We left Ulan Bator (see previous post, including a map) for a trip towards the west. We followed first one of the few paved roads in Mongolia, but spent also considerable time on tracks. A jeep like car, with a driver and guide are needed.
We visited Karakorum (Kharakhorum), which Genghis Khan used as a major military camp and decided to make to the capital of the Mongolian Empire, then erected by his son. Considering the importance of the Empire, this was then for a relatively short period a major site of world politics, although with very simple buildings, partly yurts, surrounded by a rather symbolic wall and limited by turtle sculptures, still there. A Pope delegate visited the place during the 13th century and described it as a very cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant place, a bit later confirmed by Marco Polo. However, already after a few decades, the capital was relocated to what today is Beijing under the Mongolian Yun dynasty.
Adjacent to the city was during the 16th century founded a Buddhist monastery, Erdene Zuu, surrounded by a wall with some 100 “stupas”. As from the 19th century you could find some 62 temples inside and some 1000 monks were active here. During the 1930’s the communists destroyed almost all Mongolian monasteries, including this one and at least ten thousand Buddhist monks were killed. At Erdene Zuu, three temples and the wall were left as a “museum”. Today, new temples are added and the monastery is again religiously very active.
Far from the main road, we visited another – small - old monastery, Övgön Khiid, also destroyed, but again “alive”.
The greatest experience was of course overnigthing in a yurt, which we thanks to our experienced driver managed to find after about an hour’s drive on tracks. It was a great pleasure to spend two days and nights with the very kind little family who lived there. They had just settled on this spot and would soon move to another one, for the winter. Despite some nice temperatures during the day and some heating (mainly by dried horseshit) from the oven for the evening meal, there was ice on the water bottles in the morning… and this was in September. The family had some tens of horses, cows and hundreds of muttons and goats. Milking takes a good part of the day for the wife.
Mongolians are very generous with time, friendly, smiling, joking… A small bus had a motor break and it was quite natural for our driver to stop and give a helping hand. In the meantime, we were offered some fermented mare milk (“airag”), some dried mutton meat, goat cheese… This is also what you are offered at any yurt, as soon as you arrive or stop to say hello.