Monastery at Amarbayasgalant (click to enlarge)On August 12-14 I stayed behind a few days in Mongolia
after a business trip to visit a few sites I had not seen before. The first stop was the monastery at Amarbayasgalant. Its situated in a
beautiful green valley which this particular week look like a huge camping site filled with gers and tents as people from all over Mongolia converge these days to the monastery for special prayers in support of business. I stayed overnight in a ger camp right next to the monastery. It’s one of the best preserved monasteries in Mongolia and counts
among the three most important ones along with Erdene Zuu Khiid in Harhorin and Gandan Khiid in Ulaan Baatar. It was built in the first half of the 18th century and dedicated to the great Mongolian
Buddhist Zanabazar.

After Amarbayasgalant I went to Hustai National Park in particular to look for the many monuments related to the Turkic civilization and some of which are dating back to the early Bronze and Iron age. Hustai is located about 100km wet of Ulaan Baatar. Hustai is a huge park where the Przewalki horses have been re-introduced. it has a very rich wildlife, beautiful nature and vistas together with the archeological remnants of the Turkic and pre-Turkic civilizations. The park is enormous at 50’600 hectare. No roads and no signage. So looking for ancient monuments can be a challenge. Thank God for the GPS and for a good driver.

Engraved headstrone for a square Turkic grave (click to enlarge)While driving about in the park and following a well trodden track, I was lucky to observe from a distance the outcrop of a small standing stone. As this did not appear a natural phenomenon, I got out of the car and started walking towards. the stone. I then realized I had found myself in a large graveyard of square stone graves. The stone I had first noticed seemed like a headstone on the east side of the tomb. It is carved with parallel lines pointing down. What was striking with the location of the graveyard is that all bronze and iron age people seem to look for the proximity of water, a slightly inclined slop and a view of the hills or mountains when they searched for a site for a grave. Very similar to what I have seen in Kazakhstan.

Square strone graves (click to enlarge)The square stone graves I had stumbled upon were very similar to bronze age stone graves I have seen in Kazakhstan, except these in Hustai park where each several times bigger. Based on the information from the Hustai National Park website the east corner of each tomb is marked with a standing tall stone called a Serege. The Serege was used to tether a horse. Sofar about 160 of these graves have been recorded. The site I stumbled upon had at least about 30-40.

Stone covered kurgan - burial mounds (click to enlarge)The valleys opening up to the open plain and the Tuul river are dotted with large stone covered burial mounds – kurgan as they are called in Kazakhstan. Some are lined of with an outer circle of stones, others are marked with an outer square of stones. These burial mounds date from the 2nd to the 1st century BC while the square tombs dated from the 3rd to the 2nd century BC. Apparently about 19 of these mounds have been recorded. I must have seen and stopped at about 5-6 of them.

Dear Stone next to a burial mound (click to enlarge)One remarkable site is a burial mound high up in a valley which is marked by what is called a “dear stone”. It’s head stone with beautiful deer engravings with elaborate and beautiful circular antlers. Apparently only 1 such stone is discovered in the park while over 800 are spread over Mongolia. This stone is claimed to date to the 2nd century BC.

Ongot stone monumnets (click to enlarge)Another spectacular site is the assembly of Ongot stone monuments in the plain between the mountains and the river Tuul. Based on the information from the Hustai National Park website the Ongot stone monuments date back to the period when Mongolia was a part of the Turkic Empire (552-742 B.C). The Ongot is the biggest collection of stone monuments in Asia, with over 30 stones carved into man and animal figures. Ongot stones carved into lion and sheep figures have particular symbolic and cultural significance. For instance, the lion is the symbol of safety and peace while the sheep was one of main sacrificial offerings. About 600 man stones have so far been discovered in Mongolia. There are three varieties of man stones representing sitting, crouching or standing forms. Sitting man stones represent high ranking noblemen, while standing forms represent slaves and servant girls. Next to them, in the shape of an X, decorated, rectangular stone slabs are placed for use as an altar. It is thought that offerings of food and meat were originally placed on these.

Row of 500 stones leading from the ongot monument (click to enlarge)There are 552 balbal standing stones in a line stretching from the Ongot to the south-east. Local elders repeat old legends, one of which claims that the stones represent the number of enemies killed or the number of battles won; in another version, the stones are said to point in the direction of heaven and to act as a guide for departing human souls.

Manzushir Khiid (click to enlarge)About 50km south of Ulaanbaatar Manzushir Khiid overlooks a beautiful valley with plenty of different types of trees, birch, cedar, pine, littered with boulders. Sadly the entire site suffered at the hands of the Stalinist purge of 1937 with only a few walls of the over 20 temples left standing. A smaller temple next to where the main temple used to be has been rebuilt in wood. The pictures and models in it depicting the site before its destruction give an impression of how beautiful a complex it must have been. Climbing up behind the temple one can reach a few small prayer huts which offer great views over the alley as a reward for the arduous climb.

Last Updated: 28-08-2011

Copyright © 2012 Hans Dewaele – All rights reserved

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