)

Back Cover Blurb:
Since the time of the Xiongnu two thousand years ago the nomads of the Mongolian Plateau traditionally looked south toward China for both plunder and trade. In 1215 Chingis Khan turned his attention westward and by 1219 had decided to invade the Islamic realms of Inner Asia, unleashing a sequence of events that would result in the sack of Baghdad in 1258 by his grandson Khülegü and the fall of the 508 year-old Abbasid Caliphate. The dissolution of the Caliphate by Khülegü dealt a blow to the Islamic world from which some might argue it has never fully recovered. We are still to this day living with the consequences of the Mongol invasion. Chingis Khan Rides West examines the motivation of Chingis Khan’s ride westward to attack the Islamic world and recounts the fall of the great Silk Road cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, Gurganj, and others.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uzbekistan | Iron Gate | Termez

Chingis Khan and his men spent the summer of 1220 in the Nasaf Pasture Lands fattening their horses and confabulating with Sufis. When the grass began to yellow in the early autumn they proceeded 135 miles southeast to the city of Termez, on the way passing through the famous Iron Gate, a narrow defile through the mountains that separate the drainages of the Kaskha Darya and the Amu Darya (the modern-day road from Qarshi to Termez follows the same route). This was the ancient passageway between Sogdiana and Bactria. Alexander the Great probably came this way along with a host of other conquerors, ambassadors, and trade caravans. The name may not be just metaphorical; at one time, it appears, the defile was guarded by an actual iron gate. 
 Country north of the Iron Gate (click on photos for enlargements)
 Cathedral-like rock formations in cliffs along the road
According to officials at a nearby police checkpoint, the original Iron Gate was in this defile. The new road through the area take a slightly different route. 
The new road at the southern end of the Iron Gate defile
The old city of Termez is located on the banks of the Amu Darya about four miles northwest of the outskirts of the modern city of Termez. According to local lore the city got its name from the ancient Sogdian word for “crossing” or “transition place”. There was an important ford of Amu Darya here or nearby (the notorious “Friendship Bridge” linking Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is here now,) and the city did serve as a gateway between Mawarannahr and Khorasan to the south.

Termez celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of its founding in April of 2002. This date was chosen arbitrary. In fact, the city may be much older. There was already a city here when the Persian Acheamenid Dynasty occupied the area in the sixth century b.c. In 329 b.c. Alexander the Great conquered the city and under Greek occupation it became known as Demetris, named after one of Alexander the Great’s generals. In the first to third centuries a.d. the city was included in the the Kushan Empire,  and it became an important northern outpost of Buddhism (the numerous ruins of monasteries, temples, stupas, and caves can still be seen in the area today). Later it became part of the Persian Sassanid Empire. in 705 a.d. the city was captured by invading Arabs. It population was Islamized, and under the Abbasid Caliphate the city became a focal point of Islam in the region The mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi (c. 830 a.d.–c. 912 a.d), an influential early Sufi and theosophist, is located next to the ruins of old Termez and is to this day an extremely popular pilgrimage site for Muslims from throughout Inner Asia and beyond. The city was subsequently ruled by Samanids, Ghaznavids, Saljuqs, and Qarakhanids before becoming part other Khwarezmshah’s empire in 1206. 
 Mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi
 Tomb of Hakim al-Termedi 
 Near the mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi are numerous underground chambers. I assumed that this were built by Sufis for use as meditation retreats. I learned later that they were originally built by Buddhists who lived in the area. They may have lived in them and/or used the as retreats. Of course they may also have been used by Sufis after the area was Islamized. These underground chambers may also have been used in the summertime to escape the notorious heat in the area. Termez is the hottest city in Uzbekistan, and that is saying a lot. 
 Steps to underground retreat
 Steps from underground retreat
As soon as  Chingis Khan arrived in the area he sent, as usual, envoys into the city to demand its immediate surrender. “But the inhabitants, encouraged by the strength of the fortress, half of whose walls were raised up in the middle of the Oxus [the Amu Darya River; he meant one side of the city bordered on the river], and rendered proud by the multitude of their troops, gear and equipment, would not accept submission but sallied forth to do battle,” according to Juvaini. 
 Artist’s rendering of the walled city of Termez
The walls of the old city can clearly be seen in this photo. The southern end of the city has been eroded away by the Amu Darya. The mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi can be seen near the upper left-hand corner of the city walls. 
The old city walls. I was told that it was possible to walk around the ruins. When I arrived in Termez, however, I discovered that there was some kind of security alert in effect and the ruins were closed. The walls were patrolled by soldiers with AK47s and they would not even allow anyone to take photos. I snapped this one off when no one was looking. As can be seen from the satellite photo above, the ruins are right on the Amu Darya River, which separates Uzbekistan from Afghanistan. Other areas along the river are always off-limits.
The Mongols set up mangonels and began a continuous day-and-night bombardment of the city. After softening up the walls for ten days, on the eleventh day they stormed the city and quickly seized it.  As in Bukhara and Samarkand all the inhabitants were driven out of the city so that it could be looted at will by Chingis’s troops. The inhabitants were then “divided proportionately among the soldiers in accordance with their custom; then they were all slain, none being spared.” One woman who did escape the initial slaughter approached some Mongol soldiers and said, according to the Persian pen-pusher Juvaini:
“Spare my life and I will give you a great pearl that I have.“ But when they sought the pearl she said, “I have swallowed it.” Whereupon they ripped open her belly and found several pearls. On this account Chingiz Khan commanded that they should rip open the bellies of all the slain.
From Termez the Mongol army rode upstream on the Amu Darya into the region of Badakhstan in what is now northeastern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. Little is known about this winter of 1220–21 campaign by Chingis Khan. The cities of Kangurt and Shuman (current locations unclear) were apparently sacked. Then, according to Juvaini’s brief account, Chingis Khan “sent armies into the whole of Badakhstan and all that country, and conquered and subjugated the peoples, some by kindness, but most by severity; so that in all that region there was left no trace of their opponents.” Chingis Khan and his army spent the winter thus occupied, and March or April of 1221 returned to Termez.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Chingis Khan’s Birthday

Today is the celebration of the 851st birthday of Chingis Khan. It is generally accepted that he was born in 1162, but there has been some question about the actual day of his birth. It has now been decided to celebrate his birthday on the first day of the first month of winter according to the lunar calendar, which this year is November 4, according to the Gregorian Calendar. (It should be mentioned that the actual New Moon was yesterday at 8:49 PM. November 4th is the first full day of the first month of winter.) Today is a national holiday and most offices and stores are closed. Don’t know if bars will be open or not, but if they are things could get rowdy by evening. I am spending the day in my hovel. 

I attended Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash at Khodoo Aral back in 2002. Oddly enough the First Blog Post I ever made was about this event.
Uyana, then a Ulaanbaatar resident, cooling her heels in the Kherlen River while on the way to Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash at Khodoo Aral in Khentii Aimag. I have heard that she is now working as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. It is so sad when good kids go bad.  (click on photos for enlargements).
 Chingis Khan’s 840th Birthday Bash
 Locals honoring the memory of Chingis Khan at the 840th Birthday Bash
 Shaman at the 840th Birthday Bash
Uyana and young swain at the 840th Birthday Bash at Khodoo Aral.  Over 5000 people attended the wingding.