Back at the start of Eternal Landscapes, I remained as a guide on the tours we ran whilst we were building up our Mongolian team. This blog post is a review from the road during a private tailor made experience to Shiliin Bogd in eastern Mongolia.
If someone asked me to describe Mongolia in one word, the one word that would spring to mind is ‘vast’ – vast landscapes, vast skies, and vast horizons. Shilin Bogd is located in one of Mongolia’s vastest landscapes – the wind-scoured lowlands of Dariganga in south-eastern Sukhbaatar Aimag. Sunrise is a magnificent time of day and Shiliin Bogd is a magnificent location to watch it from.
Here, at the site of one of Mongolia’s most sacred mountains, the grasslands of the northern steppe and the expanse of the Gobi converge to create a unique landscape – over 200 volcanic lava and cinder cones on an otherwise flat expanse of grassland and close enough to the Chinese border that you can see their military vehicles on patrol. For those that need to know these things, the cones range in height from 25 to 300m, and vary from partially eroded to completely preserved.
The area is isolated, immense and stunning.
Look through a guidebook on Mongolia and Shiliin Bogd might get a small mention. But any mention doesn’t really do it justice. The immense space, the pure air and the fact that you can’t see anyone or anything except the wilderness landscape, the boundless sky and the stretching horizons – all this conspires to restore your sense of the earth’s immensity and your place in it. It is very much as Stanley Stewart describes in his (excellent) book (In the Empire Of Genghis Khan) –
‘From the air Mongolia looks like God’s preliminary sketch for earth, not so much a country as the ingredients out of which countries are made: grass, rock, water and wind.’
In traditional Mongolian culture, mountains are the closest thing on earth to the Eternal Blue Sky and thus many are venerated and sacred. Mountains are the king of the area and given strong titles as their guardian spirits hold a direct connection with Tenger (the God of the Eternal Blue Sky). Tradition states that the soul of any man who climbs Shiliin Bogd will be renewed and filled with optimism and strength for the future.
Back in September, we camped at the foot of the mountain surrounded by silence and space. We watched the moon set as well as the sunset. We climbed up under a starlit night and as dawn broke the skyline, and the morning star slowly faded, so we circled the sacred stone shrine in the footsteps of those who had gone before us and made our offerings of rice, milk and vodka as we thought strong and positive thoughts. The Mongolian men present removed their hats to honour the sun as it rose over the horizon, an ancient tradition.
In traditional Mongolian culture, mountains are the closest thing on earth to the Eternal Blue Sky and thus many are venerated