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Mongolia: Ongiin Khiid

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Ongiin Khiid | Mongolia | Asia

[Visited: October 2016]

After the spectacular scenery of the Central Mongolian mountains and valleys, the landscape gets a little more monotonous when we leave the last mountains behind and head further south. We enter a more arid section of Mongolia: we are getting closer to the Gobi desert. We drive through a dry, rocky valley before our driver stops at what looks like a Chinese arch. It is the entrance to Ongiin Khiid, once one of the largest monasteries of Mongolia, with 4 Buddhist universities and more than 1000 resident monks. It actually consists of two monasteries: Bari Lam Khiid on the north bank, where we stand, and Khutagt Lam Khiid on the south bank of the river. A woman gets out of a car and asks us to pay the entrance fee, giving us a ticket to our surprise. She calls a little boy, who then accompanies us to open the door to the museum, housed in a ger, and the main temple. Even before entering, it is obvious that Ongiin Khiid was reduced to ruins in the late 1930s; what we cannot see is that most monks were deported and many killed.

Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): View over a white stupa, the new temple and ruins of Ongiin Khiid

Some returned after 1990, and built the new temple. In the ger museum, we see artefacts that were hidden during the Communist time, sometimes at personal risk. They include an original map and drawing of the monastery in its original size, drinking cups made of monk skull, yellow hats, and many other religious items. The boy accompanying us is obviously bored with his task, and when we are in the revived temple, he plays around, making a lot of noise. After reading about the history of the temple, and its destruction, the look of the ruins just makes us sad; the more so, because the location is superb. I climb up the highest hill behind the ruins of Bari Lam Khiid, which gives views all around: not just the ruins, but also the rocky valleys behind. The bend in the Ongiin Gol (river) is clearly visible from here. I explore a stupa and some other buildings in ruins, and then we walk back, and the driver takes us to a camp just past the bend in the river, under a hill o which three ibexes stand.

Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Ongi river, trees, and ruins of the monastery in the background

Climbing up the hill for the views reveals that the ibexes are in a bad state, and also that walking down the river in this direction does not look interesting, so I decide to walk back, and find a spot where I manage to cross the fast-flowing river, even though I cannot see how deep it is - it turns out it is over my knees. I walk past the ruins of Khutagt Lam Khiid, with great views of the ruins of Bari Lam Khiid on the other side of the river. I climb up one of the highest hills, just in time to have superb views over the river, its bend, and the ruins of both monasteries, before the sun disappears behind the mountain I am sitting on. The next morning, I am up well before sunrise, and walk up to Bari Lam Khiid again. The well inside is said to give curative benefits, but only if you drink from it before sunrise. To my surprise, no one is there, and the wooden lid of the well is closed. I open it, and throw the bag down, hauling a full bag of water up, and drink from it - and still feel very healthy! I walk up to the highest point again, where I was the day before, and once there, it turns out that the dog with an ugly wound on its mouth has followed me all the way. Together, we see no sunrise, as the sky is completely overcast. After waiting for a while, I realize the sun will not come back any time soon, and we descend again, walk back to our ger camp where we have breakfast before we drive off again, going deeper into the Gobi.

Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Ongiin Khiid, river and surrounding landscape seen from a mountaintop
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Part of the hill on which the ruins of Ongiin Khiid stand
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Detail of an old drum in Ongi monastery
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Ongiin Khiid seen from a mountain top: two monastery complexes divided by the Ongiin river
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Ruins of Bari Lam and Khutagt Lam Khiid, the monasteries comprosing Ongiin Khiid seen from a mountaintop
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Museum of Ongiin Khiid in the ger
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): View over the bend in the Ongi river from the ruins of Bari Lam Khiid
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Religious items in the small ger museum of Ongi monastery
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Ongiin Khiid as it once was, shown on a drawing in the museum
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): Bari Lam Khiid with new temple to the right
Picture of Ongiin Khiid (Mongolia): The ruins and landscape of Ongi monastery

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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