Mongolia Monday: The Best Camping Trip Ever, Part 5 – North To The Hangai Mountains, Bayanhongor, Gachen Lama Monastery

While our original intent had been to spend two nights at Orog Nuur, the combination of heat, mosquitos and there being very few birds around in the morning caused us to decide that we would travel on north instead.

After having lunch on the north side of the lake, where we did see some shorebirds and demoiselle cranes, we worked our way through heavy vegetation on a really rough earth road to get to the main route to Bogd, a soum center, where we re-filled our water containers from the local well.

Shorebirds, Orog Nuur
Demoiselle cranes, Orog Nuur

Then it was up and away from the Gobi toward the Hangai Mountains, another part of Mongolia that I had never seen before.

Ovoo with a Soyambu, the National Symbol of Mongolia; very unusual

We stopped for the night a short way off the road, after having passed through three changes in vegetation as we went up in elevation. It was cold and windy, quite a change from our previous campsite by the lake, but I slept well.

Upland campsite, with visitor

The next morning we drove into Bayanhongor, an aimag center which was quite a substantial town. We trekked around town buying petrol, eggs, bread and meat. It was an energetic, busy place which had nice tarmac paving in the central area.

Bayanhongor comes into view, backed by the Hangai Mountains
Horse-drawn water delivery service, Bayanhongor

On the way out of town we found that the road Khatnaa wanted to take was washed out by the recent flooding. Consultations with a number of locals ensued and an alternate route was found. And what a route it was!

Perfect scene- an earth road leading deep into the Mongolian countryside
Tuy Gol valley
Tuy Gol valley
Yaks, horses and gers; it must be Mongolia!

Our destination was the soum center of Erdenetsogt, home to the Gachen Lama Monastery, neither of which I had ever heard of, much less knew anything about.  The soum center was typical, except for the lovely setting above the Tuy Gol. The monastery was anything but, as you will see below.

This is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful buildings I have ever seen. And what makes it almost unbearably poignant is that it is the sole surviving structure, other than the entry gate, that is left on the site from the destruction of the monasteries that took place in the late 1930s. There were originally ten temples.

The entry gate
Gachen Lama Monastery, old temple

But today the monastery is alive again and it was bustling with activity when we were there in anticipation of a visit the next day by a prominent Tibetan Rimpoche (teacher), who was going to preside over the dedication of two new statues that were to be installed in the new temple next door, which was built in 1990, making it the 20th anniversary celebration.

Temple porch with the two new statues

The old temple was filled with people, many of them elderly women wearing beautiful brocade del. Upon entering, we found that they were preparing hundreds and hundreds of printed Buddhist sutras which were to be placed in the statues. There was a real assembly line going. Some monks were rolling the small strips of paper up very tightly. These were handed to the women who then wrapped them in sewing thread. After a few minutes of watching, Soyoloo reached down, picked up three of the rolled sutras and handed one each to Khatnaa and I, keeping one for herself. Then she got us each of spool of thread. Suddenly we weren’t on-lookers anymore, but participants, truly a gift. We each conscientiously wrapped our sutra and added it to the growing stack. Amazing to think that I’ve left a little bit of me in such a special place.

Preparing for the Rimpoche
One of the two statues
The new temple, just past the row of prayer wheels

As an artist, the temple was pure eye-candy, being covered with a riot of decorative carvings and paintings on almost every surface. Stylistically it is probably mostly Tibetan, with some Nepalese influence. I’m posting most of the best images I took because when I googled the monastery, I got no hits at all and this place is too special to not share.

Peacock detail,, old temple
Unknown deity or creature, old temple
Elephant at corner; for strength- old temple
One corner of old temple; the fretwork gives this large building a delicate, airy feeling
Gachen Lama Monastery; the old temple

After we left the monastery grounds, we walked toward the river to see the seven stupas which overlook the river valley.

Three of the stupas; cue Jantsannarov’s “White Stupa No. 1”

This seems to be one of the most beloved pieces of music in Mongolia. I love it, too.

We debated whether to stop here for the night in the hope of seeing the Rimpoche the next day. But we really had no idea when he would arrive and were a little uncomfortable being conspicuous as the only non-locals around, so chose to travel on. And that resulted in one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.

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