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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Baldan Baraivan Monastery
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
Baldan Baraivan Monastery, Mongolia, July 25-30, 2003


July 25-30. BALDAN BARAIVAN "Cultural Restoration Tourism Project" I waited outside at 7:30 for the CRTP people to pick me up.  When I saw the yellow Russian van pull up I was wondering why I had agreed to spend any more of my life bouncing around the Mongolian countryside but was quickly reassured when I started to meet some of the fantastic people also participating in the project.  I sat across from Verdette, a woman from Fremont who worked in technical support at IBM.  Next to her was Lee, a British guy who had been traveling through Russia and was heading down to Nepal next, participating in various volunteer projects along the way.  Regina, another woman from the Bay Area, was sitting next to met and was a summer intern for CRTP.  Ganna, a Mongolian employee of CRTP who I had initially met at the information session at Millie's, was on the other side of Regina.  Judy, a woman from Pennsylvania doing a photography project for her alma mater, sat on the other side of Lee.  We were all facing each other and if I had thought that riding in a Russian van across Mongolia was bumpy, riding backwards was worse!  In the front passenger seat was Uli, a German woman who was doing documentary work on Mongolia.

It was an eight hour drive broken up by a stop at a group of ger restaurants for lunch.  We were back to mutton delights.  The dumplings were actually quite good but really fatty.  It was the first time I tried airag, Mongolia's traditional drink of fermented mare's milk, slightly alcoholic and tasting a lot like mildly carbonated yogurt - not bad at all actually.  Nearby a man was skinning a recently caught marmot.  Next would come the beheading, hot stone stuffing and charring with fire to get any remaining fur bits off.  We didn't stay to watch that part.

The drive to Baldan Baraivan was pretty.  The weather was holding up well and, for the first time, I was starting to appreciate the never-ending steppe.  The monastery was tucked away in a snug little valley with a small pond at its wide opening. The surrounding hills were covered in trees and grass.  It was an idyllic spot for a monastery.  

Our lodging was in gers and I was put in a ger with Verdette, July and Uli.  Lee joined two American guys who had arrived previously, Joe, a photojournalist from Tennessee, and Cky, a masters degree student in Ethics from Iowa.  In addition to the ger camp there were a few more permanent structures around.  They had constructed a building for the dining hall, showers, and a ping pong table.  There was a large stone ger that was split into sections for the Mongolian restoration staff.  And, there were two wooden houses for the resident monk and caretakers.  

A documentary filmmaker from Berkeley, Chris, had been doing a project on ger making in Mongolia with the help of his Mongolian director/actor friend Badma.  He donated the ger he had commissioned for his film to the CRTP.  With all of the people arriving for the Mani Buteel Festival they were putting the ger into use.  It was a four walled ger, which sounded strange to me since a ger is round. But, a wall is one standard sized side panel used to make the ger so they can be four, five, six, etc. walls. It was interesting to watch a ger be put together from the ground up.  The parts were more substantial that they looked but it was roped together quickly by the Mongolian staff.  The "walls" were a kind of collapsible lattice that was extended and roped together on the ends with door inserted in the front.  The door of a ger always faces south.  People held the walls in place while someone positioned the center piece, an open circle with the two vertical posts attached that served as an opening for air and smoke ventilation.  The individual ceiling posts were inserted into the notches around the center piece and laid into the Y-shaped top of the lattice walls.  The thick wool felt was made to fit the ger in pieces and was carefully arranged in their appropriate spots.  The canvas outer layer was put on last and tied tightly in place.  The final piece was a small flap of canvas that was tied snuggly on one side but left loose on the other side so it could be pulled over the center hole to keep rain out or pulled back to make room for a chimney and ventilation.  The felt along the bottom of the wall could also be pulled up about a foot to allow for air circulation. It was a sturdy little home and well suited to the Mongolian nomadic way of life. 

When we all sat for dinner a group of monks joined us as well.  They had arrived a while after us from UB.  In addition to the resident monk they would conduct several days of chanting at Mani Buteel festival.  A small new temple had been constructed to make the monastery active again and a couple of hundred local people had set up camp for the weekend to participate in the annual Mani Buteel Festival.