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Mongolia: Tövkhön Khiid

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Tövkhön Khiid | Mongolia | Asia

[Visited: October 2016]

After leaving the Orkhon valley behind us, we ride up another grassy valley. My horse stops to eat quite a long time, and then rides fast to catch up with the group; it is my first time to gallop. We ride a mountain pass; the views of the snow-capped mountains on the other side of the Orkhon valley are great. Ahead of us, we see another narrow valley, and the next range of tree-covered mountains. To my dismay, my horse again stops to eat, while I see the rest descend into the valley. No matter what I do, the horse does not move: talking to it in a friendly way, in Mongolian or any other language I speak, kicking its flanks, shouting at it: it just eats and eats. Sometimes, it lifts its head, but then continues eating. I have no whip to make it move, and I even consider dismounting and continuing on foot, but I am sure our guide won't be happy with that. Eventually, he shows up, and manages to make my horse move with his whip, and as I expected, we now gallop over the mountains to join the group. We leave the French party behind, and ride up the next mountain pass. It takes us through a forest, where the going is tough for the horses. Slippery tree trunks, low branches with leaves, muddy soil: they have to find their way up.

Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): The top of the rock formation of Tövkhön Khiid

We wonder when we will eat the lunch that the family has given us in the morning, but our guide just continues riding. Suddenly, we see broad pink ribbons attached to trees, and I feel we are close to our destination. Indeed, we dismount little later, and again, our legs have to adjust carrying our own weight again. The guide takes us up to the entrance of Tövkhön Khiid, opens the door of the main temple for us, and then we take a few pictures and pay him. He will now ride the horses all the way back to where we started the day before. For us, it is time to explore the monastery and enjoy the views all around. Built around a rocky outcrop, Tövkhön Khiid was founded by the famous Zanabazar, 17th century descendant of Chinggis Khan who studied Buddhism with the Dalai Lama. He deliberately picked this scenic location for its setting, and it is easy to see why. Apparently, it inspired him to create some of his best works. Like so many others, this monastery, too, was destroyed in the 1930s purges, and it was only rebuilt after 1990. There are no monks around, and with our horseman gone, we have the complex to ourselves. The small wooden temples and the white stupas are the formal part of the monastery complex.

Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): The buildings of Tövkhön monastery with forested landscape in the background

It gets more interesting when I walk up the rocks along a marked trail, and reach a viewpoint where I look over the forest below, see the ridge we have come down from on horseback, and the green roofs of the temples of Tövkhön Khiid. There are several meditation caves, and I am sure Zanabazar must have used them, too. I come back to the stupas, and now walk up to the central section of the outcrop. This involves real rock climbing, using hand and feet, and when I am a little higher, I finally find what I was looking for. The rebirth cave in which I can descend, after taking off my backpack, and when I enter the cave on the other side, I walk around the ovoo in the middle in clockwise direction (as opposed to women who would have to walk anti-clockwise). Between the vertical cliffs, a carpet of yellow-leafed trees stretches out below me. I squeeze myself back through the uterus, and climb further up, passing a sign prohibiting women from entering. I am now at the top of the rocks; a flat area where I walk to all sides for the open views. From this position, I also get a good view of the horseshoe-shaped opening between the main rocks, in the middle of which is the rebirth cave. Our horseman has told us that the driver is waiting at the foot of the hill, so we walk down through the forest, and indeed find him. He seems impatient, and shows his best skills driving the impossibly beautiful tracks all the way back to Kharkhorin.

Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): Tövkhön monastery is built in and around a rocky outcrop in the forest of Khangai mountains
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): Colourful, small temple at Tövkhön monastery
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): Temple door at Tövkhön Khiid
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): White stupas and rock formation in the back
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): The rebirth cave can only be entered through a narrow opening in the rocks
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): View from the rebirth cave with forest below
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): One of the meditation caves at Tövkhön Khiid
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): Building at Tövkhön Khiid with surrounding forest in the background
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): View over the main buildings of Tövkhön monastery
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): Detail of a temple at Tövkhön monastery
Picture of Tövkhön Khiid (Mongolia): Tövkhön monastery on a rocky outcrop with prayer wheels in the foreground

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