Showing posts with label Mongolia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mongolia. 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, September 19, 2021

Mongolia | Gobi Desert

(click on photos for enlargements)





















 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Biger Depression | Biger Market

Wandered by the Biger Market, in the town of Biger, located in the Biger Depression. This huge natural sump, with no outlet to the sea, drains an area very roughly fifty miles from east to west and twenty miles from north to south. At its bottom, at an altitude of about 4,265 feet, is a salt lake, Biger Nuur, measuring several miles long, its size varying considerably according to the time of year and the amount of recent rainfall. The Depression is bounded on the north by the Shar Shorootyn Nuruu, with peaks of over 10,300 feet, and on the south by another range with several peaks of over 11,000 feet, including 11,092-foot Burkhan Buudai Uul. Although much of the floor of the Depression is covered with barren gravel and salt flats, the foothills ramping up to the mountains on either side provide excellent grazing for sheep and goats and the mountains themselves support large herds of yaks. Small streams flowing out of the mountains are utilized for irrigation, allowing for small vegetable gardens. At one time even grapes were grown here; the area is currently famous for its enormous potatoes. These favorable conditions, along with its strategic location straddling an important caravan route from Uliastai, the capital of Mongolia during the Qing era (1891–1911) to Shar Khuls Oasis in southern Gov-Altai Aimag and on to China, Tibet, and Xinjiang, made the Biger Depression a relatively prosperous place. 

Entering the Biger Depression (click on photos for enlargements)

Biger Market

Biger is famous for its potatoes and other vegetables grown in irrigated gardens.

Aaaruul—dried milk curds—from the 3rd Bag, roughly equivalent to a township

Saddle for sale at the market

Nice saddle

Biger is also famous for its vodka made from yak milk.

Mountains to the south of the Biger. These mountains are notorious for their sightings of almas, the Mongolian equivalent of yetis. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Burkhan Buudai Uul

In 1998 I made a lengthy jeep tour of Gov-Altai Aimag in southwest Mongolia. While driving through the Biger Depression about 60 miles southeast of Altai, the capital of Gov-Altai, my jeep driver, a man named Chültem, pointed out a mountain to the south known as Burkhan Buudai Uul. “This is the sacred mountain of central Gov-Altai Aimag,” he said. “It is possible to ride horses to the top. You should come back again to Gov-Altai sometime and go to the summit of this mountain.” Later in the trip we again saw Burkhan Buudai Uul from various distances and perspectives and I soon made up my mind to someday return and ascend this mountain.

I was not able to get to Gov-Altai Aimag until some years later. After a two hour flight from Ulaanbaatar my translator, a twenty-two year old woman named Oyuna, and I landed in Altai, at 7132 feet the highest aimag capital Mongolia. The temperatures in Ulaanbaatar had been up in the eighties but a surprisingly chill wind greeted us as we walked from the plane to the small airport terminal. From out of the throng just outside the gates appeared two men who appeared to be in their sixties. The thin and wiry one introduced himself as Namsum (namsum = “bow and arrow”). Acquaintances in Ulaanbaatar had assured me that he was an expert in the history and local lore of Gov-Altai and in particular the Biger Depression and Burkhan Buudai Uul. He had been born in the Biger Depression and had worked there all his life as a schoolteacher, but he was now retired. He was nattily attired in dress shirt and slacks, khaki jacket, polished brown loafers, and a gray fedora. The man with him, he explained, was a schoolteacher chum of his from Altai town who out of curiosity had come along to the airport to meet the visitor to Gov-Altai. While waiting for our luggage Namsum mentioned that just the day before, June 25, it had snowed in Altai.

After a stop for staples at the Altai Market, a conglomeration of steel cargo containers with goods sold out of their back doors, we headed southeast on the unpaved road to the Biger Depression. A few miles out of town, on a hillside a half mile or so to the right of the road, could be seen several small stands of larch. “See those trees over there?” asked Namsum. I had taken note of them, since trees are so unusual in the Altai area. “Back in 1921,” he continued, ”a small band of White Russians under the command of the Buryat Vandanov rode down here from Narobanchin Monastery on the Zavkhan River north of here and was going to loot the monastery known as Aryn Khüree, which was located just behind that hill. It was wintertime and the black trunks of the trees stood out against the snow. From several miles away Vandanov saw the trees and thought they were Mongolian fighters assembled to protect Aryn Khüree. He and the White Russians turned around and rode back to Narobanchin Monastery. There used to be a monument near the base of the hill with an inscription on it thanking the trees for saving Aryn Khüree, but it has since disappeared. And of course Aryn Khüree itself was later destroyed by the communists in 1937.”

Vandanov had been a commander in the army of the notorious world-class psychopath and megalomaniac Roman Fyodorovich von Ungern-Sternberg (1886–1921), the so-called Bloody Baron, who with a rag-tag army of White Russian refugees and soldiers-of-fortune; displaced Cossacks; desperados and criminals; psychopaths of various hues; Inner Asian malcontents, including a detachment of Bashkir Muslims; and other assorted riffraff, had seized control of Örgöö (Ulaanbaatar) in February of 1921. He had intended to conquer all of Mongolia and then use it as a base for an Asian Buddhist empire. As one of his followers put, it, “Here in these historic plains we will organize an army as powerful as that of Genghis Khan. Then we will move, as that great man did, and smash the whole of Europe. The world must die so that a new and better world may come forth, reincarnated on a higher plane.” Bolshevik partisans soon put an end to this quixotic scheme. The Bloody Baron was captured and eventually executed, but shards of his army under the command of renegades like Vandanov continued to terrorize western Mongolia, including what is now Gov-Altai Aimag.

Soon we start the gradual descent toward Dötiin Davaa, a 9099-foot pass through the Shar Shorootyn Mountains. In a matter of minutes the skies cloud over completely and big wet snowflakes are falling. Namsum is impressed. Rain or snow at the beginning of a trip, especially a journey to a sacred mountain like Burkhan Buudai Uul, is a good sign, he insists. By the time we reach the pass, sixteen miles from Altai and almost 2000 feet higher, we are in the middle of an outright blizzard. It was June 26. At the top of the pass is a large ovoo surmounted by a length of tree trunk draped with hundreds of blue prayer scarves. Several cars and jeeps have stopped here and a dozen people are circumambulating the ovoo. One man has a bottle of vodka and is tossing capfuls of the alcohol onto the ovoo, while others splash the rocks with offerings of milk tea from plastic soda bottles. We get out of the jeep and circumambulate the ovoo three times on foot. Back in the jeep Namsum related that this large ovoo here at Dötiin Davaa was created by a famous local lama named Buural Lamkhai (c.1860-1910). As late as the nineteenth century, he says, the Gov-Altai region and especially the area around Dötiin Davaa had been well-known for its shamans. They were notorious, so claims Namsum, for causing mischief of one kind or another and were especially skilled at inflicting curses on people. The local herdsmen were afraid of them and they were in constant conflict with the local Buddhist lamas.

Ovoo at 9099-foot Dötiin Davaa
Once Lama Buural Lamkhai and some of his disciples set out on a trip to Lake Khövsgöl in northwest Mongolia. They had no sooner started out than two shamans, followers of the chief shaman in the area, stole their horses. Buural Lamkhai went into meditation and began chanting. This went on for several days. Soon the chief shaman fell ill; his arms and legs became numb and he was unable to move. Suspecting that Buural Lamkhai was the cause of his ailments he ordered his two followers to return the stolen horses and then beg the lama to come and heal him. This Buural Lamkhai did. The chief shaman recovered his health but his shamanic power was broken. To commemorate his victory over the shamans Buural Lamkhai built this ovoo here at Dötiin Davaa and established a temple nearby named Bureg Nomyn Khaan Khiid. “Ever since then, Gov-Altai has not been cursed by shamans,” noted Namsum. The temple has since been destroyed, but all travelers on the road still stop at the pass and make offerings to Buural Lamkhai’s ovoo. The lama had a camp near where Namsum was born, at Bayan Gol in the shadow of Burkhan Buudai Uul, and Namsum says we may get a chance to visit this place after we ascend the mountain. I ask Namsum if there are still practicing shamans in Gov-Altai. There are no traditional shamans still active that he is aware of, but he insists that there are still people who are quite capable of inflicting curses on their enemies.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Mongolia | Omnögöv Aimag | Khermen Tsav

Wandered by Khermen Tsav, located in an extremely remote area forty-five miles northeast of Ekhiin Gol Oasis. Tsav is generally defined as a “fissure”, or break in the surrounding strata of rocks. Often a tsav is an outcropping of rock that contains dinosaur fossils. The red geological formations here are reportedly identical to the more famous Flaming Cliffs in eastern Omnogov where Roy Chapman Andrews made important discoveries of dinosaur fossils back in the 1920s. Khermen Tsav is also famous for its dinosaur fossils.

The red-tinged area of Khermen Tsav, measuring about eight miles long and up to a mile wide, can easily be seen in satellite photos. (click on photos for enlargements)
Khermen Tsav
Khermen Tsav
Khermen Tsav
Khermen Tsav
Khermen Tsav
Khermen Tsav
Khermen Tsav
At places the ground is littered with hundreds of dinosaur fossils. Local herdsmen claim they were left behind by paleontologists who did not want to be bothered with duplicates of fossil samples they already had. 

Friday, January 1, 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.