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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



July 16. DAY TWO: KHARKORIN  We were up and off by around 9:30 the next morning.  Breakfast was simple with some sausage and cheese.  We still had a paved highway to take us to our next stop, Khongo Khan Uul, a old monastery area named for the gruesome method used to kill an entire population of monks back in the 17th c.  The rivals of Mongolia's Zanabazar, the Bogd Khaan, invaded the area.  The monks had roped tied to their necks from both sides and were pulled until their necks broke.  But, in spite of the area's horrific history, the site was peaceful and beautiful.  Behind the remains of the old monastery, Uvgun Khiid, and the tiny new monastery stood some rocky hills that made the area very nice and secluded.

The new monastery complex consisted of four brightly colored little buildings.  The head of the complex, surprisingly a nun, was in UB so a local caretaker showed us the tiny main temple.  What it lacked in size it made up for in character.  The little temple had everything any temple could need including a well adorned alter of Dalai Lama photos and other figures, Tsam masks, traditional instruments, and some nice thangkas.  The caretaker lit a fresh pile of ground juniper needles to purify the room.

After exploring all of the new little buildings Rob and I walked up and over a nearby pass to view the larger part of Uvgun Khiid's remains.  The weather was dicey and it was sprinkling here and there but we didn't get drowned during our short hike.  The remains weren't spectacularly preserved but some parts still showed the heartiness of the monastery's 17th stonework.

From Khongo Khan Uul Amara took the van right across a sandy stretch of land and back to the highway.  Our orignal plans has us camping at Khongo Khan Uul but it was still early and the weather didn't really encourage to hang out and do more hiking.  We continued on towards Kharkorin, passing a massive multi colored ovoo that was being circumambulated by a tour group.  The weather turned for the worse and the heavy rains even leaked through the vans little sun roof.  As Kharkorin pulled into view the sky was clear and the sun was shining directly down on the Erdene Zuu monastery.  We were still some distance away and used our good weather to detour to the south and take in the old monastery of Shankh Khiid.  While Erdene Zuu is known as Mongolia's first monastery the monks at Shankh Khiid are convinced there was a monastery on their site first.  The petty rivalries that exist in religion always amaze me.

Shankh Khiid wasn't a terribly worthwhile complex but the altar area in the oldest building did house a beautiful collection of statues.  The middle hall of the three buildings was being restored and workers were busy painting away and one young monk that showed us around seemed very proud of a new Buddha statue that they had recently acquired for their center hall.  But, overall the monks weren't especially welcoming and seemed a bit too focused on extracting money from tourist for taking photos.   The Buddhist revival was still new, only since democratization in 1990, and the spirit of the religion didn't seem to be fully revived yet.

When we returned to the main highway and entered the limits of Kharkorin we could see the beautiful complex of Erdene Zuu stretched out into the open grassland.  Amara took us to the famous phallic rock that stood on the opposite side of the highway.  This rock, in a very convincing form, was pointed towards a small valley and was meant to represent a woman's legs.  The distance of the rock from the legs was meant to remind the monks of their commitment to celibacy.  One rumor told of monks who broke their vow of celibacy and were castrated in punishment.  Their severed member was supposedly placed on the phallic rock.  At the top of the hill, basically on the woman's belly, stood a large stone turtle that was a remnant of the once great capital of Kharkorin.  Kharkorin was the seat of Chengis Khaans great empire but this ideal spot in the Orkhon Valley was also the same general spot from where the Uighers and other occupiers of the area also ruled, long before the Mongols.

From the "woman's belly" we could look out across the low lying hills and open grassland and into the walls of Erdene Zuu.  The white stupa lined walls of the complex where one of its most striking features.  However, the otherwise idyllic view was hampered by the close proximity of some power lines and industrial structures.  I had a hard time framing a photo that wasn't infringed upon by the messy mass of wires.  With some much open area it seemed a shame that the space so close to Erdene Zuu had to be used for such a purpose.

By the time we actually arrived at the doors of the monastery it was closed for the day.  A tout for one of the nearby ger camps sold us on lodging for the night.  The weather definitely looked like more rain and we were so wild about camping in those conditions.  The ger camp was within a few hundred meters of the monastery and would make it easy to visit early the next morning, and they had a hot shower.

Our tout friend proved to a bit of an annoyance once we got to the camp. He hounded us to order something for dinner and tried to sell us on a cultural show in the main ger.  Our long day of driving had us tired so we ate dinner with Amara in our ger and just went to bed.  The camp was so empty that we had an entire five bed ger to ourselves and Amara had another whole ger to himself.   Before going to sleep we had  a few rounds of cards with Amara.  He taught a game that he had just learned from his last customers.  He called it "Shithead", which referred to the poor person left holding all of the cards at the end of the game.

P.S. We had some beers for my birthday.


ULAAN BAATAR July 2-3 July 4-5 July 6 July 7-8

NAADAM July 9-10 July 11 July 12 July 13

COUNTRYSIDE July 14 July 15 July 16 July 17 July 18 July 19 July 20-21


BALDAN BARAIVAN July 25-30 Intro About Baldan Baraivan Mani Buteel Buddhist Festival The Restoration Work Another Naadam & About CRTP

ULAAN BAATAR July 31-Aug 1