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Mongolia: Bayanzag, Kharakhorum, Khongar Sand Dunes, Khustai National Park, Ongi, Ulaanbaatar, Yol Valley
Kharakhorum, Mongolia: Capital of the Mongol Empire
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
It's a 5-hour drive from Khustai to Kharakhorum. Most of the road was paved. In fact, we paid our first toll on this road. On our way, we were lucky to encounter a sandstorm - a great photo opportunity. To our driver, and to the locals, it was nothing new but a nuisance!
In 1218–19, Chinggis Khaan rallied his troops for the campaign against the Khwarezm Empire in a place called Kharakhorum, but the actual foundation of the city is usually said to have occurred only in 1220. Until 1235, Kharakhorum seems to have been little more than a yurt town; only then, after the defeat of the Jin Empire, did Chinggis Khaan’s successor Ogedei erect walls around the place and built a fixed palace.
Kharakhorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260. Under Ogedei and his successors, Kharakhorum became a major site for world politics. Mongke Khan had the palace enlarged, and the great stupa temple completed. They also commissioned the famous Silver Tree of Kharakhorum at the city centre. Sculpted by the Parisian Guillame Bouchier, a large tree sculpted of silver and other precious metals rose up from the middle of the courtyard and loomed over the palace, with the branches of the tree extended into the building. Silver fruit hung from the limbs and it had four golden serpents braided around the trunk, while within the top of the tree was placed a trumpet angel. When the Khan wanted to summon the drinks for his guests, the mechanical angel raised the trumpet to her lips and sounded the horn, whereupon the mouths of the serpents began to gush out a fountain of alcoholic beverages into the large silver basin arranged at the base of the tree.
Abtai Sain Khan, ruler of the Khalkha Mongols ordered the construction of the Erdene Zuu monastery in 1585 after his meeting with the 3rd Dalai Lama and the declaration of Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion of Mongolia. Stones from the nearby ruins of the ancient Mongol capital of Kharakhorum were used in its construction. Planners attempted to create a surrounding wall that resembled a Tibetan Buddhist rosary featuring 108 stupas but this objective was probably never achieved. The monastery's temple walls were painted, and the Chinese-style roof covered with green tiles.
The monastery was damaged in 1688 during one of the many wars between Dzungars and Khalkha Mongols. Locals dismantled the wooden fortifications of the abandoned monastery. It was rebuilt in the 18th century and by 1872 had a full 62 temples and housed up to 1000 monks.
In 1939 the Communist leaders ordered the monastery destroyed, as part of a purge that obliterated hundreds of monasteries in Mongolia and killed over ten thousand monks. Three small temples and the external wall with the stupas survived the initial onslaught. After the fall of Communism in Mongolia in 1990, the monastery was turned over to the lamas and Erdene Zuu again became a place of worship.
Findings of the excavations include paved roads, some brick and many adobe buildings, floor heating systems, bed-stoves, evidence for processing of copper, gold, silver, iron (including iron wheel naves), glass, jewels, bones, and birch bark, as well as ceramics and coins from China and Central Asia. Four kilns have also been unearthed. The Kharakhorum Museum beautifully showcases the lost paradise that Kharakhorum once was.
For the night we were at Monkh Tenger Ger Camp.
Kharakhorum Image Gallery Photo viewer
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