After a late arrival in Erdenet from Ulaanbaatar the previous evening, we head to the petrol station while a dark blue glow in the east is announcing the birth of a new day. To our surprise, a good deal is quickly struck with one of the drivers, who takes us to the Turkish school, picks up one of the early students, to confirm our plans and conditions. Enjoying Mongolian music in the background, we now get to see the rolling landscapes we missed the previous night as we are driving in the reverse direction. When our driver turns left, we immediately hit our first Mongolian dirt track towards the northeast. We are in a regular saloon car, and the driver does not even hesitate when steering it over the bumpy track and hilly road; he only needs to ask for directions to two motorbikers. The drive itself turns out to be our first encounter with the wild, empty and sweeping landscapes of Mongolia, and we thoroughly enjoy our trip even before our driver parks the car on the grass, and walks with us towards a screen wall against which a wooden ladder is hanging. Behind it, we find the entrance to the monastery: grass is growing out of the roof of the entrance gate and the drum and bell tower. Our driver seems as excited as we are: he takes pictures of the buildings with his cell phone, and walks ahead of us to explore the complex. It seems we don't have to worry about potential discussions concerning our time here.
We have read that there is a ceremony every morning at 9, so we quickly enter through the main entrance, and enter the courtyard, with pavilions, where the main temple rises in front of our eyes on a raised platform. Chanting from inside whirls our way, and we are directly drawn to enter the temple and see what is happening. A small group of monks and worshippers is sitting in the central area of the temple, and we walk around them in clockwise direction. At the back of the temple, we find a golden stupa, and many colourful items, the most impressive a statue of Rinpoche Gurdava, a lama from Inner Mongolia, who helped raise money to restore the monastery complex after it was partly destroyed in the purges by the Communists in the late 1930s. The monks are still chanting, and we make our way out to enjoy the pleasant sunny day. We walk around the main temple, passing several rows of prayer wheels, until we reach a courtyard right behind it. A beautiful ger stands on the eastern side, and the large Sakyamuni Buddha temple is behind it. One of the smaller buildings in the back is the tomb of Zanabazar, the descendant of Chinggis Khan, who studied Buddhism at the Dalai Lama in the 17th century, and is among Mongolia's most famous figures. Unfortunately, all buildings are closed; the monks could open them, but they are still chanting. We just push our noses against the glass to get a glimpse from the inside.
We walk through the entire complex, and where the buildings at the southern side of the complex are quite well restored, at the back we find ruined buildings, collapsed; were they destroyed in the 1930s, is it lack of maintenance? The contrast with the main buildings is considerable. When we walk back to the main temple, we come across an area where hundreds of new tiles for roofs are waiting to be used, and indeed, on the other side, some workers are busy improving the platform on which the main temple stands. The monks are still chanting, so it is time to explore the surrounding area. I walk up the stairs to the main white, gold-topped stupa on one of the hills behind the monastery complex, which gives me a great view over the monastery and the neighbouring valleys. Instead of walking down, I decide to follow the crest of the hills towards the big, shiny Buddha statue on another hill, always enjoying the sweeping views of the rolling hills and the square monastery complex of Amarbayasgalant Khiid below. A herd of horses is grazing along the stairs to the Buddha statue. Back at the main temple, I hear the monks still chanting, and I now realize that we will have to forget seeing the inside of the other buildings, and the thankas (scroll paintings) that are stored in them. Our driver is waiting in the car, and judging from his face, is very happy to have visited Amarbayasgalant Khiid. Who knows how often he has been here?
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Amarbayasgalant Khiid (Mongolia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Amarbayasgalant Khiid. Read more about this site.