Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mongolia | Bayankhongor Aimag | Ekhiin Gol Oasis

Wandered on out to Bayankhongor for a quick visit to Ekhin Gol Oasis, the southernmost settlement of the aimag. After dropping down from the high plateau around Shinejinst to the Gobi Desert the first oasis we encountered was Zuunmod.
Zuunmod Oasis
From Zuunmod we went south to Nogoon Tsav, a picturesque assortment of green (nogoon), red, white and black rock formations. Dinosaur bones are occasionally found here.
Nogoon Tsav
Rock formations south of Nogoon Tsav

The Wedding Ovoos. Locals who get married alway stop here to built an ovoo and down a bottle or two of vodka.
After traveling for over sixty miles through the barren desert it is a downright shock to come to the luxurious greenery of Ekhiin Gol Oasis.
Ekhiin Gol Oasis
All kinds of vegetables grow here in amazing profusion, including tomatoes (for which the oasis is famous), cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, onions, potatoes, and all kinds of melons.
Also sunflowers!
One of the seven springs which feed Ekhiin Gol Oasis
My main reason for visiting Ekhiin Gol was to track down information on Dambijantsan, a.k.a. Dambijaltsan, Dambija, Ja Lama, Ja Bagsh, Toushegun Lama, False Lama, Avenger Lama, Two Camel Lama, and Chia (Jia in Pinyin) Lama. Earlier this year I had tried to visit Dambijantsan’s Fortress in the Black Gobi. Now I wanted to meet with an eighty-year old man named Zeskhüü whose wife, now deceased, was the daughter of Dambijantsan’s chief lieutenant. This man had a wealth of information about Dambijantsan which he was not at all hesitant to share. We talked to him for a total of five or six hours. I will have details of his revelations about Dambijantsan later.
Zeskhüü
Zeskhüü

Shandas, who accompanied me on the trip. She is an excellent translator and a very personable young woman. It was a privilege to meet her (click photo for enlargement).
Shandas again

Mongolia | Tov Aimag | Horse Trip #5

On the way back from Khagiin Khar Nuur we made a slight detour to the ruins of Saridgiin Khiid, the monastery founded in the 1654 by Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. Zanabazar built this monastery with the idea that it would become the center of Buddhism in Mongolia. Several of his most famous art-works, including his Five Transcendental Buddhas, were meant to be displayed here. It was not to be; in 1688 the monastery was destroyed by Zanabazar’s arch-rival Galdan Bolshigt. I had visited the ruins twice before, as described in my Guide To Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar. Saraa and Günj said they wanted to see the site so I agreed to go again.
Ruins of the 108-Pillar Tsogchin Temple
Corner of the 108-Pillar Tsogchin Temple
Clay figurines, known as shuteen in Mongolian, which Zevgee claims date to the time of Zanabazar. Someone had dug them out of the ruins and placed them on stone altars.
Saraa at the altars

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Horse Trip #4

I planned the trip so that we would be at the lake for the Full Moon. The night before had been overcast, but we were hoping for clear skies tonight. The moon was scheduled to rise at 7:41 pm.
Somber reflections by the campfire as we wait for the moon to rise
We were not disappointed. It was a perfectly clear night and the moon rose right over the lake.
Saraa with the Full Moon behind her. This photo is particularly fitting since her full name is Sarantuya, which means “Moonbeam.”

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Horse Trip #3

The Way to Khagiin Khar Nuur
Finally we reach Khagiin Khar Nuur
Günj and Zevgee vie for the most stylish footware. And check out Günj’s silk jammies! She has been temporarily demoted from günj to female badarchin, hence the begging bowl.
Saraa reading her tea leaves. Is there Love in her Future?
Two kittens playing
Saraa trying on Günj’s hair
Günj with her own hair, which she apparently inherited from her Circassian grandmother. And we all know about those Circassian Women! There's a reason why female Circassian slaves always brought the highest prices in the Slave Markets of Nineteenth-Century Bukhara! See more on Circassian Beauties.
Saraa with still-lustrous locks from shampoo in Khiidiyn Gol
Badmaa, Saraa, and Olzii prepare dumplings while Günj offers advice.
Dumplings! This was worth two days in the saddle!Luscious dumpling!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Horse Trip #2

At the last moment Zevgee’s son-in-law Badmaa decided to come along on the trip. He would help Zevgee with the horses. Thus there was six of us: Zevgee and his wife Tumen-Olzii, Badmaa, Saraa, Gunj, and myself.
Badmaa and his three boys
Our group at Biren Buren Pass, the Continental Divide of Inner Asia. East of here drains into the Kherlen River, in the Pacific Ocean Watershed, and west of here into the Tuul River, in the Arctic Ocean watershed.
Günj and Tumen-Olzii, who although sixty-five years old is always ready for a horse trip
Dropping down to the Tuul River from Biren Buren Pass
Crossing the the upper reaches of the Tuul River
From the Tuul River we headed up Khiidiyn Gol. Around two in the afternoon we stopped for lunch and I immediately brewed up some Yunnan Gold black tea. Both Saraa and Günj remarked on how good the tea tasted. This was in large part due to the remarkably pure and soft water found in Khiidiyn Gol. I had been here on a previous trip and had sampled this excellent water before. Saraa immediately decided to wash her hair, knowing that the soft water would bring out the luster of her locks.
Saraa doing a quick shampoo in Khiidiyn Gol

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Horse Trip #1

Came out of Occultation to make a short horse trip into the Khentii Mountains. Accompanying me were my friends Saraa, who had some vacation time coming from her job as office manager of a software firm in Ulaan Baatar, and Ms. S, a Turkish-born but New York-based auteur and adventuress who visits Mongolia each summer with the regularity of a demoiselle crane. From UB we drove four hours east to Zevgee’s ger on the Kherlen River north of the sum center of Möngönmört in Töv Aimag.

I first met Zevgee, now seventy years old, in 1997, as described in my book Travels in Northern Mongolia. This is the ninth trip, either by Horse or Camel, that I have done with him. This past winter he broke his leg and was on crutches for a couple of months, but now he claimed to be just fine, and while perhaps not ready to ride off to Poland to battle the Teutonic Knights appeared fit and fiddle enough to ride to Khagiin Khar Nuur, a small but exceeding picturesque lake in the Khentii Mountains about thirty-five miles ATCF west of his ger. This was a short and simple trip, but Ms. S had never ridden a horse before so I did not want to do anything too strenuous: I figured two easy days of riding to the lake, two days of relaxing at the lake, and then two days back.
Zevgee (third from right, standing) and his extended family
Ms. S. was promptly nicknamed “Günj’ (günj = princess) by Zevgee’s family. Here she looks like she’s getting ready to invade Armenia.
Günj, looking like she just spent an pleasurable morning whipping peasants
Saraa—linguist, calligrapher (she did the traditional Mongolian script frontpiece for my book Illustrated Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar: First Bogd Gegeen Of Mongolia, and office manager
Saraa in real teal deel
Günj and Saraa bonded immediately
One of Zevgee’s silver-chased saddles, valued at over $1500