Monday, February 23, 2009

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Good Heavens!

Again, I don’t know why I waste on my time on you Dolts, but I will go ahead anyhow and point out that there is a plethora of Interesting Stuff Going On In The Heavens This Week. First and perhaps foremost, there is a New Moon at exactly 9:31 a.m. on the morning of the 25th (UB local time). This marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Lunar calendar. The New Year is celebrated here in Mongolia as Tsagaan Sar (White Month), the biggest holiday of the year. For various arcane reasons understood only by professional calendarists, the Chinese celebrated the beginning of the Lunar Year during the last New Moon, back in January. Often the Chinese and Mongolian New Years coincide. Anyhow, the Tibetan New Year this year is also on the 25th of this month, not last month like the Chinese New Year. So let’s hear it for the Tibetans!

I usually greet the dawn on the first day of the New Year at Khiimoryn Ovoo, which is located on a knoll just behind my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi. Usually several thousand Mongolians (men only, women go elsewhere) show up here to greet the rising sun. This year the sun promises to appear at 7:42, but hey, these days you can't count on anything. I will try to be there, but I won’t make any promises either.

Greeting the Dawn at Khiimoryn Ovoo during 2007 Tsagaan Sar

And as if a New Moon on the morning of the 25th (local time) is not enough we will also be treated to the spectacle of Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury in close proximity in the sky to the south-southeast! How exciting is that!

Graphic courtesy of Sky and Telescope

And if that is not enough to get your heart palpitating there will also be a Quadruple Transit of Saturn's Moons!!!
"Titan, Mimas, Dione, and Enceladus will pass directly in front of Saturn and we'll see their silhouettes crossing Saturn's cloudtops — all four at the same time," says Keith Noll of the Space Telescope Science Institute . . . The Hubble Space Telescope will be watching this one—and some amateur astronomers will be able to watch too, though only big Titan and its shadow may be visible from the ground. The timing favors observers along the Pacific coast of North America, Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, and east Asia.
There is a lot more incredible stuff happening in the Heavens toward the end of the week, but I think that is enough for you to digest for now. Stay tuned for more . . .

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Uzbekistan | Turkey | Miniatures | Gunj

Our very own Girl From The Golden Horn, a.k.a. Gunj the International Adventuress and Temptress is arranging a show of miniatures by Uzbekistan painter Jahongir Ashurov. The exhibition will be held in Istanbul either this Spring or early Fall.

Gunj in Mongolia

Jahongir Ashurov does both Bukharan School Miniatures and Persian Style Miniatures. As soon as the final dates for the Istanbul show have been announced I will post them so you can make your travel and hotel reservations.

Here are some samples of his work. Some of these are works in progress, without the final touches.

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Detail of Miniature by Jahongir Ashurov

Monday, February 16, 2009

China | Beijing | Imperial College

From the Confucius Temple I passed through an archway into the Gui Zi Jian (Imperial College) complex, located just to the west. The Gui Zi Jian was created by Khölög Khan (1281–1311), who in 1308 had been named Mongol Yuan Emperor Wuzong at the old Mongol capital of Shangdu near Dolonnuur in what is now the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia.

Khölög Khan, a.k.a. Emperor Wuzong

The same year he established the Gui Zi Jian right next door to the Confucius Temple founded by his predecessor, the Mongol Yuan Emperor Chengzong. The whole complex covers 28,000 square meters, or almost seven acres. It would become the highest ranking educational institution in China during the Yuan Dynasty and remained so during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now it is the oldest educational institution in China which has been preserved intact.

Gateway to the Gui Zi Jian
Building in the Imperial College

Building in the Imperial College

Like the Confucius Temple, the Gui Zi Jian contains numerous trees planted in the fourteenth century, during the Yuan Dynasty. Here they are known as Chinese Scholar Trees. This one was later given the name Luo Guo Huai (Hunchback) by the Qing emperor Qianlong, who said that it resembled one of his advisers, a hunchback himself.

Tree named Luo Guo Huai

This Chinese Scholar Tree was planted by Xu Heng, the president of Guo Zi Jian for a time during the Yuan Dynasty. It flourished for a while and then withered and appeared to have died. Then in 1751, in the Qing Dynasty, the tree suddenly sprang back to life during the celebration of the 6oth birthday of the mother of the Qianlong emperor, which was considered auspicous. It was given the name Fu Su Huai, meaning “Coming back to Life.” Now the main trunk is propped up with a metal support but overall the tree appears fairly healthy.

Tree named Fu Su Huai

Entrance to the Scholars’ Courtyard

Statues of Scholars in the Scholars’ Courtyard

Statues of Scholars in the Scholars’ Courtyard

Statues of Scholars in the Scholars’ Courtyard

Vegetarian restaurant just outside the entrance to the Imperial College. From the assortment of the luxury sedans parked out front this appeared to be a pretty up-scale place. I did not go in.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mongolia | Nick Roerich’s Better Half Weighs In

Helena Roerich

There was a meeting yesterday of the Roerich Mongolia Museum committee here in Ulaan Baatar and hopefully plans are moving ahead for an Opening This Summer. See How You Can Help.

Mongolia | Roerich | Heart of Asia Excerpt

Excerpt from The Heart of Asia (1929)

by Nicholas Roerich

If it was important to become acquainted with the Oirots and Old Believers, then it was still more important to see the Mongols on whom at present, with justification, the world turns its eye.

It is the same Mongolia, whose very name impelled the inhabitants of the ancient Turkestan towns to flee their houses in terror, leaving behind an inscription: “God save us from the Mongols.” And because of them, even fishermen in far-away Denmark feared to venture into the open sea. Thus was the world awed by the name of the terrible conquerors.

When hearing the stories about the Mongols, one is astonished by their irreconcilable contradictions. On one hand you hear, that the Mongolian army chiefs even now, on capturing an enemy, cut out his heart and eat it. And one commander even stated that if you cut out the heart of a Chinese, he only grits his teeth, but the Russians scream terribly. There are also tales of Shaman conjurers, and of how, in the darkness of the yurts of the Shamans, you can hear the trampling of whole droves of horses, the sound of coveys of eagles in flight and the hissing of innumerable snakes. At the will of the Shaman, snow falls inside the yurt. Such manifestations of will power indeed exist. Incidentally, is it not possible that the word “Shaman” is a depraved form of the Sanskrit “Shraman”, just as “Bokhara” is nothing but the altered Buddhist word “Vihara”?

In Urga they related to us the following episode, showing the will power of certain lamas: a certain man received word from a revered lama that after two years of prosperity, great danger would befall him, if he would remain in Urga after a given date. Two years passed in full prosperity, and as is often the case, the successful man entirely forgot the warning. Unexpectedly, the revolution broke out and the opportunity to leave Urga safely was missed. Terrified, the man hurried to the lama again. The latter, reproving him, promised to save him once again and ordered him to depart the next morning with his whole family. “But”, he added, “should you meet soldiers, do not try to run away, but remain absolutely motionless.” The man did as the lama told him. On the way a detachment of soldiers approached. The family stopped and remained silent and motionless. As the soldiers passed near them, they heard one of them say to another:

“Look, what’s that? People?”

But the other man replied: “What’s the matter? Are you blind? Can’t you see they are stones!”

When you visit the Mongolian printing press in Urga and speak to the Minister of Education, Batukhan, and to the well-known Buriato-Mongolian scholar, honorary secretary of the Scientific Committee, Djemsarano: when you become acquainted with lamas, who translate Algebra and Geometry text books into Mongolian, you see, that the seeming contradictions combine in the potentialities of the people, which justly turn toward its glorious past.

To the casual passer-by, Mongolia reveals its outer self, which astonishes one by its wealth of color, its costumes, in which age-old traditions are blended with brilliantly-staged ceremonials. But on closer acquaintance, you will find among the Mongols serious scientific work, a careful investigation of their own country and a desire to send their youth abroad to absorb the methods of contemporary science and technical knowledge. The Mongols go to Germany. They would also like to visit America, but the cost of the journey and of living here, and chiefly, also, their ignorance of the language, are serious obstacles. I must say that during our stay in Mongolia we saw much good in the Mongols. Among many other things, I was pleasantly touched by their serious attitude towards the remains of Mongol antiquity, by their efforts to retain these monuments and by their strictly scientific study of them.

The remarkable discovery by Kozlov’s expedition on Mongol territory opened a new page in, the history of Siberian antiquity. The same animal designs, which we knew only on metal objects, were discovered on textiles and other material. On the Mongolian territory there are large numbers of kurgans, kereksurs, so-called “deer-stones” and “stone-babas”. All these await further study.

In Urga we had to decide the further movements of the expedition. One possibility was to go through China, for, in addition to our passport from the Peking Government, Yang-Tutu had also issued for us a second passport, exactly my height in length! But another circumstance intervened: In Urga we met the representative of the Government of the Dalai Lama, Lobzang Cholden, who proposed to us that we go through Tibet. Not wishing to intrude, we asked him to confirm his invitation by the written consent of the Lhasa Government. He sent two letters to the Dalai Lama in Lhasa through Tibetan caravans and also asked the Tibetan representative in Peking to communicate with Lhasa. Three months passed, and Lobzang Cholden, who also was acting consul, informed us that he had received a positive reply via Peking and that he could issue the official passports to us and give us a letter to the Dalai Lama. As we learned afterwards, these passports are indeed entirely valid. Under the circumstances, we naturally preferred to go through the Gobi and Tibet, instead of risking chance attacks by the Hunhuses in China.

A curious incident should be mentioned. When we were preparing to depart, my son George, drilling our Mongols to use their rifles, took them to the outskirts of the town. As they crept up a slope it appeared that on the other side, a Mongolian infantry detachment was going through the same drill. The sight of both sides meeting each other unexpectedly on the ridge of the hill was most extraordinary. This drill proved to be not at all unnecessary—as our later encounters with the Panagis proved.

On the 13th of April, 1927, our expedition, with the assistance and goodwishes of the Mongolian authorities, set out in a southwestern direction towards the Mongolian frontier post, the Yum-Beise Monastery.

A part of the way from Urga, now called Ulan-Bator-Khoto, to Yum-Beise, we covered by motor. The heavily freighted automobiles looked like battle-tanks, and on the top, in yellow, blue and red attire, with coned caps, sat our fellow-travelers, the Buriat and Mongol lamas.

At first we intended to use motors beyond Yum-Beise also. The people told us that we could easily cross the Gobi on them. But this was untrue. The 600 miles more or less, up to Yum-Beise, we covered with difficulty in twelve days, and some days even we did no more than ten to fifteen miles, because of breakages, difficult crossings of rivers and stony ridges. Even here, there was no actual road. Here and there was a camel path, but most of the way was through virgin land, and we had to scout. Two conditions must be remembered. The first, that all existing maps are very indefinite. The second, that one cannot very well trust the local guides. Our guide, an old lama, took us, not to the present-day Yum-Beise, but to an ancient destroyed city, fifty miles to the west. The old man had been confused!

It was evident that we had to abandon our motors in Yum-Beise. We engaged a caravan from the local monastery which undertook to take us in less than twenty-one days to Shih-pao-ch’eng, between Ansijau and Nanshan. The road from Yum-Beise to Anhsi was interesting, because no traveler before us had used it. It was instructive to investigate how fit it was for travel, in the matters of water supply, fodder and safety. Only the old lama from Yum-Beise knew this road, he assured us, that this direction was far better than the other two, one of which is round about, from the western side, and the other, along the present Chinese road to the east. Recommending this way, he insisted that the one danger of this road—namely the powerful brigand Jalama—had been killed by the Mongols two years ago. And, indeed, in Urga we had seen Jalama’s head in alcohol and had heard many tales about this remarkable man. The Mongolian deserts will guard the legends about Jalama, but no one will ever ascertain what inner motives impelled his strange actions. Jalama was a law graduate from a Russian university, showing unusual abilities. He then went to Mongolia, where he distinguished himself for his activities against the Chinese. He then spent several years in Tibet, studied Lamaism, and also the control of will-power, for which he was naturally equipped. Returning to Mongolia, Jalama received the title, Gun, a title of the Khoshun prince. But he got into difficulties with a Cossack officer and soon found himself in a Russian jail. In the revolution of 1917, he was released. Then followed invasions and activities within Mongolia, after which he gathered round himself a large body of helpers, fortified himself in the Central Gobi and built a city, using as laborers the prisoners of numerous caravans which he had captured [See Ja Lama’s Fortress]. In 1923, a Mongolian officer approached Jalama, as though offering him a friendly gift of a khatik. But under the white silk scarf was a Browning, and the ruler of the desert fell dead, pierced by several bullets. The head of Jalama was carried on a spear around the Mongolian bazaars. After a while his men scattered. With some excitement, our caravan approached the place where the city of Jalama stood. On the stony slope from far away one can see the white Chorten, made of pieces of quartz—thus Jalama made his prisoners work. The lama advised us to dress in Mongolian kaftans, in order not to attract the attention of any undesirable people we might meet. Tempei-Jaltsen, the city, must be quite near. In the dark night we encamped. In the morning, before sunrise, we heard an unusual commotion. They shouted: “Here, we are right in front of the city!”

We all rushed from our tents and behind the next sandy hill we clearly saw the towers and walls. Neither the Buriats nor the Mongols consented to go and investigate what was in the city. So George and Porten, with carbines, went themselves. The rest awaited, fully ready for battle, watching with field-glasses. Shortly afterwards the two were seen on a tower. This was the sign that the city was deserted. During the day the entire expedition visited the city, in several groups. We all were amazed at Jalama’s fantasy in laying out a completely fortified city in the midst of the desert! Certainly he was not a mere brigand! Many songs are being sung about him. And his men have assuredly not disappeared.

The next day some suspicious-looking riders approached our caravan, inquiring about the amount of our arms. But apparently the reply did not encourage them and they dispersed behind the hills.

The region of Mongolia and the Central Gobi awaits explorers and archeologists. Of course, the discoveries of the Andrews Expedition, and the last expedition of Sven Hedin, judging by news accounts, gave excellent results. But the place is so vast, that not one, not two, but only numerous expeditions could completely cover it.

On the way, we encountered many beautiful pieces of so-called “Deer-Stone”, high menhir-like granite or sandstone blocks, sometimes ornamented. We also saw numbers of unexcavated kurgans, large and carefully constructed. The base of the kurgans was symmetrically surrounded by rows of stones, and on the top, also were stones. Near the kurgan, as if forming a second row, were small stone elevations. Especially interesting were the stone “babas”, of exactly the same character as those of the southern Russian steppes.

In one case there was a long row of oblong stones, extending almost a whole mile up to a stone “baba”, facing the East. We noticed that the carvings even now are smeared with grease and we heard a legend that one of the images was a powerful brigand, who, after his death, was transformed into a protector of this place. Our Tibetan, Konchok, who was attached to us as an attendant by the Tibetan representative in Urga, addressed long prayers to the protector of the region, demanding a happy journey for us. In conclusion, he threw a handful of grain at the image.

Friday, February 13, 2009

China | Beijing | Confucius Temple and Amarsanaa

After my visit to the Silk Street Market I scampered on out to the huge Tibeto-Mongolian Yonghegong Monastery. First I wanted to get my prayer beads restrung—the string on mine had become dangerously frazzled—at the Tibetan Thangka shop just down the street from the entrance of Yonghegong, but I soon discovered that since my last visit the Tibetan Thangka shop had been turned into a Tibetan restaurant and bar. They tried to lure me in for a plate of Momos and a pot of butter tea, but I resisted, since I had more pressing business. I moved on down the street to one of the many shops selling religious paraphernalia and bought a supply of Nanmu incense, made from the wood of the Nanmu Tree. Supposedly Nanmu incense was introduced into China by Lobsang Palden Yeshe, the 6th Panchen Lama of Tibet, who gave some as a gift to the Qing Emperor Qianlong on the occasion of the latter’s seventieth birthday in 1778. (The 6th Panchen Lama, it might be parenthetically noted, also wrote a famous Guidebook to Shambhala.) Unfortunately, while in Beijing being feted by Qianlong the Panchen Lama contracted smallpox and transmigrated. Rumors that he was purposely exposed to smallpox in order to elimimate him have never been confirmed. (Qianlong’s father, Yongzheng, was likewise accused of offing Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, at the Yellow Temple in Beijing.) In any case, Nanmu quickly became the Emperor’s favorite incense. It has the unusual quality of smelling much stronger on rainy days, and is said to clear the nose and sharpen one’s thoughts. It also drives away mosquitoes.

I had intended to pop into Yonghegong Monastery to see if the Shambhala Thangka which is supposedly in storage here had been put out on display since the last time I visited, when it was no where to be seen, but the sight of the dozen or more big tourist buses out front and the hundreds if not thousands of people milling around the entrance quickly discouraged me. It was a balmy 58º F and a lot of Chinese in addition to the usual hordes of Western and Japanese tourists were out on excursions. I had already visited the place a half dozen times or more and saw no need for braving the crowds yet again.

Instead I mosied down a side street to the Confucius Temple. Visiting here was my real reason for coming to Beijing, Tea and carpets aside. Compared with the hubbubish atmosphere prevailing at Yonghegong the Confucius Temple grounds were an oasis of calm and tranquility. Only a handful of elderly Chinese were tottering around the temple grounds, which cover 22,000 square meters or almost 5.5 acres.

Confucius (circa 551-479 BC).

Tranquil grounds of the Confucius Temple

Tranquil grounds of the Confucius Temple

Tranquil grounds of the Confucius Temple

Cypress trees at the Confucius Temple

The Confucian Temple was built during the Mongol Yuan dynasty in China by order of the Yuan Emperor Chengzong, grandson of Khubilai Khan.

Mongol Emperor Chengzong (1265-1307, r. 1294–1307)

Construction began in 1302 and was finished in 1306. It was intended as place where the emperors could go to make offerings to Confucius. The Mongols were of course not Confucianists, but they no doubt felt they had to ingratiate themselves with the Confucian-dominated Chinese bureaucracy if they wanted to successfully rule China.

Confucius was perhaps most famous for his many aphorisms. Some examples:
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.

He who will not economize will have to agonize.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.

Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart.

Girl who flies airplane upside down has crack up.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.

Respect yourself and others will respect you.

Study the past if you would define the future.
Entrance to the main part of the temple complex

Chu Jian Cypress

Most of the cypress trees in the temple compound were planted during the Yuan Dynasty, in the fourteenth century. Many of them are named and have elaborate histories. During the Ming Dynasty, which replaced the Yuan, a wicked minister by the name of Yan Song came here to offer sacrifices. When he passed this cypress tree a high wind sprang up and a branch, driven by the wind, lifted up his black gauze hat (worn by Ming officials as a sign of rank) and exposed his face. Later the tree was said to have the ability to distinguish wicked courtiers from loyal ones. It eventually became known as the Chu Jian Cypress.

Another cypress dating back to the Yuan Dynasty

An Incense Burner. I would love to have one of these for my hovel.

The main reason I came to Beijing and to the Confucius Temple, however, was to see the monument erected by Qing Emperor Qianlong to commemorate the defeat of the Zungarians in 1755. This last great uprising of the Western or Zungarian Mongols was led by Amarsanaa. One hundred and thirty-three years after the the death of Amarsanaa, the notorious Avenger Lama Dambijantsan would claim be his descendant and/or reincarnation and embark on a campaign to overthrow Manchu rule of Mongolia.

Plaque marking the stele erected by Qianlong

Pavilion housing Qianlong’s stele commemorating the defeat of Amarsanaa and the Zungars

Qianlong’s stele commemorating the defeat of Amarsanaa and the Zungars

Turtle on which Qianlong’s stele is mounted

Although the Zungarians were defeated in 1755 the Hui, or Chinese Moslems, of Xinjiang fought against the Qing until they were finally subdued—for the time being—in 1759. From this time on Xinjiang, Now the Westernmost Province of China, was part of the Qing empire.

Pavilion housing a stele commemorating the subjugation of the Huis in 1759.