Showing posts with label Mongoiia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mongoiia. Show all posts

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Bilegt the Wrestler’s Rock

As we wander past the northern side of the Eej Khairkan Uul my driver Chültem points out an immense sugar loaf-shaped smooth-sided pinnacle at the northwestern corner of the massif. Several years ago, he says, a group of Russian rock climbers came here and attempted to tried to scale this pinnacle. One of the climbers fell to his death. Chültem says the climber got what he deserved for violating the sanctity of this sacred mountain. Mongolians, he says, never attempt to ascend any part of the Eej Khairkhan massif. 
Eej Khairkan Uul
West of Eej Khairkhan we cross an immense, perfectly flat area that extends the whole way to the horizon far to the west. This expanse is completely covered with flat nickel-sized black stones. I cannot fathom what geological forces so uniformly graded these stones and deposited them on a surface as flat as a billiards table.
 
Eventually we turned north begin to climb through desert steppe which ramps up to the east-west trending Tayangiin Mountains. To the northwest rises what Chültem calls the Big Tayangiin, crowned by 10,575' Gyalgariin Oroi Uul. To the northeast is the Little Tayangiin, topped by several eight and nine thousand foot peaks. From the sloping steppe the road winds higher into the buttresses of the Tayangiyn. Rounding a hairpin curve we suddenly come upon a roadside monument which I at first take to be an ovoo marking the pass through the mountains. Instead of one high pile of rocks, however, there is a big cubical rock measuring perhaps a yard on each side and draped with prayer scarves. Surrounding it are a couple dozen piles of rocks two feet or so high. This is not the pass, Chültem explains as we climb out of the jeep. The big rock was carried here by the celebrated wrestler Bilegt and the rock piles—small ovoos actually—are memorials to this prodigious feet. 

Bilegt was from near Tseel, the village nineteen miles farther north. He was a huge man and famously strong, but he wanted above all to be renowned as a wrestler. At the time—apparently around the turn of the century, although the chronology is a bit vague—the most important wrestling matches were held in Uliastai, in Zavkhan aimag north of Gov-Altai aimag, and many of the most prominent wrestlers came from Zavkhan. Not sure that he was ready to take on the champions from Zavkhan Bilegt began a concerted training program. Holding a large section of a tree trunk in his arms he walked greater and greater distances until he was able to carry them from near Tseel to the pass through these mountains, a distance of some eighteen miles. Still he felt he needed one final test of strength. Spying a huge cube of rock near the pass he picked it up and carried it at least 500 feet. The rock remains to this day where he finally dropped it. 
Chültem with Bilegt’s rock
Bilegt went to Uliastai, beat all the competition, and was lauded all over Mongolia. Even when his wrestling days were over he was remembered as the man who had once carried the huge rock now resting near the pass through the Tayangiin Mountains. When he died his body, as was the custom then, was not buried but simply tossed into an isolated ravine where his bones were stripped clean by vultures and wild animals. According to local lore a she-wolf eventually gave birth to a litter of pups in his enormous rib cage. Later some men from Ulaangom in Uvs aimag found this rib cage and took it back to Ulaangom. Bilegt’s great powers were somehow conveyed with his bones, and since then Uvs aimag has supplied Mongolia with its strongest and best wrestlers, or so goes the story.
 
I suppose someone could calculate roughly how much a cubic yard of solid rock weighs. Chültem says that to this day no one has ever been able to lift it. He and I together cannot even rock it back and forth. I add a few fist-sized rocks to the small ovoos and we continue on. Bilegt’s stone is at an elevation of 7280'. The pass through the Tayangiin Mountains—Nakhis Davaa—is a mile and half farther on at an elevation of 7450'. Here there is the de rigueur ovoo where we make a brief stop and I place a blue prayer scarf to commemorate our leaving the basin of Zakhny Zarmangiin Gov with its lonely mistress, Eej Khairkhan Uul.

On the other side of the pass are steep cliffs that Chültem says are famous for garnets. We get out to look and sure enough within ten minutes we find several red garnets embedded in rocks. I take one as a souvenir. Finally we reached the tiny town of Tseel. Like Tsogt, Tseel is supposedly famous for its beautiful women. According to Chültem, Dambijantsan, the Ja Lama, also came to Tseel and carried off one of these beauties and added her to his harem. 

We had planned to camp outside of Tseel. By then the wind was blowing an unrelenting forty or fifty miles miles a hour. No one wanted to make the first move to erect the tents, and the idea of preparing a meal on our primitive Russian primus stoves was daunting,  so we just sat silently in the jeep brooding on what looked like a long, cold, uncomfortable night. 
“I guess we could go stay at the hotel in Tseel,” Ochoo finally allowed.
“What!” I sputtered, “There’s a hotel in Tseel!?”
“Yes, Chültem told me about it, but he didn’t think you would want to stay there.”
It turned out that Dr. Terbish back in Ulaanbaatar, who had arranged the jeep trip, had told Chültem that I was a penny-pinching nature lover who invariably avoided towns and hotels and preferred to stay always in my own tent under the stars. 
“To the hotel!” I ordered. 
“It’s probably very dirty, and it might be expensive,” Ochoo offered
“I don’t care if I have to share a stall with cattle as long as it’s out of the wind, and how expensive can a hotel in Tseel be? To the hotel!

The “hotel” was in a courtyard surrounded by a high wooden fence. The  gate was locked, but a woman holding an immense, decidedly unfriendly looking black mastiff by the collar finally answered our shouts and let us in. Next to her small abode house is a barn-like structure containing four or five rooms for rent.  All but one are “under repair” at the moment. There’s no running water, no meals, and the price for the available room is 1500 tögrögs a head. 
“That’s very expensive,” mumbles Ochoo. 
“Four thousand five hundred tögrögs for the three of us ( $5.50 at the time). I can afford it. We’re staying,” say I.

The room features a couple of broken-down chairs, three beds with springs but no mattresses, a wood stove, and a large table. True, the place may not have felt a broom in the last decade or so, but other than that it is quite cozy. Our hostess comes in with a quart of brackish water for us to wash up with; sweet water, it appears, is at a premium in Tseel. She soon has a saxual wood fire going in the small stove in the corner of the room. We make tea with our own drinking water from the artisian well near Bayan Toogoi. Our hostess takes a chair and settles in for a long chat.

First she explains that the outhouse is in the far corner of the courtyard, and I immediately imagine a late night encounter with the immense mastiff. As if reading my mind she adds that she will tie the dog. She says that Tseel is a relatively new town, founded probably in 1917 or thereabouts as a hiding place from bandits and renegades whom Xinjiang Province in China who were at the time terrorized southern Gov-Altai Aimag. The town is a pleasant place, she says, cool in summer, unlike the Gobi Desert to the south, and surrounded by good grass for livestock. The only drawback is the lack of pure, sweet water, although residents by now have accustomed themselves to the slightest brackish water in the wells. 

Then the lights go out. It’s eight o’clock, when the electricity for the town is turned off. Electricity the entire night is a luxury in which the citizens of Tseel do not indulge. Candles are produced and we are soon huddled around a candle-light dinner of hot tea, bread we had bought in Bayan Tolgoi, sausage, thick white slabs of pork fat, and cheese. Upon arriving at the hotel our hostess had said no meals were available, but after a scornful glance at our meager repast she retired to her house and fifteen minutes later returned with three heaping plates of tsuivan (fried mutton and homemade noodles). I offered to pay her for the tsuivan, but she just shrugged this off. After the big meal I retired to my bed and slept the sleep of the just. 

Breakfast is the same as dinner the night, minus the tsuivan from our hostess, except there’s no bread. I had carelessly failed to seal the bread bag properly and during the night mice had devoured it all. Our host offered up some  boortsog (fried bread) made just that morning and still warm. Before leaving we gifted her our last twenty liters of delicious sweet water from the artisanal well in Bayan Tooroi. Again Chültem said not to worry; there’s water on the way back to Altai.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Galleria | Soyolma

The Galleria of my Hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi. The center hanging is by artist Anunaran. (click on photos for enlargements)
Painting in my Galleria by artist Soyolma
Detail of painting in my Galleria by artist Soyolma
Painting of fierce female deity Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma
Detail of painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma.
Detail of painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma.
Painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma.
Detail of painting of Narkhajid in my Galleria by artist Soyolma. In her left hand is a cup made from a human skull. The cup is filled with blood. This is one lady you do not want to mess with.
Tara-like painting by Soyolma, apparently a composite of White Tara and Green Tara. Like Green Tara she is bathykolpian, but is holding a lotus in her right hand like White Tara. White Tara also by tradition has a eye in the palm of her outstretched left hand. Here she is holding instead an enigmatic figure of a young woman. Also, White Tara is usually portrayed sitting in a full lotus position; Green Tara usually has one leg hanging down. The figure in this painting seems to be sitting in a rather loose half lotus position halfway between the postures of traditional White and Green Taras. Thus she would seem to be indicative of both. 
Painting by Soyolma
Painting by Soyolma. As can be seen in the two paintings above, small figures dwelling in trees are a staple of Soyolma’s work. 
Detail of painting by Soyolma
Painting by Soyolma
Soyolma also does traditional thangkas. This is her White Tara, also in my Galleria.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Günjiin Süm | Temple of the Peaceful Princess

The 1657 danshig naadam held for Zanabazar at Erdene Zuu after his return from his second trip to Tibet marked the ascension of his influence among his Mongolian followers. As the Russian ethnographer A. Pozdneev points out, “The Gegen’s might in Eastern Khalkha reached its extreme limits at this time; they believed in him and came to him with the most extraordinary requests.” For instance, his nephew Galdandorj, son of the Tüsheet Khan, met with Zanabazar and implored him to cure his wife’s infertility and grant him a son. After numerous such entreaties Zanabazar finally said: 
I know that thou wouldst need a son; therefore when I set out in a miraculous manner for Tibet, I visited there the mountain of the hermits, and in a certain cave I found a lama named Arthasiddha, a reincarnation of Vajrapani. I told him that there was one prince among us who needed a son, and asked him for that; he replied to me that when he had completed his meditation he would be ready to be reborn as the son of that prince. In proof of his fairness, I demanded that he give me an acknowledgement, and I now present it to thee. This lama died today, and his soul ought to be incarnated in the womb of thy wife. 
Galdandorj’s wife did shortly thereafter become pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son who was given the name Dondovdorj. 

After Zanabazar recognized Manchu suzerainty in 1691 the Qing emperor awarded Galdandorj the title of Darkhan Chinwang (Chinese = qinwang, prince of the 1st rank). His son Dondovdorj was brought up in Beijing, in the Qing court of Kangxi, and in 1697 the emperor gave him a princess to marry. Most sources state that the princess, named Khichenguy Amarlinguy, was one of Kangxi’s own daughters, while some maintain she was the daughter of one of the first degree Qing princes. In either case, his marriage led to Dondovdorj’s further advancement in the Qing court, and in 1700, after his father’s death, he too was awarded the title of Darkhan Chinwang, in addition to becoming the new Tüsheet Khan. Dondovdorj was, however, a notorious boozer, a devil-may-care lady’s man, an all-around roisterer, and a poet to boot, and after egregious affronts to public decorum he was finally forced to relinquish both his position as Tüsheet Khan and his Qing title of Darkhan Chinwang. 

Reduced in rank to a second-degree prince, Dondovdorj returned to Mongolia, presumably with his Manchu wife. He eventually distinguished himself on the battlefield and apparently fought against the resurgent Zungarian Mongols who under the leadership of Galdan Bolshigt’s nephew Tsevan Ravdan had Invaded Tibet in 1716. 

The Qing emperor Kangxi died in 1722. Zanabazar was in Mongolia at the time of Kangxi’s death. He immediately decided to return to Beijing and pay his respects to Kangxi’s remains, even though he was in his late eighties at the time. Accompanying him was Dondovdorj. The new Qing emperor, Kangxi’s son Yongzheng, forgave Dondovdorj’s previous transgressions and he was again elevated to the title of Darkhan Chinwang. As an additional perk he was given yet another Manchu princess in marriage. 

Not long after his arrival in Beijing Zanabazar fell ill. Sensing that his end might be nearing, his attendants asked him where and under what circumstances he would be reborn. According to tradition, Zanabazar replied, “The second wang [Dondovdorj] should bring into his home a maiden belonging according to birth to the year of the monkey or chicken.” This was interpreted to mean that Dondovdorj was to find a Mongolian girl born in either the year of the monkey or the chicken and that the second Bogd Gegeen would be born to her. Apprised of this prophesy, the emperor Yongzheng gave Dondovdorj permission to immediately return home and seek a new wife. Back in Mongolia Dondovdorj straight away found a nineteen-year old woman named Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu who had been born in the year of the monkey, and just a month or so after his marriage to his second Manchu princess he took her as his third wife. 

Zanabazar himself died in 1723 at the Yellow Temple in Beijing. In 1724, “at daybreak on the first day of the middle of the spring moon in the Wood Dragon year,” a son was born to Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu. In 1728 the boy took his first monastic vows and was given the name Luvsandanbidonme. In 1729 he was declared the Second Bogd Gegeen, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba. 

Dondovdorj’s second Manchu wife faded into the background and nothing more seems to be known of her. To this day, however, numerous folktales exist about the first one, Khichenguy Amarlinguy, who moved to Mongolia to live with her husband and eventually had seven sons by him. “The Peaceful Princess,” as she was called, came to love her adopted country and its people. She considered herself a Mongolian and according to legend she said that when she died she wished to be buried in Mongolia: “It is unnecessary to take my corpse back to China for burial. I became a Mongol person because of being the wife of a Mongol. It is thus necessary to bury me in Mongolia.” 

Yongzheng’s successor, Qianlong, apparently heard about the princess’s wish and after she died in 1739 or 1740 he ordered that a temple be built to hold her remains. Günjiin Süm, as the temple was called, consisted of five parts: a stele tower, the Bogd Entrance, a guard house, the central temple, and the grave of the princess. The complex was heavily damaged in the 1930s, however, and of the guardhouse and the Bogd Entrance now only remnants remain. The stele tower just in front of the entrance to the temple compound has been restored, however, and inside is a stone turtle with a stele mounted on its back bearing an inscription in Chinese and Manchurian, dedicating the temple to “The Peaceful Princess” (in some renderings the “The Quiet Princess”).
The Temple (click on photos for enlargement)
The temple itself was gutted but the shell remains and has been restored to a certain extent. The eight-foot-high brick wall around the temple encompassing a square about 200 feet long on each side is still in fairly good shape on three sides.
North side of the walled compound
The princess’s grave, behind the temple, was reportedly looted in the early thirties not, according to local informants, by communist iconoclasts, but by common thieves looking for gold, silver, and other valuables believed to have been buried with her.
The Peaceful Princess’s Looted Tomb
Researchers examining the site in 1949 found remains of the princess’s sandalwood coffin and what were apparently the ashes of her body, which had been burned by the looters. Next to the coffin was a body of a heavy-set man preserved sitting upright in the lotus position. His identity is unknown. The ashes of the princess have since been scattered to the four winds.

Location: N48°11.009 – E107°33.379, 35.6 miles northeast of Ulaanbaatar as the crow flies and sixty-four miles by road via the tourist center of Terelj; at the upper end of Khökh Chuluutyn Gol, a small tributary of the Dund Bayangiin Gol, which flows into the Tuul River near Terelj. Accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle, as several small streams north of Terelj must be crossed. In summer it might be necessary to walk the last mile or so because of the swampy road, but in winter, when the ground is frozen, it is possible to drive the whole way, assuming there is not too much snow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #3

I rose just as the last stars were fading from the sky. Only Jupiter still glowed brightly over the southwest horizon. I kindled the fire, brewed up a pot of Puerh Tea, and sat on my carpet drinking tea as the sky shaded from pearly gray to azure, with not a cloud from horizon to horizon. Two hours later everyone was finally up and we discussed our plans for the day. Batmönkh said the source of the Mungaragiin Gol was just over a low pass to the southwest, where Jupiter had been shining in the morning. The route to our next destination, the source of the Khoogiin, however, was over the pass at the head of the valley we were in, to the northwest. He now suggested that Bayarkhüü and I ride to the source of the Mungaragiin ourselves while he and the others stayed in camp. When we returned we would break camp and cross the pass to the northwest. This way we would not have to backtrack with the pack horses. I agree to this. Yooton announces that she does not want to miss out on anything and will come along with Bayarkhüü and me. That’s fine with me.
Valley of the Mungaragiin, with Belchir Uul in the distance (click on photos for enlargements)
The low pass is only about a mile and a half away. To the left, down the valley of the Mungaragiin Gol, can be seen Mungaragiin Nuur (lake). At the valley, at its head, we get our first glimpse of 10,994-foot Belchir Uul, the highest peak of the mountains to the west of the Darkhad Depression. The source of the Mungaragiin Gol is right at the base of this mountain. Heading upstream, we ride by a small lake dotted with sea gulls. Had they come from the ocean? The Arctic Ocean is over 2000 miles away to the north. Further on is another small lake, this one still almost completely ice covered.
First Lake
We ride on another half mile to yet another small lake. According to my map, there are several small ponds still further on in the cirque directly below Belchir Uul, but there is no water flowing down the rocky ravine above the third lake we are on. The ponds apparently drain underground into this lake. Thus the outlet of the lake is, at least at this time of the year, the source of Mungaragiin Gol.
Horses at Second Lake 
Source of the Mungaragiin Gol, and one of three sources of the Yenisei
10,994-foot Belchir Uul
The Mungaragiin Gol, I have determined, is one of sources of the Yenisei River System. The Mungaragiin flows west of here and combines with the Guna Gol to form the Bakhmakh Gol, which we had crossed on the way to Batmönkh’s Ger. According to most sources, including Batmönkh, the Bakhmakh combines with the Altgana Gol, flowing in from the mountains to the east of the Depression, to form the Shishigt Gol, which then flows into Tsagaan Nuur. Some say the river known as the Shishigt Gol begins not at confluence of the Bakhmakh and Altgana but at the outlet of the Tsagaan Nuur. In either case, the Shishigt Gol flows out of Tsagaan Nuur and continues west to the Russian border, where it combines with the Busiin Gol and the Bilin Gol to form the Kyzyl Khem. The Kyzyl Khem then continues west to the city of Kyzyl, capital of the autonomous repubic of Tuva, where it combines with the Biy Khem to form the Yenisei proper. The National Geographic Atlas of the World lists both the Biy Khem and the Kyzyl Khem-Shishigt as the two sources of the main branch of the Yenisei (zoom in on the Lake Khövsgöl area of the map).

In 1993 I had hiked some sixty miles to the source of the Biy Khem in the extremely remote East Sayan Mountains in the Autonomous Republic of Tuva. A geographer at the Russian Academy Sciences in Irkutsk, in Siberia, where I was living at the time, had opined to me that this was the real source of the main branch of river known as the Yenisei, since the Biy Khem is bigger than the Kyzyl Khem in terms of volume of water where the two come together. But he allowed that the actual drainage area of the Kyzyl Khem system was larger than that of the Biy Khem so it too had a claim to be the source of the Yenisei. It should be pointed out that there is no scientific definition of the source of a river system, and almost any finding is open to interpretation; hence the long running dispute over the source of Nile, for example, which ended up with One Of The Disputants getting so frustrated he allegedly committed suicide.
Source of the Yenisei-Biy Khem in the East Sayan Mountains, in the Autonomous Republic of Tuva
In any case, it would appear that the outlet of the lake where we are now standing is at least one of the sources of the Yenisei. The location is N50º51.382' / E098.41.223' and the altitude is 7,802 feet. One atlas (no two agree) states the Yenisei branch of the Yenisei River System is 2537 miles long, although it neglects to mention which source it is using as the beginning of the river.

But the hydrology of the Yenisei River System is extremely complicated. Where the westward flowing Angara River, the big, fast-flowing river that runs out of Lake Baikal in Siberia, and the northward flowing Yenisei branch of the river system combine, the Angara is almost twice as big in terms of water volume. Thus by some definitions the ultimate source of the Yenisei River System would be at the beginning of the Angara branch of the system. The largest river flowing into Baikal is the Selenga (Selenge, in Mongolia). The Selenge, in turn, starts at the confluence of the Delger Mörön and Ider rivers in Mongolia. Since the Ider is bigger in terms of water volume its source would be the beginning the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge branch of the Yenisei River System. The Times [of London] World Atlas considers the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge the main branch of the river system and gives its length as 3448 miles, considerably longer than the Yenisei-Biy Khem branch. And it is not clear if the 281 mile-long Ider is included in this measurement. If not then this branch would measure 3729 miles long. This would be in line with the figure of 3742 miles given to me by the geographer in Irkutsk for the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider. In either case, it would rank as either the fifth or sixth longest river in the world, depending on which atlas we consult. In terms of water volume it is the Largest North-Flowing River in the world. In 1997 I visited Zavkhan Aimag and rode three days by horse to the source of the Ider, which I located near 11,873-foot Öndör Ölziit Uul, at an elevation of 9,880 feet, as described in my book Travels in Northern Mongolia.
Source of the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider Gol in Khangai Mountains, Zavkhan Aimag
Another view of the source of the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider Gol
As we sit by the outlet of the lake, the source of the Mungaragiin Gol, I explain all this to Yooton, who sweet girl that she is listens patiently and nods knowingly every so often to indicate that she is paying attention. I suspect she does not have the slightest interest in what I am talking about. Not everyone shares my fascination with the sources of rivers. Finally it is time to leave. Two hours later we are back in camp where Nergui has a kettle of Yunnan Gold and dinner ready for us. Now I have now been to all three sources of the Yenisei River.
Three sources of the Yenisei River (base map courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Earth)