Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mongolia | Khovd Aimag | Shivriin Khötöl Ambush

After the Siege of Khovd began in May of 1912 the Manchu authorities in Xinjiang dispatched a relief column to the besieged city. Some sources say the column was organized by the Torgut prince Palto, who had refused to take part in the Mongolian independence movement and instead had decided to remained faithful to the Manchus. Reportedly the column consisted of 200 Chinese cavalry and eighty camels laden with modern Japanese carbines, ammunition, and foodstuffs.

According to the famous Mongolian lama Diluv Khutagt, who was in the area at the time, the Manchu authorities sent a messenger to the Chinese Amban (governor) of Khovd informing him that the relief column was on the way. This messenger was caught by the Mongol forces besieging the city and under interrogation revealed what he knew.

The besiegers sent the Zakhchin chief Sambuu to the Chinese border to meet the relief column. He greeted the commander of the column with a khadag (prayer scarf) and offered to provide fresh horses for the soldiers. He also offered to lead the column to a suitable campground near Shivriin Khötöl. While on the way to Shivriin Khötöl, however, Sambuu managed to secretly dispatch four or five messengers to Magsarjav, informing him of the column’s progress.
Sambuu’s portrait in the Khovd Aimag Museum
Sambuu himself led the relief column down the defile of Shivriin Khötöl, about 200 feet wide, and flanked on either side by sheer cliffs. As they approached the end of the defile, Sambuu and his men suddenly galloped away from the relief column, leaving the Chinese soldiers exposed to the Mongol soldiers who were waiting in ambush at the mouth of the defile and in the cliffs above. According to Diluv Khutagt:
. . . the Mongols suddenly opened fire with their flintlocks, knocking over a file of ten or more men, beginning with the standard bearer. Dismayed and astonished, they had no time to unload their pack animals. When the Mongols knew that the Chinese had shot away all the ammunition that they carried ready on their person, they advanced to close quarters and killed them all. Taking their weapons and the 80 camels with their loads as booty, they found themselves splendidly armed.
Entrance to Shivriin Khötöl
The Mongol troops, who up until then had only ancient flintlocks and outmoded single-shot Russian army rifles, were now equipped with the latest model Japanese army rifles and plentiful ammunition. Had these supplies reached instead the Manchu garrison in Khovd it is doubtful the later Mongol attack on the fortress would have succeeded.

Exactly who led the ambush at Shivriin Khötöl is unclear. Diluv Khutagt says that both Magsarjav and Dambijantsan took part. A. V. Burdukov, a Russian settler who was in the area at time, claimed that Dambijantsan carried out the ambush and that Magsarjav was not present. However, surviving members of Magsarjav’s detachment interviewed by Professor Baasankhüü of Khovd in the 1970s claimed that Dambijantsan was not involved in the ambush and only claimed afterward that he was. In any case, the Shivriin Khötöl ambush was one of the key events in the expulsion of the Manchu garrison in Khovd, at the time the last remaining outpost of Manchu authority in Mongolia.

Shivriin Khötöl is located 9.6 miles (15.5 km) from Khovd City.

Professor Baasankhüu

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Burkhan Buudai Uul

In 1998 I made a lengthy jeep tour of Gov-Altai Aimag out 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 come back and ascend this mountain.

Eventually I did return to Gov-Altai. After a two hour flight we landed in Altai, at 7132 feet (2181 meters) the highest aimag capital Mongolia. The temperatures in Ulaan Baatar 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 Ulaan Baatar 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 Narabanchin Monastery on the Zavkhan River 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 Narabanchin 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 during by the communists in 1937.”
Ovoo at Dötiin Davaa
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 the 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 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.

Once Lama Buural Lamkhai and some of his disciples set out on a trip to Khövsgöl Aimag 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.

From Dütiin Pass the road drops quickly drops down some 4900 feet into 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 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 lake itself is at an altitude of about 4,100 feet. The Depression is bounded on the north by 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 (there is now a small distillery in the town of Biger which produces vodka made from yak milk). Small streams flowing out of the mountains were 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 to Shar Khuls Oasis in southern Gov-Altai Aimag and on to China, Tibet, and Xinjiang, made the Biger Depression a relatively prosperous place.

The Depression was also famous for its monastery, known as Biger Nomin Khanii Khiid, located sixteen kilometers west of the current town of Biger. Founded in 1830 by a Tibetan monk named Luvsangeleg who had come to Mongolia at the invitation of Zasagt Khan Gelegyampil, Biger Nomin Khanii Khiid eventually hosted up to 300 monks and was considered one of the wealthiest monasteries in Mongolia. The monastery was destroyed by the communists in 1937 but not before, according to local lore, statues containing 137 kilos of gold were spirited away by monks and buried in the nearby desert. Much remained, however, and when the communist iconoclasts did arrive they took 130 camel loads of paintings, scrolls, books, statues, and other religious implementia a few kilometers away and burnt them. In the 1960s, again according to local informants, a Soviet Russian geological expeditions which had come ostensibly to do research in the nearby mountains used metal detectors to locate the statues which had been buried and hauled them away. If they indeed contained 137 kilos of gold—which admittedly sounds like a bit much—that would be 4,832 ounces, worth over $4,830,000 at today’s prices.
Biger Nomin Khanii Khiid
The notorious monk-warrior-bandit Dambijantsan once visited this monastery and apparently tried to recruit disciples here. Namsum claims that his grandfather met him. Having heard that the famous Dambijantsan—then going by the name Ja Bagsh (bagsh = teacher) was in the area, Namsum’s grandfather decided to pay him a visit. Since he knew Ja Bagsh favored white camels he took along nine white camels which he intended to give him as a gift. Upon entering the ger where Ja Bagsh was staying the man was first struck by his appearance. He did not look like a Mongolian, he claimed, but more like a Kazakh or even a Russian. Also, he said that Ja Bagsh spoke the Khalkh dialect of Mongolian very poorly and that he could barely understand him. All in all, he formed a very bad impression of the famous Ja Bagsh and finally went away without giving him the camels.

At this time Dambijantsan was still upholding his image as a Buddhist practitioner, teacher, and freedom fighter. Namsum related that sometime later, perhaps when he needed funds to construct his stronghold in the Mazong Mountains in China, Dambijantsan came back to the Biger Depression and stole the gold-plated ganchirs, the ornaments found on the eaves of temple roofs, from the temples of Biger Nomin Khanii Khiid.
Burkhan Buudai Uul
We rode on to the base of Burkhan Buudai Uul, where Namsum’s son was waiting for us with horses we would ride to the summit. A man named Narantsatsralt, who lived in a ger nearby, insisted on going up the mountain with us as a guide, although of course Namsum knew the way perfectly well. Viewed from the bottom of the Biger Depression, the northern face of Burkhan Buudai is a formidable rampart several thousand feet high with sections of cliffs certainly not traversable by horse. The back side of the mountain, however, ramps up gradually, and the slopes are covered with grass almost the whole way to the summit, posing no problems at all for horses. From our starting point at Narantsatsralt’s ger it was a climb of a little over 3,000 feet to the 11,092-foot summit.
Namsum on the way up the mountain
Halfway up is a large bench several hundred yards wide and perhaps a half mile long. In the middle of the bench is the Shine (new) Ovoo. Narantsatsralt claims, on the basis of what evidence I do not know, that in pre-historic times people came here to make human sacrifices. The current ovoo was built here to counteract the baleful influence of these sacrifices. Nowadays people come here in summertime for picnics, wrestling matches, and even short horse races.
Giving the horses a rest part way up Burkhan Buudai Uul
As we continued on Narantsatsralt related the history of the mountain’s name. According to legend, a long time ago, no one is sure quite when, there was a large stone at the base of the mountain that was shaped like a grain of wheat. This stone was believed to be somehow responsible for the fertility of the Biger Depression and people worshipped it as a burkhan, or god. Then one day the stone was stolen by people from some other area, it was not clear where. From this time forth the fortunes of the people who lived near the base of the mountain declined. Finally these people went to look for the stone. It turned out that the people who had stolen the stone had buried it under an ovoo. The people from the Biger Depression were able to locate it and bring it back to the base of the mountain. The mountain then got the name Burkhan Buudai (buudai = wheat). Since then the Biger Depression and surrounding mountains have always been a very rich and productive area.
The summit of Burkhan Buudai Uul
On the summit Namsum made an offering of artz, incense made from a species of dwarf juniper, and Narantsatsralt splashed the small ovoo at the top with milk. From here there is a spectacular view of the entire Biger Depression to the north and the long range of snow-covered peaks to the south. It should be noted that several maps I have seen indicate that the highest peak in this range is Burkhan Buudai Uul. We can see several higher peaks in the range to the south, however. The highest of these, according to both Namsum and Narantsatsralt, is Bogd Tsakhir Uul. This is probably the 12,352-foot (3765 meters) mountain indicated on some maps as Burkhan Buddhai Uul. They both insist that the maps are wrong and that all local people consider the mountain we are on to be Burkhan Buudai Uul.
People who treated us to dinner
After descending the mountain and spending the night with Narantsatsralt, who insisted on killing a sheep for our dinner, we continued along the northern flanks of the mountains to the east. At one point we turned south and headed up the valley of a small creek which soon narrowed into a canyon. At one point the creek passed through a defile only about five feet wide with rock faces sixty or seventy feet high on each side. “This place is known as the Tag (lid),” said Namsum. “At one time there was a natural bridge across the top of this chasm. This was the Tag. The trail used to go across the bridge, but now you have to follow the river bottom.” We continue on a trail that snakes up the side of the canyon. At the top there are the remains of a stone wall. “Mongol nobles used to hide their valuables up here when the area was raided by Chinese bandits,” said Namsum. “This wall is part of the old fortifications. No Chinese bandits could get past this place.”

Farther on up the canyon bottom is covered with ice which Namsum says is fifty feet thick. The creek flows below the ice. On the hillside to the left, above the canyon, is a large stand of larch trees. Namsum says that a very famous lama named Gömög once lived in a cave at the head of this canyon. He spent almost his entire adult life there meditating. He came down here a couple times a month to get wood from the forest and also to meet with pilgrims who came to get his blessing. No one knows where his cave was. After he died hunters tried to find it but none ever did. We climb up a narrow trail to the small forest and stop for a tea break before returning back down the canyon to our camp.
Lama Gömög’s cave was somewhere at the head of this valley
The next day we continue on east along the flanks of the mountains. "See that mountain?” asks Namsum at one point. “That is the haunted mountain of Tolgoi Khairkhan. You must never pick plants or even move stones if you go up on that mountain. Bad things always happen to people who do. It is said that after one man picked some medicinal plants up there he was chased away by strange black horse-like beings. He got sick and died not long afterwards.” Then there was a man, a bachelor, who went up there and came across a meeting of snakes. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them. People believe these meetings of snakes are convened by the King of Snakes, who rules all other snakes in the area. You must never harm these snakes, but for some reason the man killed several of them. A couple weeks later he started going blind and not long afterwards died. It was the King of the Snake’s revenge for killing some of his followers.
Mountains behind Burkhan Buudai Uul
Soon we passed the ger site of Buural Lamkhai, the lama who established the ovoo and monastery near Dötiin Davaa. He was the most famous reincarnate lama of Biger Sum. He lived here in the autumn season, and every autumn people still come to camp at this place and make offerings at the small ovoo built nearby by him. His son was also a lama. He committed suicide in 1937, just before or during the communist purges. Buural Lamkhai’s great-grandson is a monk who now lives near Biger Sum.

This area, Namsum says, is also famous for alleged sightings of almas, the Mongolian version of the Abominable Snowman. Namsum says he personally does not believe in almas, but he allows that many strange, inexplicable things have happened near here. A relative of his, he says, was once staying at some gers not far from here. A noise woke him in the middle of the night and he looked outside to see what was happening. He was shocked to see a huge black creature trying to enter the ger next door. He grabbed a rifle and fired a shot over the creature’s head. Whatever it was it let out a marrow-chilling scream and then ran off and bounded up a cliff face with incredible speed. There are stories of mountain men, escaped convicts or misanthropes, living alone in these hills, but according to Namsum’s relative no human being could have bounded up the side of the mountain like this thing did. His relative, Namsum says, was a very sober-minded, highly respected man who never told lies or made up stories. He had already been suffering from high blood pressure and never quite got over the fright of seeing this creature, whatever it was, and especially its blood-curdling scream. He died not long afterwards. Namsum, a school teacher, pillar-of-the-community and model-of-propriety type, is not one to make wild speculations. He says he knows only what happened to his relative, and beyond that he does not care to draw any conclusions about almas.
Snow leopard skull we found near Buural Lamkhai’s ger
We continued on and met a jeep which took us back to Namsum’s home in Biger Sum. Our trip to Burkhan Buudai was over. There is much else of interest in the Biger Depression area, but that will have to wait until later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Wildflower Alert

Alert! Alert! Alert! Alert! Alert!
The first wildflowers of the year have been sighted on Bogd Khan Uul above my lair! Saw some tiny white primroses and minute yellow buttercups. After the sighting I sat by Khiimoryn Ovoo until 10:00 pm, an hour and a half after sunset, and was treated to the sight of the planet Mercury in the west-northwest sky, not far above the horizon. How lucky am I?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mongolia | Khovd Aimag | Ja Lama and the Siege of Khovd

By the end of the year 1911 the Qing Dynasty in China was in its death throes. Mongolia, which had been part of the Qing Empire since 1691, soon declared its independence. On December 29, 1911, the Eighth Bogd Gegeen and twenty-third Incarnation of Javsandamba was named Bogd Khan and placed on the throne of the sovereign country of Mongolia. Two hundred and twenty years of Qing rule was over.
8th Bogd Gegeen
At the same time a badarchin, or wandering holy man, named Dambijantsan, a.k.a. Ja Lama, Ja Bagsh (teacher), Dambija, Khoyor Tsagaan Temeet Lam (Two White Camel Lama), etc, was in what was then the Khovd Border Region, now Khovd Aimag, some 700 miles west of the Mongolian capital of Örgöö. According to the famous Mongolian monk known as the Diluv Khutagt, head of Narobanchin Monastery in western Mongolia, on December 29 Dambijantsan did a “strange, magical thing." According to the Diluv Khutagt:

The Bogd was declared Khan of At the same time a badarchin, or wandering holy man, named Dambijantsan, a.k.a. Ja Lama, Ja Bagsh (teacher), Dambija, Khoyor Tsagaan Temeet Lam (Two White Camel Lama), etc, was in what was then the Khovd Border Region, now Khovd Aimag, some 700 miles west of the Mongolian capital of Örgöö. According to the famous Mongolian monk known as the Diluv Khutagt, head of Narobanchin Monastery in western Mongolia, on December 29 Dambijantsan did a “strange, magical thing." According to the Diluv Khutagt:
The Bogd was declared Khan of Mongolia at the time of the Mongol Revolution in 1911. Long before the news of this event reached Western Mongolia, Ja Lama called the people around him, and said, “The time for rejoicing has arrived.” He then touched the barrel of his gun to the top of each man’s head, in the way a lama gives a blessing with his prayer beads, and said, “Go to the east and pray.” Later is was discovered that this was the exact day on which the Bogd had been declared Khaan.
In the months to come this wandering badarchin known as the Ja Lama would lead the attack on the Khovd Fortress, the last outpost of Manchu authority in Mongolia, and within a year he would become the most powerful man in western Mongolia. He would achieve fame all over Mongolia for his alleged magical feats and become notorious for his cruelty. Worshipped and feared in equal measure, he became the subject of any number of legends which continue to be retold down to the present day.
Mongolia at the time of the Mongol Revolution in 1911. Long before the news of this event reached Western Mongolia, Ja Lama called the people around him, and said, “The time for rejoicing has arrived.” He then touched the barrel of his gun to the top of each man’s head, in the way a lama gives a blessing with his prayer beads, and said, “Go to the east and pray.” Later is was discovered that this was the exact day on which the Bogd had been declared Khaan.

In the months to come this wandering badarchin known as the Ja Lama would lead the attack on the Khovd Fortress, the last outpost of Manchu authority in Mongolia, and within a year he would become the most powerful man in western Mongolia. He would achieve fame all over Mongolia for his alleged magical feats and become notorious for his cruelty. Worshipped and feared in equal measure, he became the subject of any number of legends which continue to be retold down to the present day.
Dambijantsan, the Ja Lama
But who was Dambijantsan, the Ja Lama? All of his life he was a mystery and he remained even more so after his death. The Diluv Khutagt was six years old when he first met Dambijantsan, would encounter him many times in later life, and was eventually involved in the plot to assassinate him. In his Autobiography he included an entire chapter about Dambijantsan, the only individual to warrant such attention, and yet even to him the Ja Lama remained an enigma. “He called himself a lama, but nobody knew if he really was one,” the Diluv Khutagt wrote, “No one knew his real age. No one knew the real truth about him.”

While traveling through Mongolia and China in 1927 George Roerich, son of famous artist, mystic, and Shambhalist Nicholas Roerich, attempted to gather information about Dambijantsan. In his book Trails to Inmost Asia, he, like the Diluv Khutagt, included an entire chapter about Dambijantsan. Here he noted:
. . . no one knows exactly where he came from or what his ambitions were. It is extremely difficult to piece together all the existing information about his life, so varied were his activities and so extensive were his travels. The arena of his activity was the whole of Asia, from Astrakhan to Peking and from Urga to distant India. I succeeded in collecting information about him and his life from Mongolian and Tibetan lamas and laymen whom fate brought into contact with the dreaded warrior-priest. This singular personality for some thirty-five years hypnotized the whole of Greater Mongolia. At present, some six years after the death of the man, Mongols feel an unholy dread of him, and worship him as a militant incarnation of one of their national leaders.
George Roerich’s arguably more famous father Nicholas noted in his own book about the expedition: “Ja-Lama was no ordinary bandit . . . What thoughts and dreams fretted the gray head of Ja-Lama? . . . All through the Central Gobi, the legend of Ja-Lama will persist for a long time. What a scenario for a moving picture!” Indeed, a movie was eventually made about Dambijantsan, and it is still occasionally shown on the Mongolian State TV.
Nicholas Roerich
Many others, including I. M. Maisky, later Soviet ambassador to England; Danish colonist and explorer Henning Haslund, author of Men & Gods in Mongolia; Swedish explorer Sven “the Desert Wanderer” Hedin; and famous Mongolist Owen Lattimore, would attempt to piece together what little was known about Dambijantsan’s life. From their accounts and others we can attempt a tentative biography of the enigmatic Ja Lama.

Oddly enough Dambijantsan was born in Europe, on the Caspian steppes along the Volga River north of the Caspian Sea. Ethnically he was a Dörböt Mongol, one of the several tribes of the people known as Kalmyks. The Kalmyks were Oirat, or Western, Mongols, who back in the 1620s and 30s had left their homelands in what is now western Mongolia and the current Chinese province of Xinjiang and migrated en masse westward to the Caspian steppes, where they became nominal subjects of the Russian Czar. By the 1760s many Kalmyks had become disillusioned by life under their Russian masters, and on January 5, 1771 over 150,000 Kalmyks suddenly packed up and left the Caspian steppes on what would be a long and fateful trek to Xinjiang, China. Only about 70,000 survived the journey.

Some Kalmyks, in particular members of the Törgöt tribe, remained behind and were eventually accorded Russian citizenship. It was among these people that Dambijantsan was born, according to several sources, in 1860. From 1860 to 1890 we have only rumors and legends about Dambijantsan’s life. At the age of seven he supposedly entered a monastery of the Jangjya Khutagt in Dolonnuur, in what is now the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, and began religious studies. He is also said to have studied many years in Gomang College at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. According to George Roerich:
It is generally said that he killed his roommate in the monastery because of a dispute and had to flee from Lhasa in order to escape from the stern monastic law. This fact is generally known in Tibet and Mongolia. It seems that the murder was a crucial point in his life for from then on begins his life as an errant warrior-monk, full of wonderful adventures, messianic prophesies, and cruel deeds.
Drepung Monastery in Tibet, where Ja Lama supposedly studied
Perhaps it was after this unfortunate episode that he turned up in India as a wandering holy man. Already well-versed in advanced Buddhist metaphysics and tantric teachings, in India he may have encountered fakirs from whom he learned more of the mind-reading and the other paranormal skills for which he would later become famous. In the years prior to 1890 he also found time to work as a guide and factotum with various Russian scientific expeditions, including N. M. Przhelvalsky’s 1883–1885 trip to Central Asia and Tibet. Bizarrely, it was said that at some point in his wanderings he even turned up in St. Petersburg and studied law with the Faculty of Jurisprudence at St. Petersburg University. This may have simply been a rumor spread by himself to burnish his own reputation.

Dambijantsan’s life prior to 1890 might be termed his apprenticeship period. In 1890 he suddenly appeared in western Mongolia, where he began in earnest his career as a fighter for Mongolian independence. Here he first met the boy who would become known as the Diluv Khutagt. The latter wrote:
When I was only six years old . . . Ja Lama made a trip through Outer Mongolia going from east to west, and he stayed one night at the tent of my father and mother. He was riding one horse and leading two. He let his horses out to graze, and in the morning did not have to catch them, he just went to the top of a little hill and called, and they came to him.
Dambijantsan soon unveiled a startling revelation. He was, he claimed, the descendant of Amursanaa, the great Oirat freedom fighter, the leader of the last Mongol uprising against the Qing Dynasty, come to free the Mongolian people from their Manchu masters. He quickly managed to involve several noblemen and high-ranking lamas in anti-Manchu-Chinese protests. The Qing amban in Uliastai soon became aware of Dambijantsan’s presence in western Mongolia and ordered him to appear at the Qing headquarters for questioning. Here he was arrested for entering Mongolia without any passport or other documentation. Two Mongolian officials serving under the Manchus, Nanrad and Avari, were called in to interrogate him. According to the Diluv Khutagt, Dambijantsan spoke to the two officials “in a very supercilious manner.” Dambijantsan:
Although I am a Russian citizen, I am a Mongol—and what does it matter to you whether a Mongol has documents or not, traveling in his own land? You two, being Mongols, would do well to pay attention to the affairs of your own people, whose time is coming to arise, instead of oppressing a comrade of your own people on behalf of a foreign people [the Manchus] whose time of decay has come . . . I am sure, in this huge land of your great people, you have nothing to fear from a solitary pilgrim priest. Since I have done nothing wrong, the most you could do would be to send me back to my homeland.
Nanrad and Avari were completely taken aback by this bold speech and could make no reply. Then two Russian merchants residing in Uliastai came forth and after they offered to post a bond Dambijantsan was finally released.

According to one account he may have traveled on from Mongolia to Tibet, his earlier crimes and misdemeanors there apparently forgotten by then. In the fall of 1891 he reappeared in western Mongolia, riding on one white camel and leading another. It may be at this time that he acquired the name Khoyor Tsagaan Temeet Lam (Two White Camel Lama). A year later, in 1892, the Russian ethnographer A. M. Pozdneev visited the Monastery of Amarbayasgalant in north-central Mongolia, and by that time the news of the Ja Lama’s appearance had spread throughout the entire country. Pozdneev:
. . . for at least an hour I listened to stories of how, during Dambi Jantsan's journey over the post road, the people, with secret fear and hope, had greeted him everywhere, paid him the most heartfelt obeisance, and brought him rich offerings. Others told me that Dambi Jantsan himself had scattered gold among the poorer Mongols, and there was no end of entirely legendary tales.
Once again Dambijantsan’s anti-Manchu agitations brought him to the attention of the Qing amban in Uliastai. In the late fall of 1891 he was detained and taken to Uliastai, where he was interrogated by Qing officials. He refused to answer any of their questions and demanded, since he was a Russian citizen, to speak to someone in the Uliastai Russian community. The Russian merchant P. I. Kriazhev was summoned. Dambijantsan, who had been handcuffed, asked Kriazhev reach into the folds of his deel and find a key concealed there. With the key Kriazhev opened the lock on an iron strongbox which Dambijantsan had with him. In the box Kriazhev found a pass allowing “Astrakan Kalmyk Jambi-Jiantsin” to travel through Mongolia. Fortunately for Dambijantsan the officials did not further examine the contents of the iron box. Hidden inside were proclamations in Mongolian “urging the overthrow of the Chinese yoke.” Had the proclamations been found Dambijantsan might well have spent the next years of his life in a Manchu prison. Instead he was let go for lack of evidence. Dambijantsan’s audacity in the face of the Qing authorities and his narrow escape became part of the myth about his invincibility. Had the magician who according to legend could control men’s minds mesmerized his Qing interrogators? In any case, the Qing amban had him in his hands and then simply let him slip away.

By this time Dambijantsan had also attracted the attention of the Russian consul in Mongolia. The consul, whose powers of extraterritoriality gave him authority over Russian citizens in Mongolia, finally had him brought to Örgöö and interrogated. Whatever Dambijantsan was up to, he was clearly a trouble-maker. Hoping to be finally rid of the unruly Kalmyk, the consul had him deported back to Russia through the northern border town of Kyakhta.

After his expulsion from Mongolia, we hear no more of Dambijantsan for twenty some years. How does a man like Dambijantsan, who had electrified the populace of Mongolia during his sojourns there in 1890 and 1891, almost immediately becoming the stuff of legend, and whose charisma, will power, and apparent magical abilities had left an indelible impression on almost everyone who met him, simply disappear for twenty years? This is just one of the many mysteries of Dambijantsan’s life.

In 1910 Dambijantsan suddenly appeared in the town of Karashahr, in what is now Xinjiang Province, China. Here he sought out the Brothers Kriazhev, Russian merchants who were operating in the area at the time. Karashahr, now known as Yanqi, was in an area inhabited by Torgut Mongols, many of them descendants of the Torgots who took part in the great migration of Kalmyk Mongols from the Caspian steppes back to China in 1771. Dambijantsan, himself a Dörböt, like the Torguts one of the tribes which made up the Kalmyks, would have found himself at home here among the descendants of the migrants from the Caspian steppes where he was born, and he ended up staying in the Karashahr area for over a year. He must have had his ear to the ground and his political senses no doubt told him that the tottering Qing Dynasty was about to come to an ignominious end. Perhaps he was just biding his time in among the Torgut Mongols near Karashahr, waiting for the proper moment to make a dramatic return to western Mongolia.

According to Diluv Khutagt he arrived back in the Khovd area in late 1911 in the company of “a man got up like a lama, and they had two riding camels. He visited the Torguud (Torgut) and Ööld banners one after another and everywhere caused everyone, great and small, to have faith in him. . .” He also traveled to what is now Uvs Aimag, where he met the Russian colonist A. V. Burdukov. According to Burdukov, Dambijantsan’s “entire body showed extraordinary vitality and mobility. He was dressed in a brown cloak of Chinese cut, under which one saw a rather incongruous collar of a European military tunic; he wore high Russian boots. He spoke in the Oirat language, and talked about India, China, Tibet, and Russia, where, he said, he had traveled a great deal.”

He also repeated his assertion that he was the descendant and/or reincarnation of Amursanaa. The Russian researcher I. M. Maisky, who traveled through the region a few years later, wrote:
One can . . . easily imagine the sensation Ja Lama created among the Durbets [Dörböts] when he let them in on the “secret” that he was none other than a descendant and reincarnation of the renowned Amursanaa and that the last hero of Mongolian independence had become incarnated in him so that he, Ja Lama, might lift the Chinese yoke from his native land. There was great excitement among the tribes of the Khovd region. The name of Ja Lama was on all tongues. Everyone saw him as the savior of the fatherland. Princes, lamas and plain folk came flocking to the newly-risen leader and donated livestock, silver, cloth, etc. In a short time, the bold monk became in fact the ruler of the Kobdo Mongols. He now began his activities in earnest.
Dambijantsan soon set up a military camp on the Dund Tsenkher Gol near the current day town of Mankhan, then as now the territory of the Zakhchin people. According to men who fought with Dambijantsan, interviewed by Professor Basaakhüü of Khovd in the 1970s, upwards of 4500 men flocked to Dambijantsan’s camp here on the Dund Tsenkher. Dambijantsan, who did not like disorder, had his men pick up all the loose rocks in the area of their camp and put them in piles. These piles of rocks can still be seen here today.
Campground of Dambijantsan’s men at Dund Tsenkher Gol,
with small piles of rocks they placed there.

Several skirmishes broke out during next the two months, but the Mongols were unable to dislodge the Chinese garrison, in part because they lacked adequate weapons and ammunition. Many were armed with ancient flintlocks, and some had only bows. That changed when the Mongols ambushed a relief column sent to the besieged garrison and seized eighty camel loads of modern Japanese rifles, ammunition, and other supplies. Dambijantsan’s role in the ambush is unclear. Some sources say he lead the ambush or at least took part; others maintain Magsarjav organized and led the attack himself.
Shiriin Khötöl, the site of the ambush, 9.6 miles from Khovd City. When the relief column emerged from the mouth of the canyon it was attacked by men hiding in the cliffs above.
Under Dambijantsan’s leadership the assault on Khovd was renewed. On August 6 the city surrendered and most of the Chinese shops and warehouses were plundered. The following day the fortress itself surrendered. According to one source 500 Chinese soldiers were killed over a thousand soldiers and civilians were taken prisoner. The Manchu amban too was seized. Dambijantsan wanted to kill all the prisoners, including the amban, but the Russian consul intervened and the amban and his entourage were given safe passage to Russia, from whence they eventually returned to China.
Ruins of the wall of the Khovd Fortress. This is the southwest corner where the Manchu amban’s residence was located.
Ruins of the Chinese Fortress on the right
With the fall of the Khovd fortress and the eviction of the Manchu Amban and the Chinese garrison, the vast last vestige of foreign rule was removed from Mongolia, and the Khovd Frontier Region—the current-day aimags of Khovd, Bayan-Ölgii, and parts of Uvs—was effectively brought under the control of the Bogd Khan’s government in Örgöö. As a reward for the role Dambijantsan had played in the Mongol victory at Khovd the Bogd Khan gave him two titles: Dogshin Noyon (Ferocious Prince) Khutagt and Erdene Bishrelt Khüchin Tögöldor Noyon Khutagt Nomin Khan (Jewel Pious Perfect Strength Prince Khutagt, Lord of Scriptures. He was also named Baruun Khyazgaarig llben Tokhinuullakh Said (Minister for the Pacification and Settlement of the Western Frontier). The wandering badarchin who first appeared on the scene with only two white camels was now the most powerful man in western Mongolia.

Dambijantsan spent the winter of 1912-13 at his camp on the Dund Tsenkher Gol. The site of his ger can still be seen today near the base of the mountains where the Dund Tsenkher emerges from a canyon (at N47º13.783' E091º59.841', 56.4 miles from Khovd City).
Site of Dambijantsan’s ger at Dund Tsenkher Gol
The soldiers who had fought with him and an ever larger contingent of disciples and followers who had fallen under his charismatic spell camped a half mile or so further down the valley. While living here he kept a thirteen year old boy in his ger as a servant. Treated as a virtual slave, the boy wanted to escape, but he lived in mortal fear of the dreaded Ja Lama. Soon he devised a plan to kill Dambijantsan. Every morning Dambijantsan would go out and inspect his soldiers and then come back and sit on a stool behind the stove and drink tea. The boy decided that when Dambijantsan sat down he would hand him a cup of tea with one hand and with the other grab the axe that was kept in the woodbox beside the stove and break open his skull with it. Dambijantsan came in and sat down, then grabbed the axe himself and hit the boy along the side of the head with the flat side, knocking him down. “Did you really think you could kill me with an axe?” he asked the boy. The boy was sure he was about to die, but instead Dambijantsan handed him a Buddhist scripture wrapped in a yellow cloth and said, “Our paths in life are quite different. You must go your way and I will go mine. Take this book and go to Khovd and became a monk. But never let me see you again or I will kill you.” The boy did as he was told, and eventually he became a well-known lama famous for blessing new jeeps. Before he died in the late 1980s he told people in Khovd that Dambijantsan had known his intentions because he had been able to read his mind. This one just one of the many stories of Dambijantsan’s mind-reading abilities which continue to be told down to the present day.

In the summer of 1913 Dambijantsan and his followers moved to a place called Munjaviin Ulaan, along the Khovd River sixty miles north of Khovd City (at N48º49.098' – E091º19.164').
Munjaviin Ulaan. Now nothing remains of Dambijantsan’s city.
Ovoo at Munjaviin Ulaan
Here he established a monastery known as Shashin Badrakh. The monks he recruited were subject to the strictest discipline; those who failed to live up to his expectations were beaten or sent back to their families to become herdsmen. “Few lamas, but good ones,” became Dambijantsan’ motto. But the monastery was just the beginning. Now styling himself after Peter the Great, who had created St. Petersburg as a window to the West, he envisioned a new city which would be the capital of an ideal community. He would start schools, introduce agriculture, Western technology, and in general reform society along modern lines, all the while maintaining Buddhism as the dominant religion. It was said that his ultimate goal was to create a new Western Mongol State which would eventually incorporate Xinjiang Province in China and even part of Tibet into a new Buddhist-based Inner Asian empire, the dream which had earlier been squandered by Galdan Bolshigt. Unfortunately, in order to realize his vision he soon instituted a reign of terror on anyone opposed him. According to the Diluv Khutagt:
He governed all matters on the Western Frontier dictatorially . . . sometimes he sent troops to seize and carry off people who did not obey him or went against his ideas, and inflicted all kinds of lawless torture and suffering and murder. His ferocious behavior exceeded anything told in legend and became a great cause of suffering . . . The result was that the stupid creatures who had praised everything about him and had faithfully believed in him more than if he were a true Buddha or Bodhisattva, now hated and feared him . . .
His sadistic behavior had careened out of control. It was said that he took pleasure in skinning people alive, and that he even used the skin of a Kazakh man as a meditation mat. Somehow the Ja Lama had be be reined in, but the Mongolian authorities seemed powerless against him. Finally local people appealed to the Russian government, since Dambijantsan was still technically a Russian citizen. A detachment of eighty heavily-armed Russian troops was sent to the Khovd Region and they finally managed to subdue Dambijantsan and take him into custody. One chapter of the Ja Lama’s life was over.

He was imprisoned first at Tomsk in western Siberia, then near Irkutsk, just west of Lake Baikal, and finally exiled to Yakutia, in the far north of Siberia. With the collapse of Czarist power in Russia his exile was commuted and he returned to the city of Astrakhan, on the Volga River, near where he had been born. In 1918 he returned to Mongolia and began rounding up disciples in current-day Gov-Altai Aimag. His dream of establishing a Buddhist realm in Inner Asia had not died. The last and most notorious chapter of his life was about to begin . . . to be continued . . .

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Burkhan Khaldun Khora

Inspired by the khora, or circumambulation, of Mount Kailash in Tibet, which I made in the Year of the Horse 2002, I decided to do a khora around 7,749-foot Burkhan Khaldun (also known as Khentii Khaan Uul), the mountain in Khentii Aimag worshipped by Chingis Khan and now perhaps the most important site of the present-day Chingis Cult. Making a clock-wise circuit around sanctified mountains, temples, ovoos, and other holy objects is a common practice in Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism, but I must point out that doing a khora of Burkhan Khaldun is, to my knowledge, not a traditional Mongolian practice. When I discussed this subject with a herdsman from the upper Kherlen River Valley, a man in his late sixties named Zevgee, he allowed that he had always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Tibet and do the Mount Kailash Khora, but at his age he seriously doubted if he would ever have the chance. He was quite intrigued, however, by the idea of doing a Burkhan Khaldun khora, even if it was not a traditional activity. If he could not do a khora around Mount Kailash he would like to attempt one around Burkhan Khaldun.
Mt. Kailash in western Tibet
I had walked around Mt. Kailash, a distance of some thirty miles, in two and a half days, but since walking is of course not a traditional mode of travel in Mongolia I did the Burkhan Khaldun Khora on horseback. Zevgee provided the horses, and from Zevgee’s ger on the Terelj River (a tributary of the Kherlen, not to be confused with the better known Terelj River north of Ulaan Baatar) we proceeded up the west bank of the Kherlen River, soon passing by 7,556-foot Erdene Uul, which has been identified by Mongolian researchers D. Bazargür and D. Enkhbayar as one of the three Burkhan Khalduns in the Khentii Mountains. The other two are Khentii Khaan Uul, the mountain we would do the khora around, and 9,186-foot Asralt Khairkhan, the highest peak in the Khentii Range. It was on Erdene Uul, according to these researchers, that Temüjin (Chingis Khan) hid from the Merkits after they had kidnapped his wife Börte, one of the crucial incidents in Temüjin’s early life.
Entering Chingis Country in the Kherlen Valley
Valley of the Kherlen River
We continued up the west bank of the Kherlen to its confluence with the Shiregt Gol, then up the Shiregt valley, camping that night in the upper reaches of the river. The next day we crossed Baga Davaa (Little Pass), which marks the real beginning of the khora. Here we stopped while Zevgee made offerings of burnt artz, incense made from a species of dwarf juniper. He would repeat these offerings at all the passes we crossed and on the summit of Burkhan Khaldun itself as a way of sanctifying our khora. Dropping down from Baga Davaa to the Elüür River we got our first view of the black-crowned top of Burkhan Khaldun looming up straight ahead. We followed the Elüür to near its headwaters, all the while keeping Burkhan Khaldun to our right, then crossed 5,843-foot Ikh Davaa (Big Pass), between the Kherlen and Onon River watersheds, and dropped down to Davaa Creek, which we followed to its confluence with Tsonj Chuluu Creek. We camped near where Tsonj Chuluu Creek and Öngöljin Creek combine to form the Onon River. This is the beginning of the Onon-Shilka-Amur river system, which according to the National Geographic Atlas of the World measures 2,738 miles in length and ranks as the ninth longest river system in the world.
The trail to Onon Hot Springs
Onon Hot Springs
The next day we rode down the Onon River valley to Onon Hot Springs (N48º57.240' – E109º00.668'). Also known as Khaluun Usny Rashaan (Hot Water Mineral Springs), the hot springs complex is the half-way point on the khora, and travelers may want to spend an entire day here enjoying the anodyne waters. Here are at least fourteen different mineral springs, some of them with boiling-hot water, and several bathhouses. Two of the larger springs, both enclosed by bathhouses, are called Ikh Tsenkher and Baga Tsenkher (“Big Blue” and “Little Blue”), names reportedly given to them by Zanabazar (1635–1723), the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, who visited the springs many times and studied their medicinal properties. The springs are famous for treating diseases and afflictions of the lower body: knees (mud packs taken from near the springs are especially good for knee joints), lower back pain, kidney and liver problems, and also rheumatism and sore muscles in general. There is also a large log cabin nearby which serves as a guest house, as well as a small Buddhist temple made from logs. (For more on Onon Hotsprings see Guide to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar.)
Bathing pools at Onon Hot Springs
A good horse trail runs the whole way to Onon Hot Springs, but to continue on the khora from here requires some serious bushwhacking through thick stands of willows, swamps, boulder fields, and thick larch forests with lots of down timber. Crossing the Onon River and heading up an unnamed creek valley, we eventually camped for the night at N48º44.119' – E109º02.643', with the massif of Burkhan Khaldun looming up directly in front of us, although the black-crowned summit was not visible from this vantage point. The next day we followed another small creek to 6,743-foot Ikh Gazriyn Davaa, just east of Burkhan Khaldun at N48.47.215' – E109º03.616'.
Ikh Gazriyn Davaa
Then we dropped down to the Bogdyn Gol and followed this creek downstream to an informal campground at N48º44.119' – E109º02.643', right at the base of Burkhan Khaldun. This campground is on the site of a temple reportedly built by Zanabazar, for pilgrims coming to Burkhan Khaldun. According to local informants it was destroyed in the late 1680s by Zanabazar’s arch nemesis, Galdan Bolshigt, during the war between the Khalkh (Eastern) Mongols and the Zungarian (Western) Mongols. Today nothing whatsoever remains of the temple; only a wooden post draped with prayer flags marks the place where the temple was said to have been.

As noted, the temple had originally been built for the use of Buddhist pilgrims who came to Burkhan Khaldun. As far back as the thirteenth century Chingis Khan had been recognized as an emanation of the Buddhist deity Vajrapani. According to the lama Choiji Odser (1550-1321):
Many eons ago, among the innumerable Buddhas, the bodhisattva Vajrapani made a powerful prayer to be born in Mongolia and to spread the Holy Dharma around the world. By the power of his mighty prayer he took birth as the great Temüjin on the shore of the Onon River, with the purpose of pacifying the world. Later he became famed as Chingis Khan. He went on to fearlessly tame arrogant beings, and to disseminate the enlightenment way.
By Zanabazar’s time in the seventeenth century Chingis Khan was firmly ensconced in the Buddhist pantheon and many Buddhists made the pilgrimage to the mountain. Shamans also may have continued to worship on the mountain, although there is little documented record of this.

According to tradition, women were not allowed to ascend Burkhan Khaldun. Instead, they visited the temple at the base of the mountain and then went to the shores of nearby Talkhit Lake and took refreshments there while the men went to the summit. This prohibition against women going to the summit is somewhat relaxed today, although some Mongolian women still refuse to make the ascent. Zevgee’s wife, a woman in her sixties, got a special dispensation from a local lama allowing her to make the ascent. She had lived in the area most of her life but had never before gone to the summit.
Ladies resting at Talkhit Nuur
The trail to the summit of 7,749-foot Burkhan Khaldun begins at the campgrounds, with an elevation gain of about 2,175 vertical feet. The first part, climbing up the ramparts bordering the valley of the Bogdyn Gol, is quite steep in places. Part way up this steep section is a flat bench where Zanabazar had built another temple to be used by pilgrims. Here they stopped, made offerings, and refreshed themselves with tea before continuing on up the mountain.
Ovoo at ruins of temple built by Zanabazar
This temple was later destroyed, according to local informants, not by Galdan Bolshigt but by iconoclastic communists in the late 1930s. Broken bricks and roof tiles can still be found scattered in the underbrush. The site of the temple is now marked by a huge brush ovoo at the foot of which are bricks of tea, dairy products, currency and coins, and other offerings made by present day pilgrims. A huge metal pot at the site is said to have belonged to the now-destroyed temple.
The ridgeline leading to Burkhan Khaldun
After ascending the steep ramparts the trail continues on across a treeless ridge to the black-crowned summit of the mountain. At the top of this crown is a large ovoo. This is where, according to tradition, Chingis Khan came to pray for guidance before launching his great military campaigns. Here he beseeched Tenger, the Eternal Blue Heaven, for guidance. According to tradition, in 1211, before he began his campaign against the Chin Dynasty in China, Chingis climbed to the top of Burkhan Khaldun and here, “his belt hanging around his neck, communed with the Eternal Heaven.” He spent three days and nights meditating and on the morning of the fourth day descended, proclaiming, “Heaven has prepared for me victory. Now we must prepare ourselves to take vengeance . . . .”
The summit of Burkhan Khaldun
Today Burkhan Khaldun is one of three sacred mountains officially recognized by the Mongolian Government, the others being Bogd Khan Uul south of Ulaan Baatar and Otgon Tenger in Zavkhan Aimag, the highest peak in the Khangai Mountains. Once every four years the President of Mongolia , accompanied by a large retinue of officials and lamas, comes here by horse to make offerings. Each year lamas ascend the mountain to perform ceremonies, accompanied sometimes by hundreds of people. Shamans also reportedly hold ceremonies on the mountain.

The campgrounds at the base of the mountain can be reached by all-terrain vehicle via the road up the Kherlen Valley from Möngönmort if there have to been no recent rains and the road is dry. Thus it is possible end the horse-part of the khora here if previous arrangements to be picked up have been made. We continued by horse down the valley of the Bogdyn to its confluence with the Kherlen and then followed the dirt track on the west side of the Kherlen River back down to the mouth of the Shiregt River, thus completely circling Burkhan Khaldun and completing our khora. In this way we hope that we paid our respects to the spirit of Chingis Khan.

From our starting point at Zevgee’s ger on the Terelj River we rode a total of 109 miles, measured between thirty-five checkpoints. Since this included backtracking down the Kherlen to the Terelj River the actual distance of the khora around the mountain, by the route we took, was probably about 80 miles. This we did in seven days, including one rest day at Onon Hot Springs.

For more on Burkhan Khaldun see Guide to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar and Travels in Northern Mongolia. The logistical details of the khora were handled by Urnaa and Terbish at Great Genghis Expeditions.