Tuesday, September 25, 2007

9/3 Kharkhorum

Today we rode to into Kharkhorum in the morning. Kharkhorum is where Chinggis Khan launched his cavalry to set off to conquer and create one of the greatest civilizations. What stands now is a small local township and Erdenezuu Monastery. A description from our itinerary: "The monastery was built in 1586 and is surrounded by a massive 400m x 400m wall. Not a single nail was used in the construction of the ornate temples only a few of which remain standing after the communist purges. In previous times the grounds held over 60 temples with 10,000 monks using them for their daily worship." After religious tolerance was restored in 1990, Mongolians rebuilt the temples that stand now from ruins of the old temples which the monks and towns people hid at great risk to their own lives. 108 stuppas surround the grounds. Annika and I met a British woman who has been living in Mongolia for four years, volunteering with the VSO to help with the running of the monastery. She told us that the young monks had been in prayer for over 24 hours when we arrived. We saw one monk talking on his cell phone. I guess you can get reception there.

In the afternoon we rode to our lunch stop which was in an amazing valley. The poor horses had to climb up and down a rather steep mountain and cross a rushing river. I almost fell into the river because I lost my left stirrup and Bootsy was his taking his sweet time, per usual. Jergdallen thought that was funny. After lunch we set off on some flat land and Bootsy and I got lots of cantering in. On our way to camp we visited with a very friendly family. There were nine children in the multi-generational gerhold and the youngest, a seven month old, looked like a baby Buddha. The family invited us in and offered us airag, cheese, butter and vodka made of mare's milk. It tasted like water with a faint taste of medicine. Every family makes it so I guess it's like moonshine. We took a lot of photographs of the family and children (after asking for permission, of course) and the kids loved seeing their photos on our digital camera screens.

Our camp was riverside and the scenery matched the Mongolia of my imagination before I came on this trip. People have asked, "Why Mongolia?" and I hope my photos of the landscapes answer that question. I feel its countryside is one of the last untouched places and nowadays it is rare to glimpse a way of life so vastly different from your own. Even though you can find gers with solar panels and televisions, the nomad's way of life is fascinating. Mongolian nomads move every season. They take everything, including the gers and their herds, and find a new location for spring, summer, fall and winter. In fact, many of the families we visited were preparing for their autumn move. There is no land ownership in the countryside and families keep a respectful distance between each other. Nothing is written down but there seems to be a general understanding and social contract.

Here is the link to photos from Day 5:

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