Friday, July 4, 2014

High Way to Heaven

(Alternate title: Getting Stoned)

So I've got one last post for my trip to Khuvsgul aimag.  See, I didn't go directly from Khatgal to the airport.  I asked my buddies at Garage 24 to help me arrange to have my driver that morning to take me to a place called Uushigiin Uver.  They had no idea what I was talking about, but luckily the driver was in the know. 

What is Uushigiin Uver?  It's part of Mongolia's long and varied history.  People have been living and dying here for thousands of years, and this Bronze Age site is one of the few records of their lives and beliefs.

The driver suggested we leave at 6 a.m., and since my "trusty" Lonely Planet seemed to think it takes 3 hours to get from Khatgal to Murun, I said I would be sure to be up by then - because I sure as HELL wasn't missing my flight!  I was a little shocked when we turned off the paved road around seven and could see Murun in the near distance, but I told myself it was all well and good - it just gave me more time to catch up on the interwebs when I got to the airport.  
Getting there so early had another advantage.  It was pissing rain when I got up that morning, and I made sure to have my raincoat and lens hood handy.  However, by the time we got to the site, the rain had let up and there was just enough light to give it a glowy, surreal quality.

I'd heard of deer stones before.  There are lots of stone records around Mongolia (including the balbals and petroglyphs that we saw in Bayan-Olgii), but deer stones are a little different.  They serve as burial markers, and the deer from which they get their name are the means by which the spirit is meant to make its way to the afterlife.  The site at Uushigiin Uver also has some sacrificial altars, and is probably the best collection of the stones in Mongolia (which - according to Lonely Planet - has 500 of the world's 700 stones).  There are fourteen here altogether, with the last one having the face of a woman (that apparently birds get a kick out of crapping on).  For me, this lonely, ancient place was the highlight of my time in Khuvsgul.  I guess it's the artist in me - I've never been much of a history buff, but the fact that people made some kind of tools and carved beautiful things 4000 years ago?  When their lives were otherwise so primitive?  I can't even imagine living here without heat* come winter, let alone creating beautiful things by hand when all I've got to make them are bronze tools.  I can totally admire them for it, though.

*I am talking, of course, about real heat, that comes in a nice piping hot radiator which I don't have to put any effort into, and hell, don't even have to pay for. 

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