Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (3) | Of Shamans, Buddhists & Shangri-La

Arkhan Valley
Our Toyota 4×4 lurched and dodged between the trees. Nyam Bileg seemed to be winning at an Olympian task. At one point he drove at a perilous angle along the edge of a dry gully.

bookblast khalkha wife dael
19thC Khalkha wife’s dael (National Museum, UB)

When I’d arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Oyuna handed me a blue dael – the traditional three-quarter length cotton, silk or wool gown worn by men and women. Serving as a coat, robe or a dress, for every day or ceremonial occasions, it buttons beneath the right arm and at the right shoulder to a high, round collar. It is convenient for riding, travel and extremes of temperature.  When cinched at the waist, a pocket of material is formed for carrying personal items. She told me I would find it useful. Now I was beginning to understand why. It offered a handy way of being private when peeing out in the wilds.

One last stop and we’d be home and dry, or so I thought, as I closed my dael and wound my way back to the 4×4 through cow parsley and gorse bushes. A large puddle turned out to be a stream flooding across the forest track. The front wheels jammed in tight, and the back wheels spun deep into the mud.  We watched Oyuntsetseg, Ider Od and their companions disappear down the hill in their resilient little Russian-built UAZ van. Their driver, Tulga, was a Dayan Deerkh man, so he knew the lie of the land. Some 3 hours later, the Toyota was pulled out by a tractor.

bookblast arkhan valley mongoliaMan vs. wolf
We arrived in Arkhan Valley in time for cow milking. Calves frisked around outside the corral until their mothers were done, and then they were let loose. Great patches of permafrost were pointed out to me as I watched.
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Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (2) | A Mystical Wilderness

The Call of the Wild
When the Siberian and Chinese tectonic plates pushed up against each other, Mongolia was bookblast map mongoliaformed: a great landlocked highland plateau − sandwiched between Russia and China. No wonder the fierce warriors of the 13th and 14th century Mongol Empire who were masters at the art of war are still the stuff of legend.

I was told that sections of the Great Wall of China were built to keep the Mongolians out. This toughness, combined with an equally powerful shamanic spirituality dating back to Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Hordes – intertwined later with Buddhism from Tibet – and a continued adherence to centuries-old customs and traditions, are a seductive combination.

Mongolians live in two worlds: that of the senses, the observable, the scientific; and on a metaphysical and spiritual level − the unseen world of spirits and magic.

Continue reading Dreaming of Outer Mongolia (2) | A Mystical Wilderness