Friday, October 26, 2012

Capital Idea

After another long morning of driving, we got to Kharkhorin.  I knew we were getting close, because I was tracking our progress on my Note's google maps, but the first landmark we saw was actually the Great Imperial Map Monument, sitting on the last hill we buzzed up before coming to Kharkhorin. 
The monument documents the growth of Chinggis' empire, and it's a fitting location for it, since this small town of 8000 or so used to be his capital city.  It's not much to look at anymore, but the museum in town had a really cool model of what ancient Karakorum would have looked like, and it was impressive: a large palace, several different sections of town, with different nationalities and religions represented.
I didn't take any pictures at the museum - sorry.  Enkhe said that there were plans to move the capital here from Ulaanbaatar.  From a city planning point of view, I guess that makes sense, since there seems to be more open space to build here than there is in UB, which is becoming overcrowded.  But on the other hand, I can't help thinking about Kazakhstan, whose capital was moved - in the not-too-distant past - to Astana from Almaty.  This has created a cultural capital (where expats like to live) and a political capital (where they don't). 
 The main draw into Kharkhorin is Erdene Zuu Monastery.  Most of the pictures I've seen of it show the walls, which are composed of 108 stupas (in case you don't know much about Buddhist architecture, a stupa is a monument, sometimes a relinquary, and often looks like the above).  They are pretty impressive in the late afternoon sunlight.
Inside, unfortunately, the monastery is just a ghost of its former self.  Although considered by some to be the most important monastery in Mongolia (and by others to be in the top three), very few of Erdene Zuu Khiid's temples were left when the communists got bored of their purges.  However, it was really peaceful.
 
Nearby was one of the stone turtles that marked the boundaries of the capital.  We came across one earlier that day on our drive up from the waterfall; that one had a stele on its back.  This one had been defrocked.  The building in the distance is thought to mark where the old palace once stood.  And this was all interesting, but what was I really interested in???
The Phallic Rock, up on the slope of the hill.  According to Lonely Planet, the hill it faces looks like something a good monk ought not to be thinking about, and the two-foot stone penis was meant to prevent them from acting on impulse.  It doesn't seem like it would be very effective to me, but what do I know?
 There is supposed to be a newer, much bigger monument nearby, but we failed to spot it.  In the end I decided that it must be underneath all the khadags, and while I wasn't able to prove this conclusively, I went ahead and tied my blue khadag with all the others.  After getting home and searching the internet again, I'm pretty sure it wasn't, but we didn't see it anywhere and I think we made our fearless driver a little embarrassed, insisting to see it.  It made me a little sad, knowing our trip was almost over, but as I ate khuushuur and yet another meal of bread, cheese, and sausage in our ger at Munkhsuuri camp that night, I had to admit that I would be glad to get back to the city.

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