Mongolia is an ancient land of marked extremes, from its climate to its extraordinary natural environment. This boundless land stretches from horizon to horizon in bands of colour with constantly changing light and shadows. It is a land of contrast and unmatched geographical diversity (the remote Gobi Desert, the forested and alpine north, the endless rolling steppe and the rivers and lakes that bring vital life to Mongolia’s herders and their livestock). Mongolia’s ‘ecosystems are of global importance because of their diversity, size and continuity.’ (Bradt Guide to Mongolia).
The vast wilderness landscapes are matched only by the vast stretching ‘Eternal Sky’ and both landscapes and sky are considered sacred by the nomadic herders. The Mongols practised ancestral shamanism, praying to the spirits around them. They worshipped the Eternal Blue Sky (Tenger) and the myriad spiritual forces of nature. The Eternal Sky was the most powerful and mighty of all forces and Chinggis Khan believed that he conquered with the Rule of Heaven – the supreme god of the Eternal Blue Sky. A combination of shamanistic and Buddhist belief remains to this day as an easy and unselfconscious part of Mongolian life. It is expressed in the stone shrines (ovoos) and the names of mountains: most are holy or sacred.
Of course, all journeys are broken up with a turn around an ovoo. These stone shrines are erected by local families and travellers to show gratitude and respect and to honour the spirits of the surrounding land. They are circled three times in a clockwise direction, and a small offering made, in order to ensure the safety of the trip or to ensure good fortune in life. When you visit, why not leave a khadag (one of the sacred blue scarves) to fly in the wind – it’s a delightful custom and you will leave a little of yourself in the spectacular, fascinating and welcoming country that is Mongolia.
‘With time the ovoos become strange spiritual junk heaps piled with the debris of Mongolian life – a rickety construction of anxieties and hopes’ Tim Severin
‘Creating them remains an easy, unselfconscious part of travel. a ritual by which Mongolians assert their heritage and the network that binds them’. John Man