Sunday, August 28, 2005

China|Beijing | Turpan

Ran out of green tea so I had to pop down to Beijing to buy some more. Ms R and I had dinner at our favorite Uighur restaurant. The owner and waitresses in this place are all from the city of Turpan in Xinjiang, located in the Turpan Depression several hundred feet below sea level and famous for its grapes and hospitality.

Ms R

The grape trellis-covered main thoroughfare of Turpan, where I visited several years ago.

The Mosque in Turpan

Monument on the lake bed of Iding Lake near Turpan, indicating the second lowest place on earth, after the Dead Sea - 505 feet below sea level. Contrary to expectations I did not get reverse altitude sickness here. The temperature, however, was a blistering 118 degree F.

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Yestiyn Rashaan #2

Unfortunately, the roof of the main bathhouse at Yestiyn Rashaan has fallen in - probably from snow overload - rendering three of the baths within unusable. Given the remoteness of these hotsprings it is no telling if or when the bathhouses will be repaired.

One of a dozen or more mineral springs which were studied by Zanabazar. Each is by tradition supposed to affect a different part of the body. The sign at each springs tells what is is supposed to be used for.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Continental Divide

Our group at Biren Buren Pass, the Continental Divide of Inner Asia. East of here drains into the Kherlen River, in the Pacific Ocean Watershed, and west of here into the Tuul River, in the Arctic Ocean watershed.

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Yestiyn Rashaan

Just completed a 180 kilometer horse trip from Mongonmort to the Yestiyn Hotsprings in Khentii Aimag and back.

Historical Consultant and horse wrangler Mojik

Ruins of Sardgiyn Khiid, monastery founded by Zanabazar in 1654 and destroyed by Galdan Bolshigt in 1688.

The bath houses at Yestiyn Hotsprings. These hotsprings were frequented by Zanabazar, who did a detailed study of their medicinal properties.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Zanabazar Art Museum

“During his lifetime, he was the greatest Buddhist sculptor in Asia.”—Art Historian Patricia Berger, on Zanabazar
Wandered into the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. I have of course been here dozens of times but I went back again for one more look at Zanabazar’s art works. There is also an art show by ubiquitous Mongolian Buddhist artist Purevbat in progress but the walls are plastered with signs warning that photography is prohibited and violators will be prosecuted, so no photos of that.

Anyhow, when you enter the main part of the museum you are first confronted with a large statue of the museum’s namesake on a landing off the staircase to the second floor. Just beyond, the middle hall on the second floor contains as its centerpiece Zanabazar’s magnificent twenty-seven inch-high Sitatara, or White Tara, considered by many to be his greatest work.

White Tara
Zanabazar came about his devotion to Tara naturally. The famous Tibetan lama Taranatha, believed to be the previous incarnation of Zanabazar (see Incarnations of Javsandamba), was the author of The Golden Rosary Illuminating the Origins of the Tantra of Tara, one of the main texts of the Tara mythologem, and was himself one of the main proponents of the so-called Cult of Tara. (Taranatha also wrote History of Buddhism in India.) During Zanabazar’s first trip to Tibet (1649-51) he visited Punksokling Monastery, which had been established by Taranatha in 1614, and acquired there several works of art, some of which may have been Taras which later inspired his own work. According to legend the White Tara in the Zanabazar Art Museum is modeled on Zanabazar’s wife or consort, Dorjiinnaljirmaa, as a young teen-aged woman. Curiously, monks now tell two versions of this legend. In one Dorjiinnaljirmaa was a beautiful girl as depicted in the Tara statue. In another version Dorjiinnaljirmaa was remarkably ugly, and the statue represents an idealized version of her. It should be noted that this statue of White Tara has been known to have a strange effect on whose who view it. Two people I know claim that while standing in front of the statue Tara actually spoke to them inside their heads, while others assert that they had vivid dreams about Tara after viewing the statue. I myself was first inspired to write Guide to Locales Connected with Life of Zanabazar while standing here in front of White Tara.

In the same room with White Tara are four of Zanabazar’s famous set of five Transcendent, or Dhyana Buddhas. Each is twenty-eight inches high, similar in general design, but with distinctive hand gestures associated with each Buddha and slightly different facial expressions and ornamentation. This set of five statues was created by Zanabazar in 1683, presumably at his workshop at Tovkhon. The record is unclear, but the statues may be been intended for Sardgiyn Khiid, the construction of which was nearing completion at that time and which Zanabazar meant to make the center of Buddhism in Mongolia. The Five Transcendent Buddhas are:

Akshobya—Hands in earth-touching gesture; represents the Center of the Buddhist universe, suppresses wrath.

Vairocana—Hands in gesture of “turning the wheel of the law”; represents the East, suppresses ignorance.

Amitabha—Hands folded in contemplation; represents the West, suppresses passion.

Amoghasiddhi—One hand raised in the “fear not” gesture; represents the North, suppresses envy.
Ratnasambhava (currently located in the Choijin Lama Museum)—Hand outstretched in charity; represents the South, suppresses pride.

A foot-high bronze Buddha is attributed by the museum to Zanabazar, and a twenty-two inch high standing Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, is attributed to Zanabazar or his school.


The large painting of Zanabazar is according to tradition a self-portrait, done by Zanabazar himself, although art historians have pointed out Chinese influences in the painting which would have been alien to Zanabazar own style. Curiously, he is shown here with a full head of hair, instead of conspicuously bald, as he appears in most statues. A portrait of Zanabazar’s mother Kandjamts is also by tradition attributed to Zanabazar, although it is done in much the same style and the “self-portrait” and probably dates from a later period. There is also a chart showing Zanabazar’s famous Soyombo script which he invented in 1686 to transcribe Mongolian, Tibetan, and Sanskrit words, as well a red mineral paint handprint on silk cloth said to be from Zanabazar‘s own hand.

On the staircase leading to the second floor is a large painting identified as the “Red Warrior” by famous Russian artist, mystic, and Shambhalist Nicholas Roerich. This is probably the painting “Ruler of Shambhala” which Roerich donated to the Mongolian government when he visited Ulaan Baatar in 1927. According to Mongolian tradition the last Bogd Gegen will be reborn as a general in the army of the 25th King of Shambhala and lead the final battle against the enemies of Buddhism. Traditionally the King of Shambhala’s horse was blue, but Roerich may have made it red as a sop to the new communist rulers of Mongolia, who in 1924 had renamed the capital Ulaan Baatar (Red Warrior).

The museum has many other items connected with Zanabazar, including thangkas depicting various of the seven Bogd Gegens who succeeded him. As of this writing most of these are not on public display but they might well be in the future. Also, be advised that since Zanabazar’s works are considered world-class art they are often out on loan to museums around the world. Sometimes lesser pieces are placed the same display cases without making it clear that they are not in fact works of the Master. For instance, the stupa now on display in the main Zanabazar room is not Zanabazar’s famous bronze stupa usually found here, but a School of Zanabazar work. The stupa by Zanabazar is currently on loan to a museum in Germany.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Mongolia | Jewish Community

Here's some news. There is a Jewish Community in Mongolia. A rabbi from Irkutsk, in Siberia (where I used to live, by the way), just visited Ulaan Baatar. I knew there were lots of Israelis and Jewish tourists from elsewhere here, but no "community."

Rabbi Aaron Wagner visiting herdspeople (not my photo)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Mongolia | Zanabazar Hoopla

All kinds of news on the Zanabazar Front. On July 29-30 there was a Danshig Naadam held in honor of Zanabazar’s 370th birthday at Erdene Zuu, with newly elected Mongolian president Enkhbayar and host of other dignitaries in attendance.

New President Enkhbayar receiving the Seal of Mongolia from outgoing president Bagabandi (not my photo)

The first Danshig Naadam in Zanabazar’s honor was held in 1653 after his return from his first trip to Tibet. Like at the first one the traditional horse races, wrestling, and archery contests took place at the latest shindig. Unfortunately, I was in China stuffing myself with dumplings at the time and unable to attend. I also heard there was a celebration at Yeson Zuil and that there are plans to construct eight new stupas on the site of the old Eight Stupa Temple which was destroyed in the 1930s. This temple reportedly marked the spot where Zanabazar was born. I will post more details on this as they become available.

Then it was announced that a monument in Zanabazar’s honor is to be constructed in front of Gandan Monastery.

As one of his last acts in office outgoing president Bagabandi and his wife (center) showed up at Gandan Monastery

Finally an art show featuring the works of ubiquitous Mongolian Buddhist artist Purevbat opened with a blizzard of media coverage at the Zanabazar Art Museum, this also in honor of Zanabazar’s 370th birthday . . .

Banner heralding Purevbat's art show at the Zanabazar Art Museum

Thursday, August 04, 2005

China | Beijing | Samarqand Pilau

I tried my hand at making pilau and here is the result. It didn’t taste bad, but Ms R informed me that the rice was not yellow enough. According to her recipe, which she got from her grandmother, who was born in Samarqand, capital of Uzbekistan, it is necessary to cook the carrots in oil for at least half an hour to extract the yellow color (carotene). When the rice is added it then takes the yellow color from the oil. So next time I will have to cook the carrots longer if I want true Samarqand pilau. I suspect Ms R takes after her grandmother (who I have had the pleasure of meeting, actually), since Samarqand is known for its smoldering beauties . . .

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

China | Chengde | Sledgehammer Rock

Took the cable car up to Sledgehammer Rock, a strangely shapely natural stone formation on the skyline above Chengde.

In local lore the rock has come to represent the manhood of Chengde's male population. There is a legend that if the rock should ever fall down the virility of local men would be irreparably damaged. The local joke is that half the women in Chengde are trying to prop the rock up and the other half are trying to knock it down.

China | Chengde | Qing Emperors' Residence

The relatively modest living quarters of the Qing emperors at the Chengde Mountain Resort. They liked to think they were roughing it when they came here for the summer, although of course they had several hundred servants and concubines in waiting, to say nothing of officials, bodyguards, troops, and assorted hangers-on.

Living Quarters

Throne of the Qing Emperors

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

China | Chengde | Qing Dynasty Summer Resort

The Mountain Resort of Jehol, or Chengde. The wall encompasses a park of 139,000 acres. The entire complex was built between the years 1703 and 1792 by the emperors Kangxi and then Qianlong as a place to retire to in the summer and escape the heat of Beijing. Zanabazar, the first Bogd Gegen of Mongolia, visited here with Kangxi in the 1690s, when apparently there was only a few small hunting lodges and temples.

Section of the wall surrounding the park

The hilly, forested interior of the park