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Ascending trail to a prayer wheel

Ascending trail to a prayer wheel
 
 
   
   
 
 

I’VE ALWAYS been fascinated with mountain dwelling people and their connectedness to the giant mountains under which they live. Their positioning of temples and other places of spiritual significance timelessly blending in so well with the landscape that somehow they seem to be a natural part of the terrain.

The valley turned around to the right as we continued following the stream towards its source. To our left was a forest of trees in their autumn brilliance concealing the stream following the valley. The road came to an end, but Batu kept going driving over very bumpy ground between the trees as if the car were a range rover. After a couple of minutes going through terrain considered impossible for sedans, he found a place to park.

Entrance to the temple grounds

Entrance to the temple grounds

By now the cloud had almost completely cleared though the warmth of the sun was weak through the gentle biting coldness of the mountain air.

Nearby a short distance up the hill stood a building divided into two parts. The left-hand side of the building looked like a small Buddhist pagoda brightly coloured in oranges and purples, with a few pictures. The right-hand side was very plain and pale yellow. A large sign said this was an art shop, but it seemed to be shut now the peak tourist season had passed.

A gateway between the two closely positioned buildings was open. This was the ticket office leading into the temple area.

Once through the ticket office, we entered the top of the valley, a glacial cirque from past ice ages. In this age the summers are warm enough to melt all the ice in the area, but there was a time when the ice accumulated into enormous glaciers heading down the valley as part of the huge ice cap covering much of Siberia.

Forest beside the trail

Forest beside the trail

We followed a gravel path heading up the back of the valley. The path passed between long grass golden with the seed heads ready to disperse to hibernate through the frigid winter before germinating in the spring. The grass was already dying back with the approaching winter having grown madly during the short summer.

First view of temple

First view of temple

Trees grew about a hundred metres on either side of us. Three different varieties dominated the forest. The tallest level were the now twiggy deciduous trees having already lost their leaves having started their hibernation through the long winter hibernation. A middle level of pine trees retained their evergreen dark green foliage. Below them were short deciduous trees covered in brightly coloured autumn leaves. Most trees had perfect golden colour foliage, but scattered amongst them were a few with fiery red leaves.

Signs beside the trail

Signs beside the trail

Looking ahead, the path headed up the moderately sloping valley to the base of the spectacular towering cliffs of the glacial cirque. Large patches of grey granite were exposed where the wall of rock was near vertical. The lesser slopes in between the walls of rock were covered in deciduous vegetation painting the rock with palettes of yellow, orange and red, almost making the mountain appear on fire.

Beside the path to the right stood a large number of signs. The first of these read:

Meditation Theories and Teachings.

These boards on main theories of meditation are a sure way to attain enlightenment by practicing the teachings written on them. He who reads the mantra “Um Bazarvaanii Hum Pad” will assuredly be protected from any evil doings.

Mountains above the temple

Mountains above the temple

Every board had its own message, deep in the Buddhist teachings of meditation.

Buddhism is the main belief system of the Mongolian people, having been adopted here during the times the Mongolian empire covered much of Eurasia stretching southward enough to encompass the Tibetan Plateau where Buddhism originated.

Outcrops and forest

Outcrops and forest

The next board had the message “Following various masters is as same as a bull in autumn.”

Another board read: “One’s migration from bad birth to bad birth and from good birth to bad are as numerous as the specks of dust covering the whole earth. To migrate from a bad to a good birth is as comparatively rare as the dust that covers one fingernail of the Buddha.

And another: “How to tame the mind in nine stages can be seen from the example of an elephant.”

Murals of the four Buddhas

Murals of the four Buddhas

Before reaching a bend in the path I noticed four murals painted on exposed rock high on the cliffs above the valley. These are the four Buddhas Majushri, Aryapala, Vajrapani and Maitreya. They each represent one of the Buddha’s virtues.
Further around the mountain was another large mural painted in the rock, with words underneath. This was the Mantra of Aryapala. The text read “Om Mani Padme Hum”. This is the biggest of its kind in Mongolia. Tradition around these parts say he who comes here shall read the mantra 108 times.

The mantra of Aryapala

The mantra of Aryapala

Looking down from the ridgeline, I could see a white building part way up the hill to the right. This was a temple which we were heading towards, but the path was initially heading in another direction to no doubt traverse the side of the mountain to reach the temple. Although there was quite a climb to the temple, it was only part way up the 2197 metre high Orog Yamaat Uul.

As the terrain steepened, the track turned further away from the main temple. Directly ahead were a small gazebo with obvious Buddhist decorations. To the left of the gazebo was a distinctively Buddhist turtle with a disproportionately large white obelisk on top of its shell.

View to the top of the valley

View to the top of the valley

One of the last signs near the gazebo read:

Even a beggar can give intangible things to others. Your offerings to others regardless of materiality can make them happy.

We reached the turtle. It stood on a large stone with a painting of an old white man sitting under some trees. He was universally known in Buddhist circles as the “Elder White”. Here in Mongolia he was also known as the White Grandpa. He functions as the protector deity overseeing Mother Earth. The Mongolians believe he will protect anyone who worships him, guarding them from natural disasters caused by the fierce land deities of these parts.

White Grandpa

White Grandpa

The turtle itself was a statue devoted to Bodhicharyavatara, known as the Way of the Bodhisattva written by the great master scholar Shandtideva. It is said to be one of the most renowned texts in Buddhism. The text is a guide for cultivating the mind of enlightenment, generating the qualities of love, compassion, generosity and patience. Originating in India, then coming across to Tibet, the sacred text had been followed in its purest form by local followers for centuries.

A few steps led us into the gazebo, inside the middle of which stood a large cylinder you could spin. This was called the Great Prayer Wheel of Kangyur. The idea is you spin the wheel and the pointer will stop on one of the 108 volumes of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The number it stops on is the board that we have passed, and you will need to “engage and practice” the theory of meditation and enlightenment outlined on that board.

Spinning the wheel

Spinning the wheel

The wheel was a bit like a Wheel of Fortune, except it stood on the top of the gazebo. The pointers were spun around by the eight sided prayer wheel. I gave it a go, and with help from my guides, the pointer landed on the number matching the board that said:

“Remember the three kinds of pots that cannot be filled. Try to fill them with knowledge”.

This fitted nicely with my views on travel, and why I explore the world, to filter past the biased media and to discover for myself what the world is all about, learning new cultures and exploring far flung areas of the planet, just like this pilgrimage to the nearby Buddhist temple perched in a cirque in Outer Mongolia.

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19 September 2016

 

Terelj National Park

Mongolia

 

47°56'00"N
107°25'40"E
1480 - 1570m ASL

 

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