Ulaanbaatar is on the banks of the Tuul River in the foothills of the Khangai Mountains. The patron saint of the city is the massive mythological bird named Khangarid, who represents eternity, strength, courage and power. He is everywhere. Literally. On pictures, banners, signs, napkins, and souvenirs. A force.
Mongolians believe their capital city is guarded by the Bogd Kahn Uul, which means “Holy King Mountain”. It was established as a protected area in 1778, reputedly the first such designation in the world. The flamboyant Khangarid is the deity residing in these mountains. The etched cliff facades resemble the lined faces of sages, imposing and weathered. It is easy to imagine Khangarid and a host of ancient souls embedded in the Khangai range.
For several centuries, the rulers of Mongolia were called the Bogd Kahn. The last man bearing that title was born in Tibet in 1869, moved to Ulaanbaatar (then called Urga) in 1874, and enthroned as the great Khan in 1911, when Outer Mongolia declared independence from the Qing Dynasty, China’s last dynasty. Thus, the king was named for the mountain rather than the other way around!
This Bogd Khan lost power briefly when Chinese troops occupied the country in 1919. A revolution in 1921, led by Mongolians, put him back in power in 1924. After his death, a Mongolian Revolutionary group, led by followers of Russian Communists, established the Mongolian People’s Republic, which lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. In 1992 the present day constitution was written, making Mongolia a democracy.
During the transition from the last Bogd Kahn, a Buddhist, to the reign of the Soviets, there was an effort to suppress all expressions of religion. The Mongolians, however, are a deeply spiritual people, who are especially reverent toward their natural world. They feel the presence of the last Kahn, and the mountain bearing his name is considered sacred.
There is a certain mystery and enchantment about Mongolia- land of bird deities and mountain spirits. We felt like we were on the edge of the earth there, swept up in a vast panorama, witnessing both centuries past and centuries to come.
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