Mountains and steppes – how could peoples assemble their forces to build empires?
Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. Nomads in the steppes. For me it has always been an enigm, how peoples could organize themselves here to conquer empires, and this happened three times in history: The huns, the turkish-uigurs and the Mongolians with Chinggis Khan. Later research suggests that there was a fourth people, the Skythes, that went west and settled around the Black Sea.
Join us in the Orkhon valley. I believe, here we found the vene of the peoples of the steppes
The Orkhon river forms a vast fertile plane in the center of Mongolia north of the central Khangai mountain range. The river gives water to this fertile plane of about 40kmx40km, after having demonstrated its strength in a much praised waterfall, after having cut its way through the lava stream, and after having meandered through the Khangai mountain range.
This vast plane was the place where the armies from the steppes congregated. While getting ready, they could be fed, because this plane allowed for agriculture. It is here, where the Turkish tribes had their center in the 6/7th century. It is in this plane, where Chinggis Khan formed his army of a 100’000 soldiers (grouped in 10’000s) and where he founded Kharkhorin as a fort (the name is related with the Russian word “Kreml”). It is here where decisions about Khan successorship were taken. It was here, where the great capital of Kharkorin existed for about 140 years, later their ruins were reused to build the first tibetan buddhist temple, Erdene Zuu. And it was also here, where the later city of Ulan Baator is said to have had its first location; it then moved several times and settled eventually at the Tul river.
Kharkorin – the sprawling town of diversity in the steppes
The son of Chinggis Khan, Ögedei, completed the capital of the Mongolian empire. The grand-son of Chinggis Khan, Kublai Khan, then moved the capital to Beijing, after having become emperor of China. The Ming, the dynasty that followed the Mongolian emperors completely destroyed Kharkorin.
Traders that traveled along the silk road wrote about this cosmopolitan capital of the thirtteenth century. A jeweller deported to this place, Bouche, built a fountain that spilled beverages. The Mongolians tolerated all religions, and there were mosques, Christian churches, Jewish synagogues – in all about twelve religions coexisted here.
Today, Kharkorin is just a district (sum) town with a lively market for the citizens and nomads. They find all they need for their daily live: Kitchen and sleeping equipment, tools and parts to build a ger (such as the roof, the door, the floor or carpets), clothing, shoes and cloth, food, drinking water and meat. Ursula and I most enjoy the shop with the cloth. Here I buy a new belt and Gisela found cloth in red and black to sew a jacket.
Erdene Zuu, the reincarnation of Kharkorin
The ruins of Kharkorin reincarnated in Erdene Zuu, the first tibetan buddhist monastery built in 1585. It was the most important monastery of Mongolia, until it was destroyed in the 1930-ies during the purges of Stalin. Three main temples remained wthin an enclosure, one for the young Buddha, one for the adult Buddha and one for the old Buddha. There is also a white Stupa (the biggest in Mongolia) and a temple, where monks are praying again.
The German excavations of Kharkorin
Behind the monastery, Germans are working to excavate the old Kharkorin, but there is nothing to see for us, except for the stone turtle with its blue scarf.
I think that the travel reports of the missionary William of Rubruck and an envoy sent by the Pope (Giovanni de Piano Carpine) give some insight into this mysterious town that was primarily inhabited by foreigners. It is said that the Mongolians preferd to live in their gers, as the Lonely Planet tells us.