Sleeping in a ger, and the Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid Monastery
I would like to split these two experiences into two entries, but they are so entwined that I don’t think I can. Sleeping in a ger was part of being at the monastery, and I will never be able to separate the experience of the Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid Monastery from meeting its guardian and sleeping in her home.
We arrived after a long day, as dusk was approaching. There was still enough sunlight for introductions, though, and to have a quick view of the facilities. (We would save our visit to the monastery itself until the next day.)
Our host was Altaa, who is caretaker for the monastery. Her connection to the place is much stronger than that of a simple caretaker, though. Her great great grandfather was once a monk there, and her mother was driving force behind the restoration from ruins of the site.
CAUTION: The person who wrote this post has such a rudamentary understanding of Budhism (and history) that anything she writes ought to be taken with a whole shaker of salt. Actually, to be on the safe side you should just disregard this whole post entirely. It’s nothing more than speculative fiction.
Originally, Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid was established in the 1660s by Zanabazar, the “Michelangelo of Asia”. Zanabazar was a major religious leader in Mongolia, and instrumental in the establishment of Buddhism in the area. He was also a great artist and scientist, and you pretty much cannot understate the importance of his legacy. (Seriously, check him out on Wikipedia.)
Anyway, Zanabazar stated the building in Khögnö Tarnyn Khiid in the 1660 (or perhaps a bit earlier, and perhaps not Zanabazar in the very beginning–my guidebook says accounts vary), and it continued to grow pretty much until 1688, when a bunch of bad guys invaded and slaughtered some of monks (there were 300 in total, but probably only a small fraction of that were actually killed) in such a graphic way that the whole monastery was renamed after the method of killing: Khögnö means “to strangle”. The monks were killed by lining them up, weaving a rope around their necks, and then tying its ends to a couple of horses and slapping their butts.
Anyway, Zanabazar rebuilt the lower part of the monastery, and things went along swimmingly but on a much smaller basis until the communists showed up, executed several of the monks, and destroyed the temple.
Altaa’s mother began restoration in the 1990s, apparently on her own (without any governmental help). According to my guidebook, Altaa is the great granddaughter of one of the last monks here; according to Meg, she’s the great-great granddaughter. In any case, Altaa’s mother started the work, and Altaa is continuing it. In her ger, there is a picture of Altaa with the Dalai Lama.
So this is where we pulled up late on Monday, 30,000 bounces under our belts and very glad to be out of the car.
Altaa had dressed up to meet us, and invited us into the ger to sit. The ger was brightly decorated, with an altar in the back and two sleeping platforms, one to either side of the altar. A wood stove sat in the middle, slightly off-center towards the door. It was very beautiful.
Meg said that Steve and I would sleep in the ger, while Altaa would sleep in her house–a one room structure next to the ger, where she generally sleeps in summer. She only moved to the ger in winter, when she wants the warmth. Meg, Meg’s daughter, and Ogi would sleep in the truck.
We sat for several minutes in what felt to me at least as awkward silence. Then Altaa invited us to view her pictures on the altar, and Meg told us the welcoming ceremony (if that’s what it was) was over. We were free to move about.
Steve and I wandered about a bit while Meg started dinner, checking out the bathroom and wondering at the horses that meandered through the area (we heard them again in the night, moving around the ger). Then, saving the temple for morning, we went back to help Meg with dinner.
It was a beautiful, companionable evening, and I must say I slept very well in the cozy ger.
In the morning, we hiked up to the ruins from the original monastery buildings, and those that were destroyed more recently and not rebuilt. It’s a short hike, only about 2 kilometers, and incredibly lovely. The morning light was clear and bright, and the skies cloudy with growing blue. The rest of the morning can be told in pictures.
After this we hiked back down and finally went into the restored temple.
After seeing the temple, we said our goodbyes and bundled back into the truck to head off to the next stop on our tour. As we were getting in the truck, another truck pulled up with a couple of tourists–the first we’d seen since our arrival. Our whole time there, we were the only visitors.