Once upon a time there was a good man called Cuckoo Namjil. Young Namjil was sent to serve in the army in one of the most remote provinces. There he met a beautiful girl and fell in love with her. When the time came to return home, his beloved lady gave Namjil a horse “Jonon khar” or “Black Prince”, which was:
Not comparable to ordinary ones
Matched by only winged teatures
Peculiar among the horse herds
Having all features of the best
Being a good accompany to man
Making the far distance nearer
The horse could cover the distance that took one year to travel within a month and finish a daylong ride within an hour!
So Namjil would mount his horse at night and meet his beloved lady happily and easily, until one day when a wicked witch killed the “Black Prince”. Overwhelmed with sorrow and grief of losing his beloved lady and beautiful horse, Namjil made a musical instrument. Namjil carved the head of his horse on top of the instrument; covered the body with the skin of his horse and used horse’s tail to make the two strings on the neck. Then he made a bow with the hair of the horse’s mane and started playing poignant songs about his horse, imitating the sounds of gallop and neighs of his horse. This is the story how the Morin Khuur or the horse head fiddle was created, which is the symbol of Mongolian nomadic way of life and expression of their appreciation of horses.
I cannot for the life of me explain why I chose Mongolia. I had never travelled overseas. I grew up in a small country town in Western Australia, and although that does not mean that I did not have adventures here, to choose such an extreme contrast to our way of life is inexplicable.
I am fifty years old, and possibly a wee bit older than most of the volunteers for Projects Abroad, and probably a wee bit older than most people who travel overseas for the first time. I have travelled around Australia, and there’s a lot to see here, but why Mongolia? Curiosity. I did not want to just be a tourist, an observer; I wanted to live it, to taste it, to absorb it through my skin.
About ten years ago, I was cleaning out my spare room and I found a leather wallet. It had a picture of Chinggis Khan on it. I have no idea where it came from or why it was in my spare room. However, I did keep it and take it with me on my journey.
I’ll skip the bits in between. I arrived in Ulaan Bataar, totally bewildered and thinking “What the F*** am I doing? Am I crazy?” Denny was a little late that day, and when he arrived he found me trying to fend off a few of the taxi drivers. I suppose I had better add that I have a phobia about small spaces and being where there are a lot of people. I was very happy to see Denny and Zolboo though, so whether they were late or not was immaterial. I just wanted the adventure to begin. The next two days were a little confusing; I would advise anyone to have a better go at learning the language than I did. My excuse was “I didn’t have time” Not good enough. The guest house (Chinggis Kahn & Golden Gobi) people were extremely hospitable and welcoming. It’s what I found all over Mongolia. People are just so nice....
The Morin Khuur (horse-head fiddle) is the instrument most associated with Mongolian traditions and culture. Mor(in) means horse. When Mongolians were entirely a nomadic nation, the horse was almost their only means of transport, as well as man's best friend. Many songs and poems were written extolling the horse.
There are a number of legends about how the Morin Khuur was first created, all based on a man's love for a dead horse. So central was (and still is) the horse to Mongolian culture, that the head of the horse was placed on top of the nation's principal musical instrument, and its tail hair is used for the two strings and for the bow.
Much of the canon of Mongolian performance art (song, dance, drama, stories, even blessings) is inseparably entwined with the music of the Morin Khuur. But it is not simply a traditional instrument; its special sound contributes much to the quality of modern music. For hundreds of years the instrument itself changed little until the twentieth century, when there were developments to playing technique and even to the Morin Khuur`s construction.
Mongolia's 1000 km railway line from the Moscow Rusian border to the Beijing Chinese border passes through Ulaanbaatar and sevral other towns. A spur line connects Darkhan to the copper mines of Erdenet; another spur line connects Ulaanbaatar with the coal mines of Baganuur. A separate railway line exists in the east of the country between Choibalsan and the Trans-Sebirian at Borzya; however, that line is closed to passengers beyond the Mongolian town of Chuluunkhoroot. For domestic transport, daily trains run from Ulaanbaatar to Darkhan, Sukhbaatar, and Erdenet, as well as Zamyn-Uud, Choir and Sainshand. Mongolia uses the 1520 mm (4 ft 115-6 in) (Russian gauge) track system. The total length of the system 1810 km. Getting a ticket in Ulaanbaatar can be very difficult during the summer tourist season, so you need to plan ahead.
Chinggis Khaan International Airport outside of Ulaanbaatar is the only airport in Mongolia that offers international flights. Direct flights are available from Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Hohhot, Seoul, Yekaterinburg, and Tokyo. Of the 32 remaining airports with unpaved runways, 2 of them have runways over 3047 m, 3 have runways between 2438 and 3047 m, 24 have runways between 1524 and 2437 m, two have runways between 914 and 1523 m, and one has runways under 914 m. Mongolia also has 1 heliport.
Domestic carries, as of 2007, include MIAT, Aero Mongolia, and Eznis Airways. They offer service between Ulaanbaatar and some of the aimag centers.
The Gandan-tegchilen Khiid Monastery, formerly known as Gandan Monastery, is a Tibetan-style monastery in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar that has been restored and revitalized since 1990. The Tibetan name translates to the "Great Place of Complete Joy". It currnetly has over 400 monks in residence. It features a 26.5-meter-high statue of Migjid Janraisag, a Buddhist bodhisattva also known as Avalokitesvara. It came under state protection in 1994.
The monastery was established in 1835 by the Fifth Jebtsundamba, then Mongolia's highest reincarnated lama. It would become the principal center of Buddhist learning in Mongolia. In the 1930s, the Communist government of Mongolia, under the leadership of Horloogiyn Choybalsan and under strong pressure from Joseph Stalin, destroyed over 700 Mongolian monasteries and massacred over 10,000 Buddhist monks. However, the Gandantegchinlen Khiid monastery escaped this destruction. It was closed in 1938 but reopened in 1944 and allowed to continue as a functioning Buddhist monastery, under a skeleton staff and named Gandan Monastery, as a token homage to traditional Mongolian culture and religion. With the end of communism in Mongolia in 1990, restructions on worship were lifted.
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