Soaking away the memories of our road trip and the ancient capital of Khorkhorin
15.07.2011 - 15.07.2011 28 °C
Waking surprisingly late, given the wooden quality of our thin mattresses, our first task, after so much effort to get there, was to visit the Hot Springs. With flies continuing to annoy us we enjoyed both hot showers and soaking in the two hot sulphurous rocky pools that formed the basis of the Hot Springs. Whilst in no way impressive the ability to remove the layers of dust accumulated in recent days were more than welcome.
With curds drying in the sun next to our Ger and the constant presence of flies becoming an annoyance we were soon on the road (well track) again. This time heading for the small Mongolian town of Tsetserleg. Frequently following tracks that appeared to head in the right direction we often found small tracks that allowed drivers to cross between tracks where it became often that the chosen track was not correct and luck needed a hand in making sure we reached our destination. Where the track became difficult to traverse, usually, another newer and readily passable track had been driven. With so much space detours and the like were simple to develop and certainly required no formal determination.
Reaching Tsetserleg, billed as the most beautiful aimag (province) capital, was a little disappointing. With dirt roads and small concrete houses interspersed with khashaa (a Ger found in the suburbs) the town was not particularly appealing, although compared to other towns that we had seen, we could understand with such a low level of competition how it achieved its given title. A promised British run café, offering full English breakfast was also a little disappointing, serving only Lipton tea and a poor excuse of a full English breakfast but then we were in very, very rural Mongolia.
With little to keep us in the town we were soon back on the road and heading back towards Kharkhorin. Shortly after leaving the town we could see a very new looking, tarmac road. Excited to be leaving the jarring dirt tracks it was some miles, thanks to a deep and continuous ditch, before we could actually drive on this road. Whilst diversions temporarily forced us off and wandering herds of animals kept us guessing the road proved a very efficient way of returning to the old capital and location of our finally Mongolian monastery – Erdene Zuu Khiid.
Arriving in Kharkhorin (or Karakorum as it was known) nothing remains of the 13th-century town, established as a supply base by Chinggis Khan and developed into a capital by his son Ögedai. Lasting only 40 years as a capital city before Kublai Khan moved the capital to Khanbalik (later called Beijing). Vengeful Manchurian soldiers destroyed the abandoned city in 1388, with the remains being used to construct what is now viewed by many as the most important monastery in the country, Erdene Zuu Khiid.
Founded in 1586 by Altia Khaan, Erdene Zuu Khiid (Hidden Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. At its peak 1,000 monks lived within its confines. Neglected and shutdown by the Stalinist purges of 1937 the monastery remained closed until 1965 when it was permitted to reopen as a museum but not a place of worship. With the collapse of communism in 1990 religious freedom was restored and the monastery became active, once again.
The monastery is enclosed by an immense walled compound. Spaced evenly along each wall about every 45ft are 108 stupas (a sacred Buddhist number). Three Mongolian style temples remain in the compound dedicated to the three stages of Buddha’s life; childhood, adolescence and adulthood along with a fourth temple in the Tibetan-style - Lavrin Süm. With this also being the first time our guide had visited the temple both her and Trey were eager to buy a few souvenirs and gifts for relatives. Purchasing a small amulet that represented her birth year Trey had a monk, who strangely resembled a re-incarnated Sammy Davis Jnr., to bless the necklace, increasing its power.
Outside the monastery a Stone Turtle remains as a marker to the boundaries of the ancient city of Karakorum.
With a Ger secured in a nearby tourist camp we arrived much earlier than the night before. Able to enjoy a little none travel time we chatted with a pair of French travelers who had spent two weeks in the Mongolian countryside. Clearly tired from their adventure they confirmed the beauty but monotony of the Mongolian countryside. Very happy that we had made this excursion but not unduly worried that we had not spent more time in the countryside we drank a few welcome, cold beers and exchanged travel stories. Our evening was completed by an impromptu Mongolian musical concert of traditional instruments and throat singing. Not quite of the same standard as a few evenings prior, however, a few drinks helped with our enjoyment before we returned to our hard Ger mattress.