It was a treat to stop by Karakorum on the way to Mongol Els. Karakorum was Mongolia’s ancient capital in the mid 13th century where Chinggis Khan established a base for supplies. The capital was later moved by Kublai Khan to Khanbalik (Beijing) which left Karakorum abandoned and destroyed. A small revival of interest in the area lead to Erdene Khiid (Hundred treasures) being built here in the 1586 by Altai Khan. The Stalinist purges in 1937 made short shift of it sadly and also built the abysmal flour factory town of Kharkhorin few kilometers from Erdene Khiid. The communists destroyed the temple complex and killed an unknown number of monks. Locals managed to save a great many statues, figurines and and masks by burying them in surrounding mountains or hiding them in their homes. The monastery was closed and religious activity forbidden until the collapse of communism in 1990.
On entering the grounds, one is greeted by a poor soddy collection of various birds of pray on display for trigger happy tourists to fondle. On the pathway entrance to the temple grounds, vendors selling trinkets, bric-a-brac and nonsense try catch your eye and catch you out.
But inside and behind wall bearing 108 stuppas (108 is a sacred number to Budhhists) lies a divine temple complex. I took ample time to wander these grounds, my eyes couldn’t keep up with the surrounding slendour. I also met the most gorgeous Mongolian man with emerald green eyes, he had such a unique look about him I asked him if I could take his picture and he politely agreed.
On admiring the intricate wall paintings, colourful masks, statues, doors, woodwork, stone turtles and ancient ruins of Karakorum I remained completely awestruck. One can feel the immense torture and trauma this land once felt as it lies a shadow of its former self. Nothing bleeds and mourns as much as the battered grounds of a Buddhist temple. The spirit of Buddhist temples could never have been destroyed by purges or war. There is a resilient spirit on sites declared scared by the mongols.
The drive to mongol els was grey and dreary, knowing that we’d be back in UB in no time make me a little forlorn. The uncertainty of what to do and where to go next played on my mind as trundled along semi-tar roads.
I was hugely surprised by Mongol Els. It was beautiful, sublime laden with sand dunes. I saw the most tremendous sunset from the dune tops, the clouds turned from gold to pink feather dust in the west. Gazing towards the east was like looking at a prism, every colour imaginable spilled onto the surrounding mountains and greenery below. Our little ger was sadly in a bit of disarray. Due to the rain it was flooded and surrounded by mud. The trek to the toilet wasn’t fun either. Well it never is in Mongolia. Waterlogged land made it pretty much hit and miss at night. I don’t know what’s more frighting bumping into camels in the pitch black or stepping blind into a muddy puddle… just for a piddle.
I managed to snap this little lad helping set up the ger. His was chucked onto the roof and thrown a chimney to place through the opening in the roof. Bless him, thanks to his efforts we had a warm meal and a snugly fire to keep out the damp and rain. All in all it was tremendous staying here. I’d have stayed another night or two at least.