( Hilversum, Netherlands)
mosaic map of Chinggis Khan's Mongolian Empire
The trip to Kharkhorin (or Harhorin, or Karakorum, or whatever, there isn't a correct Western spelling for this ancient Mongolian word) was a relatively easy one. Just a couple hours drive and we arrived at Karakorum, the former capital of Mongolia.
Kharkhorin became the capital of Mongolia when Chinggis Khan decided to move the capital from the Khentii aimag. Kharkhorin only served as capital of the Mongolian empire for 40 years, because after Khan's death the capital was moved to what is now Beijing. After the collapse of the Mongolian empire the capital was changed to Ulaanbaatar and Kharkhorin was left to decay.
We stopped at a monument outside of town, which commemorates Mongolia's contribution to world history. For those who don't know, Mongolia still holds claim to having had the largest land empire in the world ever.
Chinggis Khan's empire stretched from Beijing to Vienna, including Siberia in the north and stretching down halfway the Indian subcontinent in the south. And while ol' Chinggis was a brute, a savage and a murderer, these days he is revered
And if you consider that since Chinggis Khan Mongolia's history has been heavily dominated by China and Russia, it is easy to understand why in this day and age Mongolians revere Khan to god-like proportion. Plus, I do admit it is something to be sincerely proud of, having had a larger empire than the Romans or British or Chinese...
After this we were dropped off at our Ger camp (Karakorum, like all Mongolian cities, is made up of a collection of ger camps around a Soviet-built city center). From there it was an easy walk downhill to Erdene Zuu Khiid, the first monastery built in Mongolia.
In the 16th century Buddhist monks used the remains of the city to construct the Erdene Zuu Khiid monastery, and was the countries largest for centuries, with nearly 100 temples and 1000 monks in residence in its heyday. However, like Kharkhorin, Erdene Zuu Khiid was eventually abandoned completely, and most of the temple complex was destroyed in Stalinist purges in the 1930s, which destroyed all but three of the temples.
The surrounding walls have been completely restored, which makes the large monastery grounds a rather empty and sad affair. The three temples that still stand are interesting though, and there are plans to restore the temple complex to its full glory again, provided they receive enough donations to pay for the exercise.
We spent a good few hours strolling around the temples and chatting with some monks. As this was nearly the end of our trip through Mongolia, we felt it was time to start buying souvenirs and outside the monastery grounds there was plenty of choice for that. Unlike elsewhere in Mongolia, the souvenir sellers have really discovered the art of bargaining. Fortunately all was done in a very gentle and friendly way, and they were nowhere near as pushy as elsewhere in Asia.
up buying a silver meditation singing bowl and several necklaces and bracelets for my young nieces.
After that we returned to the ger camp.
This would be the last ger we'd stay at in Mongolia. After today it would be back to Ulaanbaatar for two more nights and then on to China.
So in order to go out with a bang, this was a ger camp which I list as second or third best in all of Mongolia. Sure, the setting was far from ideal, in an ugly city rather than somewhere in the desert, but the inside of the Ger was beautifully decorated, the best relatively comfortable, and the owners a very friendly bunch.
And best of all, the meal they served did not involve mutton! The only time in this whole country we didn't get fed mutton, but vegetarian dumplings instead. Amazing how something so simple can be so much appreciated. The lady who ran this place had clearly understood the business opportunities tourism brings, so apart from the beds and meals she also had a little souvenir stall, selling home-made souvenirs and organising home entertainment in the form of a local musician.
We gladly paid the 3 euros a pop to see him perform. I generally like indigenous instruments, but usually don't really enjoy the type of music locals play on it. I need not have worried. This guy gave such a captivating performance, absolutely brilliant. He had brought several traditional instruments with him: a two-snare violin made from horse hair, a Chinese style violin with metal strings and a snake skin body, a snare instrument that was a cross between a lap-guitar and a harp, and finally a traditional flute made out of marble.
Apart from these instruments he also demonstrated throat singing, or Khöömii, which is unique to Western Mongolia and the autonomous region of Tuva (in Russian Siberia). Throat singing involves the production of multiple notes and melodies simultaneously from within the throat and stomach.
The songs he sang were traditional Mongolian songs and were mostly about horses, or Chinggis Khan... or Chinggis Khan on a horse...
As a highlight he had brought two young girls with him who performed a contortionist act. I find it amazing how someone can bend double backwards, putting her arse in her neck and placing her feet flat on the ground in front of her face and *still* smile!
These two girls were just so cute, and they were having so much fun performing the act together.
After the performance we chatted for a while with the performer. It was really funny to hear music was his hobby. He wasn't a professional musician, he just did this every once in a while to entertain tourists. His day job was air traffic controller. The irony of an air traffic controller in a place like this did not escape us.
Altogether this was definitely a worthy finale of our trip through Mongolia.