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E-bike expedition part 2 Mongolia - Online diary 2015

Sacred place and destruction of the intellectual elite

N 44°35'42.1'' E 110°16'19.6''
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    Day: 69


    Khamariin Khiid

    Latitude N:

    Longitude E:

    Daily kilometers:
    56 km

    Total kilometers:
    9,151 km

    As the crow flies:
    37 km

    Aver. Speed:
    22 km/h

    Maximum speed:
    43 km/h

    Travel time:
    2:30 hrs.

    Soil condition:
    Desert paths and asphalt

    Maximum height:
    1.000 m

    Total altitude meters:
    4.010 m

    Altitude meters for the day:
    140 m

    07:05 a.m.

    8:10 pm

    Temperature day max:
    25 °C

    12:00 p.m.

    Arrival time:
    6:45 pm

    Total plate tires:

    Plate front tire:

    Flat rear tire:

    Plate trailer tire:

(Photos of the diary entry can be found at the end of the text).


In the morning, everything is still damp. It’s really steaming in our yurt. Fortunately, the warm rays of sunshine welcome us again today and quickly dry everything out. Before we load our bikes, we first clean our saddlebags and trailers, which got completely filthy in the heavy rain yesterday. Then it’s off to the Khamariin Khiid monastery, which was destroyed in 1930 and has now been rebuilt. Today it once again occupies an important position and is visited by many Mongolians and tourists. Although we have visited many monasteries in our travels, they remain interesting to us and never lose their special charm and charisma. However, the Khamariin Khiid monastery, where the famous Buddhist monk Danzan Ravjaa, who many Mongolians believe to have been a living god, stayed, is something special. Tanja and I stroll through the extensive monastery complex surrounded by the desert with its stupas, Buddha statues, many prayer wheels and colorful flags fluttering in the wind. I always think of the charismatic Danzan Ravjaa, who was born 600 years after Genghis Khan in 1803 as a poor boy and became one of the most important personalities in Mongolian history in the course of his short life. He was the 5th representative of a local reincarnation lineage of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the Gobi Desert. Danzan Ravjaa loved alcohol and women, for whose early rights he campaigned vehemently. He insisted that they should receive the same education as the men. He fought for equal rights, which were not even spoken of in Europe at the time. Poor boys and girls should also be able to enjoy the right to an education, so he founded a school where even the poorest nomadic children were given the chance of an education. At the time, this was an affront to the nobles and monks who formed the elite of society.

“The monk who built this center here in the middle of the Gobi desert was something special,” I say thoughtfully to Tanja, who is enjoying the prayer flags fluttering in the wind. “Why?” she asks. “From what I have read, he founded the first museum and the first public library in the country. He was also an early advocate of hygiene and washed himself in his own bathing yurt, where he also invited the nomads to wash themselves. He was also a respected healer and helped many people with his extensive knowledge. He even wrote books on medicine and his herbs were never missing on his travels through the country.” “Unbelievable. He must have been very gifted,” Tanja replies as we climb down the steps from the Great Stupa. “Oh yes. His talents were enormous. Imagine, he not only built the country’s first theater in the middle of the desert and financed his own theater group, but also wrote countless poems and songs for which he is still famous to this day. Some of them are still known to every Mongolian child today. In his texts, however, he also denounced injustice in society and constantly stood up for the people. In the end, this cost him his life.” “How? Did they kill the monk?” “One of his political opponents mixed poison into his vodka. As a result, he died in 1876 at the age of 53.” “It’s sad what people are capable of,” says Tanja quietly. “You’re right about that. But that’s not the end of the story of this monastery, which at its height had around 80 buildings and was home to 5,000 monks. After his death, his monks stowed all his belongings, books and treasures – and there were a lot of them – in 1,000 boxes and gave them to him in his grave.” “Why did they do that?” “They were afraid that the Manchu government of the time would destroy his works and were sure that the Chinese soldiers wouldn’t dare desecrate his tomb. This worked for many decades, until in the early 1930s the Red Army and its allies, the Mongolian communists, razed almost all of the country’s 700 monasteries to the ground, destroying historical cultural treasures of immeasurable value. Including this place here, of course,” I say. “And then the 1,000 boxes with all the treasures were destroyed too?” asks Tanja. “Not quite. It is said that a monk called Tuduv, who was the great-great-grandson of the saint, took a box out of the grave every night before the Russians came and buried it in a secret place in the desert. In total, he saved 64 boxes of the treasure. 13 of them are supposedly still lying in the desert. The contents of the other 51 boxes are on display in a museum in Sainshand.” “An exciting and at the same time sad story,” says Tanja when we get back to our bikes.

From here, a 3 km long path leads to an energy center called Shambhala, which is surrounded by 108 stupas, a secret number in Buddhism. On the way there, we stop at a huge bell hanging under a strong wooden scaffold. While Tanja stays with the bikes, Ajaci and I walk to this bronze-colored bell and ring it three times to register with the energy center, as custom demands. We sit down in the sand and enjoy the silence of the surrounding desert to take in the extraordinarily beautiful and unique landscape and the white stupas reflecting in the sun. In this way, we try to catch some of the sacred energy.

“Let’s cycle to these rock caves,” I say and get up. “Where are they supposed to be?” asks Tanja. “I have no idea. Boris told me to follow the road to the energy center and then it’s a few hundred meters over a dirt road. He said we couldn’t miss it,” I reply as we stand in front of a ravine a little later. “Wow, that’s a gigantic sight,” Tanja marvels. In the endlessness of the Gobi Desert, the sandy ground suddenly opens its reddish-brown, rocky mouth. If we had been out here at night, it would have simply swallowed us up along with the bikes. No fence or sign warns of this 20 to 30 meter deep gorge in Mother Earth’s womb. As if people had pulled a few teeth out of the rough rock face, black holes yawn at us in a few places. These are the entrances to the caves where monks lived and meditated at the beginning of the last century. We were told that the monks from the Khamariin Khiid monastery used to retreat here for special spiritual exams to meditate for 108 days without food or drink. For some of them, this challenge ended fatally. I walk through the gorge, which is criss-crossed with narrow stone paths and steps, spellbound. Curious, I climb into some of the small entrances. Incense and burning candles are piled up as if on an altar, lending the interior a mystical air. In a rocky niche I discover small, round, colorful vessels that I have never seen before. Their openings are closed with a red, yellow or green cloth. I continue to explore the former meditation site, which, like many hiding places and caves in Mongolia, has a very sad and tragic history.

During the Stalinist terror, which began in 1937 and claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Mongolians, including 30,000 monks, the country’s entire clerical and intellectual elite was wiped out. The monks’ hiding places, some of which were caves, were in some cases also betrayed by the local population. The consequences were fatal. Some say that in terms of the population of Mongolia in the 1930s, the massacres were comparable to those of the Pol Pot period in Cambodia.

Even though this terrible past is history, I think I can sense something of this drama in these rock faces. But maybe I’m just imagining things. In another cave I see a stone statue of the saint Danzan Ravjaa. At his feet are piles of banknotes, cookies, bobons, sugar and dried cheese. I let the scene sink in. When a few Mongolian tourists crowd into the small grotto, it becomes too crowded. I step outside into the bright sun and stand still for a while to get used to the glaring light when something unusual moves right next to me. Only when I look a second time do I notice the snake, whose skin is almost the same color as the rock. An encounter with a snake is supposed to bring good luck, a Mongolian woman told me, which makes me smile and continue my discovery tour.

We only leave the rock caves in the late afternoon to cycle back to Sainschand today. We follow a desert path off the tarmac for part of the route until we reach the new tarmac road again. Since it’s only a little over 40 kilometers to Sainschand, we let it rip in turbo mode. “Suuuuper! Juhuuuuuu!” we exclaim joyfully as the wind suddenly picks up. And although it can hardly be explained, again against us. “How can that be?” asks Tanja, as we already had the wind against us on the way there. “I think it’s due to the different air pressures. The weather was really bad on the way there and now it’s really good. It must be the clouds somehow,” I try to find an explanation when my rear tire suddenly starts to wobble again. “Stop!” I shout as usual and raise my hand so that Tanja doesn’t crash into me. “What is it?” “A flat rear tire,” I answer as calmly as the situation allows. As usual by now, we unload the bike. Once again, I can’t find any foreign objects in the coat. Because I could imagine that we ran in a few truck carcass wires yesterday, I also put in a new coat right away. “Why a new tire? The tire still looks good, doesn’t it?” asks Tanja. “It could be that the small wires are stuck in the rubber and can’t be seen. Only when the jacket is inflated again do they push outwards and into the new hose,” I explain.

In the evening, we are standing in front of the small government accommodation in Sainshand. “I’ll see if the room is free,” I say to Tanja and stride into the spick and span building. “Is the 40,000 tugrik (€17.95) per night all right?” I ask again, because we agreed this price with our colleague, the woman now present, before we left for Khamariin Khiid. “Ügüj, (no) the room costs 45,000 tugrik”, (€20.19) I hear, which apparently continues the accommodation drama. Too tired for any more back and forth, I leave the house and ask Tanja to conduct the negotiations. Just five minutes later, she comes outside with her thumbs up and says, “We’ll get the room for the agreed 40,000 tugrik.” “And how did you arrange that for her?” “I explained to her that we were going to stay for a few days and had therefore agreed a special price.” “Great, then let’s take everything inside,” I say happily and start unloading the bikes.

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