OK, before we get to the Gobi, Ma reports in to say that the Dalai Lama’s teaching she heard last week in Foxboro, MA, was unusually detailed and intense. She only attended the morning session, in which His Holiness offered an overview of the Buddhist path before delving more deeply into a discussion of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. She said there was an urgency to his message she hadn’t heard before, which left her pondering how she could step up her game as a traveler on the path. Wish I could have been by her side. (Here’s the Globe’s take, from which the post’s title derives. Wonder if it was my mother who belted that out, complete with rebel yell...)
But, alas, I was many thousands of miles from Foxboro, on my second gig accompanying seven American students on a field trip to Danzan Ravjaa’s Khamar Monastery as part of their semester abroad through the School for International Training.
Day 1 focused on the Danzan Ravjaa Museum in Sainshand, the East Gobi’s provincial capital. There, I spun through whatever half-truths I could recall about Danzan Ravjaa’s life and legacy before Altangerel, the hereditary caretaker of the monastery and everything associated with it, arrived to graciously field the students’ questions. At this point I stole away to get a photo of an amazing recent addition to the museum’s displays – the wrought silver crown and brocade garment that Danzan Ravjaa himself would don when he performed the oracular function of channeling particular enlightened protector deities. The crown’s a whopper, clocking in at nearly 30 lbs, but when the oracle’s in a trance, they wear it like it was fashioned from balsa wood:
Since I’ve written so much and published so many photos about these Gobi trips, I’m always on the lookout for what’s new. On the second day at the monastery itself, I noticed that one large stupa had been erected behind the Yellow Temple, catty-corner to this clever arrangement of eight stupas above a prayer wheel. Altangerel said it stands on the site of another stupa that had been destroyed in the religious purges of 1938:
In the Red Temple, I was drawn to this exquisite Chenresig statue:
Khamar’s abbot, Dush Lama, told me it was among the treasures unearthed last summer from the hidden crates of Danzan Ravjaa’s personal belongings, making it at least 150 years old. He said it would be re-consecrated and installed in one of the temples, but even though I pried a little, he feigned ignorance about its history.
In one of the meditation caves, we found an unusual resident adopting the Lion Pose...
...and wished him well before ascending to the Come-To-Buddha Revival Meeting at the top of the cave complex – everyone’s belting out Danzan Ravjaa’s golden oldie, Ulemjiin Chanar, their arms aloft to “get energy”:
I marched the kids around the desert a bit on this trip. It was lovely, if a bit hot and we cut things shorter than I would have liked as a couple of them were showing signs of heat exhaustion. Why, in my day we’d hike 10 miles barefoot on the burning sands before a breakfast of poached scorpions and camel fat, then...
Anyway, after paying homage to the sacred Khan Bayan Zurkh Mountain...
...we caught the overnight train back to Ulaanbaatar. Imagine our bafflement when we roused our sunburnt selves the next morning and squinted through sand-splattered windows to see that the two days of howling winds had blown in a near-blizzard:
You wanna be a tourist in Mongolia? Fine, but don’t come in May.
No Gobi trip would be complete without camels, of course, but it was so weird that at the one camel herder’s place we dropped into, there was Minjuur, one of the kids we sent to Namdroling Monastery in India!
He had returned due to persistent health problems, and he showed me the two-inch scar on his abdomen from surgery that seems to have fixed him up pretty well. He told me he really missed the monastery and I sure hope he’s able to return. Camel wrangling’s cool, but, you know.
Anyone who’s read DODR for a while knows I can’t help take a bazillion photos when camels are around, and this time was no exception. Check back in after a couple days and I’ll reprise the Kamel Kaption Kontest we ran a while back.