Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Tarvaling Khiid | Part I

Wandered up by Tarvaling Khiid, one of the newer temples in Ulaan Baatar. It was officially opened on February 2 of this year, the day before Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian New Year, The temple is located on the top of Makhuur Tolgoi, one of the Three Hills of old Örgöö (Ulaanbaatar), not to be confused with the Four Mountains of Ulaan Baatar. The other two hills are Erdene Tolgoi and of course my beloved Zaisan Tolgoi
Front of the new temple
Main altar of Tarvaling Khiid
My old friend Ganaa, who gave me a ride to Tarvaling Khiid, with butter sculptures on the main altar
One of the butter sculptures on the main altar
Portrait of the 9th Bogd Gegeen, oddly enough woven into a carpet. This is the only carpet portrait I have ever seen in a Mongolian temple. 
Ariunbold, head monk of Tarvaling Khiid.
Monk at Tarvaling Khiid
Monk at Tarvaling Khiid
Monk at Tarvaling Khiid
Monk at Tarvaling Khiid
Monk at Tarvaling Khiid
Monk at Tarvaling Khiid

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

India | Nalanda University

A tremendous burst of creative adaptation is increasingly evident across Asia. The Western world went through a similar phase as it emerged out of the medieval ages. Hence the word “renaissance” has come to be applied to Asia’s reemergence today. As part of this renaissance, the Indian parliament recently passed a bill reestablishing Nalanda University as an international university. Nalanda was the world’s oldest university by far, flourishing for centuries before it was destroyed by Afghan invaders in the 12th century.
I visited Nalanda a few years ago:

After leaving Vulture’s Peak we drive through the narrow gap between Vaibhara Hill and Vipula Hill and back out onto the plain. Seven or eight miles past the new city of Rajgir a narrow road cuts off to Nalanda. In front of the entrance is a hubbub of tea stalls, souvenir stands, and particularly voracious beggars, but once past the front gate and into the large walled compound (unlike Vulture’s Peak, a ticket is required here)—the expansive grounds are immaculately maintained, with mowed lawns, paved paths lined with flower beds, neat and informative signposts, convenient placed benches for the weary, and not so much as a gum wrapper of trash visible anywhere.
Spotless grounds of Nalanda
Present are well-dressed, affluent-looking Indian families on outings (it’s a Sunday), a smattering of Tibetan pilgrims, and bunches of monks and nuns in burgundy, orange, and ochre scattered about the landscape like bouquets of tulips.
Tibetan Pilgrims
Nalanda and its environs have a hallowed place in the history of religion and learning in India. Even before the establishment of the monastery and university the area was famous for its pleasure parks and rest houses. According to one legend the Buddha in a previous life had lived here as a king and due to his kindness to his subjects both he the capital of his kingdom became known as “Kindness without Remission,” the rough meaning of the nalanda according to one interpretation of the word. . The Buddha himself gave teachings here, including the Brahmajala Sutra, the first discourse of the Tripitaka, and the Ambalatthika Rahulovasda Sutra, and his two main disciples, Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana, were born nearby. In addition to the Buddhist associations, Mahavira (the honorary title of a teacher by the name of Vardhamana), a contemporary of the Buddha who is regarded by followers of Jainism as the greatest of all their teachers, spend as many as fourteen rainy seasons in the area. (Ironically, Mahamaudgalyayana was later beaten to death by assassins said to be in the pay of local Jains.)

Although the area was famous, the origins of what became the Nalanda monastery and university are uncertain. Taranatha (who as you know was a Previous Incarnation of Zanabazar), in his monumental History of Buddhism in India claims that in the 3rd B. C. century King Ashoka came here on a pilgrimage to visit a stupa dedicated to Sariputra and that he subsequently built another stupa nearby in honor of the Buddha.

Taranatha further intimates that the construction of this stupa marks the very beginning of Nalanda’s development into a monastery. The very existence of this stupa has been questioned, and there are no other indications that any kind of monastic establishment had been founded this early. Some sources state that Nalanda as we know it was in fact founded in the second century A.D. by King Sakraditya of Magadha. The earliest archeological findings at the site, however, date from the early Gupta Dynasty ((350 a.d – 650 a.d.) Also, our pilgrim friend Fa Hien, who visited the area early in the fifth century, took note of a stupa marking the spot where Sariputra’s body was cremated but refers only in passing to a nearby monastery, leading some to conclude that no significant monastic establishment or university existed at the time of his visits. We do know that by the late fifth century and early sixth century, under the Guptas, the monastic university was firmly established. Some of the archeological remains at the site today date from this period. From then on Nalanda continued to grow.

One of its greatest patrons was Harsha (606-647), one of the last Gupta kings. The peripatetic pilgrim Xuanzang visited here during Harsa’s reign and spoke of his munificence: “The king of the country respects and honours the priests, and has remitted the revenues of about 100 villages for the endowment of this convent. Two hundred householders in these villages, day-by-day, contribute several hundred piculs [one picul equals 133.3 lbs.] of ordinary rice, and several hundred catties [one catty equals 160 lbs.] in weight of butter and milk. Hence the students here, being so abundantly supplied, do not require to ask for the four requisites [clothes, food, bedding and medicine]. This is the source of their perfection of their studies . . .”

The Gupta Dynasty fell in 650, eventually to be replaced by the Pala Dynasty, famous for its patronage of Buddhism. Although the Pala emperors established numerous other monasteries, including Vikramasila, Somapura, and Odantapuri, they continued to support Nalanda. There was one burst of building activity during the Pala period in the ninth century, perhaps following a devastating fire, and much of the statuary from Nalanda which has survived dates from this period. The end of the Pala Dynasty, brought about by the incursions of Islam, would also spell the end of Nalanda.

A whole galaxy of notable Buddhist gurus and scholars studied or taught at Nalanda. As one commentator noted, “to study the history of Nalanda is to study the history of Mahayana Buddhism.” As we have seen Nagarjuna, who according to legend retrieved various Mahayana texts, including the Prajnaparamita, from the Nagas, is said by Taranatha and others to have taught at Nalanda. See two Prajnaparamita texts:

Admittedly the historical ground is a bit shaky here, since other sources place Nagarjuna in south India for much of his life, and there are questions of just how much of a monastic establishment existed at Nalanda in the second century A.D. when Najarjuna is said to have lived. Nevertheless, Najarjuna is inextricably connected, either by fact or legend, with Nalanda. “The legend goes,” we are told by the famous modern-day Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, “that Nagarjuna was approached by nagas (dragons) in human form after one of his lectures at the monastery of Nalanda. They invited him to their undersea kingdom to see some texts they thought would be of great interest to him. He went with them magically under the sea and discovered a vast treasure trove of the Mahayana Sutras, not only the Prajnaparamita, but also the Jewel Heap, the Lotus, and the Pure Land Sutras.” Having studied this sutras with the Nagas, Nagarjuna, according to legend, then returned to Nalanda and introduced them into human society. Whatever their origination, there is no doubt that Nalanda became a leading center for the dissemination of Mahayana doctrines. (Bardi-dzoboo, credited with being an earlier incarnation of Zanabazar, is said to have lived at Nalanda during the time of Nagarjuna.)

Taranatha further asserts that Aryadeva, the main disciple of Nagarjuna, a Madhyamaka master and author of the Catuhsataka, among numerous other works; Asanga, fourth century A.D. founder of the Yogacara school of Mahayana; and Vasubhandu, Asanga’s half-brother, who at Asanga’s urging—according to some accounts—converted to Mahayana and became an proponent of the Yogacara school, all spend considerable time at Nalanda and that the latter two served as abbots here. Again there are questions about the chronology here, and whether a significant monastic university actually existed at Nalanda during the lifetimes of these individuals.

On firmer historical ground, Dignaga (480-540 A.D.), a later student of Vasubhandu who wrote extensively on the Adhidharma, is known to have taught at Nalanda. This would have been about the time the monastic university began to flourish under the Guptas. Later luminaries include Dharmapala, a leading light of the Yogacara school and an influential teacher of Silabhadra (529-645 A.D.), who as we shall shortly see taught the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang; Dharmakirti (seventh century A.D.), an outstanding teacher of logic known as the Kant of India; and the immortal Shantideva, author of The Way of the Bodhisattva, which is still in print today in numerous additions (I have met people who have memorized large chunks of it).

Numerous figures connected with the spread of Buddhism to Tibet also studied at Nalanda. This in part explains why Nalanda remains to this day an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans. Among these notables must be included Thonpi Sambhota, inventor of the Tibetan script, although little more is known of his activities either at or after Nalanda. Most famous among the other Tibet-connected personages are Padmasambhava, also known as “the Lotus-Born,” Santarakshita, who received his monastic vows at Nalanda from the monk Jnanagarbha, and Kamalasila, a student of Santarakshita’s. All three of whom lived in the 8th century A.D. Padmasambhava and Santarakshita traveled to Tibet at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen, who visited to introduce Buddhism into his kingdom. Padmasambhava’s efforts at disseminating Buddhism in Tibet were so successful that is often referred to by Tibetans as “the Second Buddha.” In the 770s Padmasambhava and Santarakshita oversaw the construction of Samye Monastery, the very first monastic establishment in Tibet.

Padmasambhava and Santarakshita modeled Samye on the monastic complex at Odantapuri, which as mentioned had been patronized by the Pala Dynasty. Odantapuri was completely obliterated during the Moslems incursion of the 12th century and until just recently even its location was unknown. Now it is believed to have located at Bihar Sharif, just seven miles north-east of Nalanda. It is not surprising then that Padmasambhava and Santarakshita knew of Odanaturi and were able to model Samye after it. The design which they used is supposed to represent the Buddhist model of the universe. The three-story main temple represents Mount Sumeru, the mythical mountain at the center of the Universe. The four so-called Ling Temples at the corners of the main temple represent the four continents which according to traditional Buddhist cosmology surround Mount Sumeru. It was here at Samye that the first seven Tibetans were ordained by Shantarakshita, after the Indian teacher had closely examined them to see if they were fit to be monks. They are still known today as the Seven Examined Men.

Kamalasila, Santarakshita’s student at Nalanda, traveled to Tibet in his teacher’s footsteps and gained fame as a debater. At that time Ch’an Buddhism as practiced in China, which emphasized the concept of sudden enlightenment, was also being taught in Tibet, most famously by the Chinese Ch’an master Hvashang Mahayana. During the years 792-794, a debate was held between the Ch’an Buddhists and the Buddhists from Nalanda who represented the so-called “gradual enlightenment” school. The “gradual enlightenment” school led by Kamalasila won the debate, and the Nalanda-taught form of Buddhism gained ascendancy in Tibet, but he may have paid for it with his life. In 795 he was murdered, according to some accounts by a Chinese assassin dispatched by his debate opponent.

None of these worthies, regardless of how extensive their other writings may have been, left any detailed record of Nalanda itself. The best account we have comes from the Indefatigably Peripatetic Pilgrim Xuanzang, who made a dramatic entrance here in 636 A.D. At time of his arrival his fame had already proceeded him to such an extant that four distinguished members of the university came out to met him and led him to a house where it was said Maudgalyayana had been born. The party stopped here for refreshment. “Then,” his biographer tells us, “with two hundred priests and some thousand lay patrons, who surrounded him as he went, recounting his praises, and carrying standards, umbrellas, flowers, and perfumes, he entered Nalanda.” Xuanzang:
The sanghadaramas [monastic complexes] of India are counted by myriads, but this is the most remarkable for grandeur and height . . . The whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls, standing in the middle . . .
The entrance to the complex in now through a narrow gate and passageway on the eastern side of the walled complex. In Xuanzang’s there was a famous Northern Gate which served as the main entrance to the monastery. Those who sought to study at Nalanda were confronted here by a gate keeper who acted as a kind of Dean of Admissions. “If men of other quarters,” Xuanzang tells us, ”desire to enter and take part in the discussions, the keeper of the gate proposes some hard questions; many are unable to answer, and retire. One must have studied deeply both old and new books before gaining admission. Those students, therefore, who come here as strangers, have to show their ability by hard discussion; those who fail compared to those who succeed are as seven or eight to ten.” This Northern Gate no longer exists nor is its exact location known, although its ruins are thought to be somewhere under the villages to the north of the current walled compound.

Inside the gate the entire population of the monastery turned out to greet Xuanzang. After taking a seat right by the side of the residing priest, a proclamation was made: “‘Whist the Master of the Law [Xuanzang] dwells at the convent, all the commodities used by the priests and all the appliances of religion are for his convenience, in common with the rest.’”

Then he was led into the presence of the redoubtable Silabhadra, the leading master of the Yogacara school and the greatest scholar of the many at Nalanda. “The priests, belonging to the convent, or strangers residing therein,” according to Xuanzang, ”always reach the number of 10,000, who all study the Great Vehicle, and also the works belonging to the eighteen sects . . . There are 1000 men who can explain twenty collections of Sutras and Sastras; 500 who can explain thirty collections, and perhaps ten men . . . who can explain fifty collections. Silabhadra alone has studied and understood the whole number. His eminent virtue and advanced age have caused him to be regarded as the chief member of the community.” His renown was so great that no one at Nalanda called him but name but instead referred to him as “Treasure of the Good Law.”

Xuanzang approached this worthy on his knees, kissed his foot, and showered him with compliments. Asking Xuanzang to take a seat, Silabhadra then asked Xuanzang where he was from. “‘I am come from the country of China, desiring to learn from your instruction the principles of the Yoga-Sastra [Yogacara].’” Since Xuanzang’s fame had proceeded him to Nalanda, we must wonder why Silabhadra had to ask where he was from. Perhaps the great scholar was too absorbed in this studies to have heard in advance about the famous pilgrim-traveler.

Anyhow, upon hearing that Xuanzang was from China Silabhadra’s eyes filled with tears. He called to his nephew Buddhabhadra and asked him to recount to Xuanzang an event which had happened three years before. Silabhadra, it seems, had long been suffering from colic, but at that time the attacks had become so severe that he wished to end his life and had thus resolved to starve himself to death. In the middle of the night three devas, or spiritual beings, appeared to him in a dream. They asked, “‘Are you anxious to get free of this body of yours? The scriptures speak, saying, the body is born to suffering; they do not say we should hate it and cast away the body.’” The devas further explained to Silabhadra that in a previous life he had been the king who had mistreated his subjects and that his present illness was karmic retribution for these past misdeeds. Then revealing that they were the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya, and Manjushri, they advised Silabhadra that if he faithfully continued to teach the Yogacara doctrine for the benefit of those who had not yet heard it he would be cured of his illness. They added, “Do not overlook that there is a priest of the country of China who delights in examining the great Law and is desirous to study with you: you ought to instruct him most carefully.”

Obviously Xuanzang was the Chinese priest prophesied in the dream, now come to receive the teachings from Silabhadra. “The company present hearing this history were all filled with wonder at the miraculous event,” we are told. “The Master of the Law [Xuanzang] having heard for himself this narrative was unable to control his feelings of sympathy and joy.” He was, in fact, so unable to control himself that when he was asked how long he had been traveling he blurted out, “three years,” even though by that time he had been on the road at least seven. Apparently in his eagerness to please he wanted the length of his travels to coincide with the prophecy.

Xuanzang ended up staying at Nalanda for a total of five years, studying with Silabhadra and other learned men, collecting sutras to take back to China, and perfecting his Sanskrit, knowledge of which he would need to translate these works into Chinese. During his stay he was royally treated, receiving considerable rations each day, including a peck of Mahasali rice. “This rice,” we are told, “is as large as a black bean and when cooked is aromatic and shining, like no other rice at all. It grows only In Magadha and nowhere else. It is offered only to the king or religious persons of great distinction . . .” He was also given an elephant to ride, a privilege usually reserved for royalty.

Xuanzang was effusive about the various temples and buildings of Nalanda “The richly adorned towers, and the fairy-like turrets, like pointed hill-tops, are congregated together,” he mentions. “The observatories seem to be lost in the vapors of the morning, and the upper rooms are above the clouds. From the windows one may see how the winds and clouds produce new forms, and above the soaring eves the conjunction of the sun and the moon may be observed.” One of the observatories was at least nine-stories high, and there were three libraries, Ratnasagara, Ratnadadhi, and Ratnaranjaka, containing thousands of book in numerous languages.

He also mentions a Tara Temple: “. . . in a vihara [temple] constructed of brick is a figure of Tara Bodhisattva (To-p’u-sa). This figure is of great height, and its spiritual appearance is very striking. Every fast-day large offerings are made to it. The kings and ministers and great people of the neighboring countries offer exquisite perfumes and flowers, holding gem covered flags and canopies, whilst instruments of metal and stone resound in turns, mingled with the harmony of flutes and harps. These religious assemblies last for seven days.” This is perhaps one of the clearest indications of just how strong the Cult of Tara was as far back as the seventh century A.D.

Xuanzang was also impressed by his follow monks at Nalanda [there is no mention of any nuns]:
The priests, to the number of several thousands, area men of the highest ability and rank. Their distinction is very great at the present time, and there are many hundreds whose fame has rapidly spread through distant regions. Their conduct is pure and unblamable. They follow in sincerity the precepts of the moral law. The rules of this convent are severe, and all the priests are bound to observe them. The countries of India respect and follow them. The day is not sufficient for asking and answering profound questions. From morning to night they engage in discussion; the old and young mutually help one another. Those who cannot discuss questions out of the Tripitaka are little esteemed, and are obliged to hide themselves for shame. Learned men from different cities, on this account, who desire to acquire quickly a renown in discussion, come here in their multitudes to settle their doubts, and then the streams of their wisdom spread far and wide. For this reason some persons usurp the name of Nalanda students, and in going to and fro receive honor in consequence.
As with all organic entities, however, no sooner had Nalanda ripening and flowered than decline decay and set in. The university became immensely wealthy from royal patronage, especially during the Pala era, and students soon forsook Buddhist studies and the religious life for careers in court and government. Also, Brahmanism made inroads in the curriculum, diluting Buddhist teachings until began to resemble Hinduism.

Thus Nalanda was already in steep decline, at least from a religious and intellectual point of view, when Islamic armies invaded India at the beginning of the 1190s. After the second battle of Tarain in 1192 when the forces of Islam were victorious there was nothing to keep them from invading the so-called Middle Land where Nalanda was located. In 1193 Mohammad Bakhtyar and his armies swept across the Gangetic Plain destroying all Buddhist temples and institutions he found and killing Buddhist monks who fell into his hands. Nalanda was almost completely plundered, but a few monks who had managed to survive the onslaught returned and attempted to revive the institution. A second attack by the Moslems followed and this time Nalanda was destroyed for good. The abandoned ruins of the once great monastery slowly sank into the plains of Bihar.

The now restored ruins cover an area perhaps half a mile long and a little less than a quarter of a mile wide, and even this is thought to be only one-tenth of the original size of Nalanda.
Restored structures at Nalanda
Along one side of a walkway running lengthwise through the site are the brick remains of eight different monastic compounds. The compounds, arranged in a perfectly straight row, are all similar. Each is about one hundred and fifty feet square and consists of small monastic cells, ten or twelve on each of the four sides, opening onto a central courtyard.
Monks' Quarters
In the courtyard of some of them is a platform where a teacher lectured to the assembled monks and other students. Some of the cells contain beds and bookcases built into the brick walls.
On the other side of the central are the remains of four brick temples in various states of restoration. The most dramatic of these is the massive pyramidal structure at southern end of the museum complex.
Main Temple at Nalanda
One of the oldest remaining buildings at Nalanda, it was built in at least seven stages, one on top of another. The staircases leading to the top built during the fifth, sixth, and seventh phases of the construction can still be seen. Around the structure are dozens of stupas in varying states of repair, the best preserved containing original Pala statuary. I overhead a tour guide here saying that this temple was built on the site of the stupa originally built in the Nalanda area by Ashoka, although neither a nearby sign post describing the structure or any guidebooks I have say anything about this.

I spend two or three hours wandering around the monastic compounds and temples. Most of the Indian families have retreated to the shade of the snack shop just outside the entryway, but a few Tibetan pilgrims still dutifully plod among the ruins. Some of them pick up pebbles and pinches of dust and put them in small ziploc plastic bags, souvenirs of the hallowed ground where Padmasambhava, Santarakshita, and Kamalasila once trod. I stop briefly to listen to a group of Tibetan monks reading in unison a sutra in front of one of the temple ruins. They are from a monastery in south India, established by Tibetan refugees who fled after the Chinese takeover of Tibet. Thus by the vicissitudes of twentieth-century ideologies and politics has Tibetan Buddhism returned to India, from whence it originally had sprung.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mongolia | Shambhala | New Book

I just received word from Andrei Znamenski that his book Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia will be coming out in June. It can be pre-ordered now on Amazon.
Amazon Product Description:
Many know of Shambhala, the Tibetan Buddhist legendary land of spiritual bliss popularized by the film, Shangri-La. But few may know of the role Shambhala played in Russian geopolitics in the early twentieth century. Perhaps the only one on the subject, Andrei Znamenski’s book presents a wholly different glimpse of early Soviet history both erudite and fascinating. Using archival sources and memoirs, he explores how spiritual adventurers, revolutionaries, and nationalists West and East exploited Shambhala to promote their fanatical schemes, focusing on the Bolshevik attempt to use Mongol-Tibetan prophecies to railroad Communism into inner Asia. We meet such characters as Gleb Bokii, the Bolshevik secret police commissar who tried to use Buddhist techniques to conjure the ideal human; and Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who, driven by his otherworldly Master and blackmailed by the Bolshevik secret police, posed as a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to unleash religious war in Tibet. We also learn of clandestine activities of the Bolsheviks from the Mongol-Tibetan Section of the Communist International who took over Mongolia and then, dressed as lama pilgrims, tried to set Tibet ablaze; and of their opponent, Ja-Lama, an “avenging lama” fond of spilling blood during his tantra rituals.

Professor Znamenski also told me that he has dug up some new information about the The Notorious Ja Lama which should shed some additional light on the career of the enigmatic adventurer. 

Some real heavyweights have coughed up very laudatory pre-publication reviews, including Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of The Occult Roots of Nazism and Black Sun, a copy of which I have my Scriptorium:
Red Shambhala enters a maze of intrigue with a colourful cast of Bolshevik secret police officers, spies, occultists, Mongolian warlords and Buddhist monks. Andrei Znamenski shows how Soviet Communists in the 1920s sought geopolitical influence over Mongolia and Tibet, projecting their world revolution onto ancient messianic prophecies amongst Inner Asian tribesmen. Inspired by the myth of hidden sages directing the world's destiny, the Roerichs add visionary adventure amid the great game of competing powers, England, Russia, China, for mastery of the East. A first-rate espionage story, all from recently opened Soviet archives.
From all this I gather that Professor Znamenski will present some material about The Roerichs which you may not learn about at the Roerich Museum here in Ulaan Baatar. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.

Also, See The Video. If I am not mistaken, in this video is a photo of the Shambhala Thangka (see 1:57 of the video) which I acquired in Darjeeling a few years ago. This thangka can now be seen in the Lam Rim Temple here in Ulaan Baatar. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Spring Equinox

Here in Mongolia the Spring Equinox occurred at 7:21 this morning. Sunrise was at 6:55 am and sunrise at 7:06 pm, making for a day of 12 hours and 11 minutes. In theory day and night are supposed to be equal but this does not always work out in fact. Tomorrow the day will be 3 minutes and 29 seconds longer, so we have rounded the corner and are on our way to summer. Next big event is the Summer Solstice on June 22. As usual I will be celebrating the Solstice at the Summit of Bogd Khan Uul
Summit of Bogd Khan Uul (see Enlargement)
The exact moment of the Solstice is at 1:16 am on the 22nd, so you might want to consider spending the night on the summit. See you there. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan | Super Moon!

As most of you lunar-oriented people know there is not only a Full Moon but also a Super Moon coming on March 19. The Full Moon actually occurs here in Zaisan at 2:10 a.m. on the morning of the 20th, rising at  6:47 p.m. on the 19th and setting at  6:38 a.m the next morning. What makes this a Super Moon is that on the night of March 19–20 the moon will be at its closest point to Earth in 18 years—a mere  221,566.68 miles away from our own beloved orb. 

Some commentators believe the Super Moon will trigger vast floods, earthquakes, tidal surges, and volcanic activity. We have already had vast floods in Australia and killer quakes in Japan, but expect worse, much worse, according to these people. Of course some scientists have Pooh-Poohed the Idea

I will be viewing the Super Moon from my usual observatory, the summit of Zaisan Tolgoi. 
 The Summit of Zaisan Tolgoi (Noblemen’s Hill)

Bird’s Eye View of Zaisan  Tolgoi, summit visible at center, bottom. See Enlargement
Zaisan Tolgoi (bottom, center) in summer, with Ulaan Baatar beyond. See Enlargement.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | New Puerh Tea

I just received a shipment of tea from my supplier in Yunnan Province, China. The market has apparently recovered from the Puerh Tea Crash of 2009 and 2010 turned out to be a pretty good year for Puerh. I bought four cakes of the new 2010 Puerh tea, three of the classic “7592” recipe and one Hai Lang Hao ªAs You Like It” cake, all from the famous Menghai Tea Factory. These four cakes I will lay down in My Tea Cave (see bottom of linked post) for further aging. By 2025 they should be perfect. I can only hope that by that time the earth is still spinning as usual on its axis and that I myself have not transmigrated. For immediate drinking I bought one cake of six year old (2005) Jin Se Zhen Min (Golden Treasure) Puerh Tea.
“7592” cakes top; Hai Lang Hao ªAs You Like It”, bottom left; 2005 Jin Se Zhen Min” (Golden Treasure), bottom right.
A cake of six-year old Jin Se Zhen Min (Golden Treasure) Puerh
Leaf detail of 2005 Jin Se Zhen Min (Golden Treasure) Puerh
I rinsed the 2005 Jin Se Zhen Min tea leaves for ten seconds, discarded that water, and then infused the leaves for one minute.
First one minute infusion of Jin Se Zhen Min
First infusion. Note the lovely orangish-yellow color.
A second infusion of two minutes resulted in this gorgeous reddish-orange tea, indicative of a perfectly aged six year-old Puerh. The taste was slightly tannic and smooth as Khotan Silk.
This grade of Puerh is good for at least five or six more infusions. Indeed, when you taste Puerh Tea on Maliandao Tea Street in Beijing the tea ladies usually make ten infusions from each sample so you can experience the entire range of color and taste of the tea before you decide if you want to buy it. Puerh tea, by the way, is renowned in China as a blood and kidney cleanser and women believe it clears their complexions. It also counteracts the effects of overeating and over-indulgence in alcohol. Most important, however, it is a delicious and spiritually uplifting beverage. Louche Coffee Drinkers would do well to sample its benefits. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan | Ninth of the Nine Nines | Ерийн дулаан болно

The ninth and last of the Nine-Nines—nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather—begins today, March 3. This last Nine is Ерийн дулаан болно: “the time when warm weather starts,” signaling the end of winter. We did have a warm spell, with temperatures reaching 32º F / 0º C last week, but the nights have remained cold; at 8:30 this morning it was 20 below 0º F / –29º C. But in the afternoons my finely tuned olfactory organs detect a whiff of spring in the air . . . Remember the Spring Equinox occurs on March 21 at 7:21 a.m. UB time. I will probably retire to the summit of Öndör Gegeenii Uul for the occasion. See you there.
The Birth of Spring: Equinox at Stonehenge