Well, there, did you feel that? The weirdness just lifted, like mist off the bay. And no, Mr. Comedian in the previous post's comments, the promised announcement was not about Jon and Kate. How do you even know about Jon and Kate in Outer Mongolia? Why do I even (vaguely) know about Jon and Kate? It is so time for an off-the grid retreat, man. My re-introduction to American media ‘culture’ has been shocking, and not in a good way.
At any rate, some friends of ours over the pond in Europistan seem to have it much more together. What I have to tell you about is bittersweet – sweet that it’s happening, a little bit bitter that I won’t be present to witness it.
In late 2004, I read a two-part article in the Tibet Foundation’s Newsletter about an extraordinary Buddhist lama who had made his seat in Mongolia’s eastern Gobi Desert in the 19th century. His name was Danzan Ravjaa, and the article went on to detail the curious, parallel hereditary lineage of takhilch, the caretakers of Danzan Ravjaa’s spiritual legacy. Apparently, one takhilch in the early 20th c., Tudev, possessed unusual foresight and courage. In the face of an advancing Red Army intent on demolishing any sign of Mongolia’s Buddhist culture, he had singlehandedly spirited away 64 crates of Danzan Ravjaa’s writings, texts, sacred objects, and other treasures. Painstakingly preparing the crates in traditional ways to withstand damage from the elements or critters (horse fat was somehow involved), he buried these crates in remote areas of the desert and committed their locations to memory, fearing any written list that would lead to their discovery and destruction. Then he went about his ordinary life, keeping his secret for decades.
The article then introduced me to Altangerel (Mongolian for “Golden Light”), Tudev’s grandson and the living takhilch. He had been rigorously trained from childhood to memorize not only the crates’ locations, but also the history and meaning of every single item contained within them. Tudev passed away just as religious freedom was dawning again in Mongolia in 1990 and never got to see the first crates of treasures Altangerel unearthed. But the Mongolian public and foreign travelers did. With some of the treasures from 32 of the crates, Altangerel re-established a version of the museum Danzan Ravjaa himself had maintained during his lifetime. Due to the lack of secure storage space, however, the rest of the crates were left in their sandy crypts.
It was this tale that fired my imagination like nothing had in ages, and inspired the title of this blog. A few months later, I would be on a plane to Mongolia and soon to travel many times to the East Gobi and develop a real love and respect for Altangerel, who I consider the finest person I met in Mongolia.
Now there is a new, expanded Danzan Ravjaa Museum, and Altangerel is slowly, year by year, bringing the rest of the crates out of their desert hiding spots. This year, however, is unusually special, because if you have a computer anywhere in the world you can be virtually present for this summer’s excavation!
I’ve been bursting to share this information for months, and now I can: On August 1, my friend Michael Eisenriegler and his team will be present in the Gobi with Altangerel to provide a free, live webcast of the unearthing of three of Danzan Ravjaa’s treasure crates and the disclosure of their contents. No one except the takhilch has seen these for more than 70 years. Brother Michael is Austrian, and has created this amazing event to coincide with the city of Linz, Austria being 2009’s “European Capital of Culture.” Michael made me swear to shut up about this until all the t’s were crossed and he had his website up. Well, now it’s up, so I urge you to go visit Gobi Treasure Hunt 2009, bookmark it, and circle August 1 in red to tune in for the webcast.
Now, are you more ambitious than that? Good! Michael is encouraging folks to organize live viewing events like those happening in Linz and Vienna (Ariel? DC Friends of Mongolia?), which will also give people the opportunity to contribute to the Danzan Ravjaa Museum and Khamariin Khiid Monastery. Please note you can also do that from the website, and I really encourage it. Michael’s a straight shooter and the funds will be delivered as promised and used as intended, I can assure you.
Michael’s also still seeking corporate and individual sponsors to help underwrite the costs of this event. The details are here. Please consider supporting this very worthy effort.
And as an added bonus, Altangerel has agreed to allow my Brazilian friend and accomplished photojournalist Haroldo Castro to be present, taking stills and notes for an article he’ll generate afterward.
Me? Sigh. I have had a standing invitation to attend these excavations for a couple of years now. But I will be deep into it at Palyul Retreat Center on August 1. However, if I’m reading the timing right, I think the broadcast begins at 6am US Eastern Time, so I’m going to do my best to join y’all online.