Erdenet to Amarbayasgalant Monastery, Mongolia

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In the morning the weather had turned cooler and cloudy.
At breakfast, Tuya, our guide, and Nasaa, her husband and our driver, seemed quieter than usual as we shared our food.

Later in the day, we found out that they had had an argument, and Tuya had joked that she might need another husband, which Nasaa did not find amusing at all!
We left our ger camp and drove in silence towards the city of Erdenet.

A couple who spends so much time together can easily rub each other the wrong way, if they are not especially mindful about not doing so.

As humans, we live with our imaginary ego structures which are well-defensed, hard crusted and full of sharp edges.
While traveling, tired and out of our comfort zones where we have established routines that calm and appease us, we tend to be more sensitive, or get irritated more easily.

It is important to watch over your mind and not get carried away with moody thoughts and feelings, not only for your own well being but also for the good of the people around you.

We tend to focus on all the crap that goes through our minds, and on all the misleading and immature feelings that pass through us, as if they are OUR thoughts and OUR feelings.

Because we identify these silly passing thoughts and feelings as OURS, we do not realize that it is within our full control to choose which ones to listen to and to go with, and which ones to avoid and dismiss, saying to ourselves that those are just fleeting feelings that will pass soon enough.

The masters say that it is OK to let a bird fly over your head, but that it is not OK to let it nest in your hair!

Erdenet (The Mongolian name means “Holds A Treasure”) is the second-largest city in Mongolia.

Erdenet is also one of the newest settlements in Mongolia, officially founded in the 1970’s after large deposits of copper were discovered in the area in the 1950s.

In the mid-1980s, more than 50% of the inhabitants of the city were Russians working as engineers and miners. After the fall of communism in 1990, most of them left Erdenet.
Today only about 10% of the population are Russians.

Erdenet has the fourth largest copper mine in the world.
The “Erdenet Mining Corporation” is a joint Mongolian-Russian venture, and accounts for a majority of Mongolia’s hard currency income.

The mine accounts for 13.5% of Mongolia’s GDP and 7% of its tax revenue.

The city of Erdenet has a very industrial feeling.
There are more than fifty different kinds of factories in the area, including flour mills, brick production, dairy factories, carpet production and more. Many of these factories spew pollutants into the air.

A large hydro-electric power plant dominates the center of the city.
Large pipes, used for heating and for copper smelting, run the length of the city along its roads, making for a very unappealing urban-scape.

There are a large variety of shops, a Sports Palace, several concrete hotels and quite a few restaurants.

We walked around the shops until we found a bakery cafe with internet, where we spent some time enjoying their air conditioning and checking our emails.

A small home, craft and farmers’ market was taking place in front of the main government building, and we walked through it and looked around.
Tuya and Nasaa who live in a ger, are very interested in building their own permanent home.
They collected brochures from the home show vendors.

From Erdent we drove to Amarbayasgalant Monastery.
The monastery stands in the middle of open pasture land, and its remaining buildings are surrounded by a stone wall with a few gates.

A small settlement of makeshift wooden houses and a few tourist ger camps surround the monastery.
There is also a humble dormitory building outside the walls of the monastery, which serves as an accommodation for the monks.

On the hill above the monastery, a new large stupa was erected, built in the Tibetan Buddhist style, with the ever seeing eyes looking into infinity.

On the same hill, a large statue of the Buddha and two guardians was erected at the end of a long stairway.
A stairway to heaven…

It was early evening when we arrived there, and we went for a walk on the hillside above the monastery.
We decided that we would visit the monastery the next morning, when we had more time, and then to go for a longer hike along the Selenge river up to a small mountain temple which also features some striking stupas.

Amarbayasgalant Monastery was established by the Chinese Manchu emperor to house the remains and to commemorate the life of Zanabazar.
Construction began in 1726 – the year of Red Horse, and was completed in 1736 – the year of Red Dragon.
Zanabazar’s remains were transferred to the temple in 1788.

3730 kilograms (3.7 Tons) of silver were used to build this magnificently designed Chinese style Buddhist temple.

As to the name Amarbayasgalant, I have heard a few theories.
One story says that while the Manchu delegates were searching for a suitable place for the construction of the monastery, they saw a couple of kids playing in an open field on the steppes.
The kids looked so tranquil and the scene so pastoral, that they decided to build the monastery there, and to name it after the two kids, “Amar” and “Bayasgalant.”

The other explanations for the name are:
Amarbayasgalant – “A Palace For Meditation On God,”

Amarbayasgalant – “A Monastery Of Tranquil Happiness.”

Regardless of the meaning of the name, it is one of the three largest Buddhist monastic centers that remain in Mongolia.

The style of architecture is distinctly Chinese, with some Mongol and Tibetan influences. Originally consisting of over 40 temples, the monastery was laid out in a symmetrical pattern.
Today, only 28 temples remain most are falling apart slowly by decay.

Restoration work began in 1988 with funds provided by UNESCO.

The monastery complex is large, but most of the buildings other than a few in the center, are in bad shape and used now only for storage.

A young monk opened for us the four main temple halls, which hold many beautiful sutras and thangka paintings, as well as a nice collection of Buddhist statues.

Sadly, most of the buildings and halls in the whole complex seem badly dilapidated.
While walking around the monastery grounds, we noticed that a huge supply of ceramic tile roofing materials has been donated to the monastery, but the restoration work completed so far does not seem to have been done very professionally.

For example, placing heavy and elaborately designed new roof tiles on crumbling old brick walls only resulted in the collapse of the old walls.

It seems that there is a lot of interest among the global Buddhist community, as well as funds made available from UNESCO, to help the Mongolians to restore the temple, but unless really skilled labor is also brought over, workers that can properly restore the place, there will be nothing left to show for it in a few years.

Amarbayasgalant only partly escaped the destruction of the Stalinist purges of 1937, when many of the temple’s buildings were destroyed.
Only the buildings around the central area remain.

Many of the monks were executed by the communist regime, and the monastery’s artifacts, including original thangkas, statues, and manuscripts, were looted or hidden until better times.

Our ger camp was located only five minutes’ walk from the monastery, across a pasture full of yaks.

Upon arrival, we were notified that the camp had no electricity and therefore no hot water.
They did not expect the power to be back for a few more days.
They also did not have enough petrol to run the generator, which was put on for just a few minutes at a time, to pump water to the toilets.

The chef, who was a gentle smiling woman with red cheeks, made us good food from the abundant fresh vegetables she had.
This was an advantage of being only sixty kilometers from the city of Erdenet.

She made us brown rice with steamed beetroot and carrots, and a salad with radishes and a nice pea soup.
They also had fabulous green tea leaves, which were a nice change from the Korean green tea bags we carried with us from Ulaanbaatar.

The next morning, we went for a walk along the Selenge river, the biggest freshwater river in Northern Mongolia.

The fields were green, and we enjoyed the fresh morning air.

We saw many herds of horses roaming wild, and although they definitely were owned by someone, they seemed to live a carefree life by the river and the grassy plains, roaming into the forested mountains when the sun was too bright.

We hiked along the river, past ditches and across creeks, to a nearby mountain where there was a small meditation temple surrounded by a few stupas.

Wherever we hike around the world, there are usually designated hiking trails.
Usually the trails are well-maintained, cleared of fallen tree branches, with trail signs along the route, pointing the way.

Not so in Mongolia.
Just like there are no main roads for the vehicles and no traffic signs in the countryside, there are also no designated hiking trails and absolutely no maintenance.

To cross the rivers and creeks, we had to erect bridges from fallen logs and use found tree branches to support our crossing.
Some of the fallen logs were old and rotten and broke to pieces in our arms, while others, made of birch trees which had fallen only recently, could carry our weight across the river.

Regardless, we loved our hiking adventure, even though when we finished, we were covered in mud from all the bridges that we had built in the field.

The nomad family which lives on top of the mountain and is in charge of maintaining and cleaning the small temple and the stupas, told us that they live here year round and that at times, they have had European people come to meditate in the little temple.

Once they had a man from Switzerland who came, camped and meditated there for three months.
The very next year, he returned and stayed for a few months camping in the woods and meditating in the temple.

The mother opened the small temple for us and lit some juniper incense on the altar.

Later they invited us to sit in their ger.
They had just butchered a sheep and were drying the meat by hanging it from the rafters of the yurt.
Smoke from a small dung fire was also being used to smoke the meat slowly.

The scene was almost surreal, with the family and their grandkids, who were visiting for the summer, all living under a roof full of drying sheep meat, dripping blood and fat, the blue smoke filling the yurt with a dreamlike mist….

The kids, who had just came back from collecting wild berries in the nearby fields, gave us some of their berries to taste.
They were small, sweet and nicely tart.

I enjoyed walking down from this tiny temple back to our ger camp.
The wildflowers were as tall as I, and our makeshift bridges still waited for us to waddle over them one more time.

I love being near isolated mountains and rivers.

In ancient China, there is a collection of writings called “Tales Of Masters And Immortals.”

These tales describe the magnificent spiritual achievements of masters who lived in such harmony with Universal Truth that they were living lives similar to those of Jesus and the Buddha, lives of miracles and awe.

Their stories were collected and told by Taoists and Buddhist monks through the years.

One such collection of tales is called “The Classic Of Mountains And Rivers.”

Mountains and rivers have always inspired sensitive and poetic people who seek for higher Truths and for the secrets of a higher life.

Seekers and masters alike have often lived in isolated places with striking natural beauty, where they have built hermitages and lived lives of inner peace, in search of solitude and quietude.

At times…. I feel such kinship with this way of living, and I think that it is not by chance I am living with a man who also feels the need to live in solitude and quiet, up in the mountains where one can carve a peaceful life of meaning and deliberate intentions.

Yes, at times we do seem to be lost in the world of whirlwind activities, but we always go back to our quiet life where it is easy to contemplate and to see the beautiful design of a Higher Hand in everything and everyone.

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