The Changing Face of Bogd Khan

By Allyson Seaborn

Four sacred mountains surround the city of Ulaanbaatar, but the tallest and most revered is Bogd Khan. The entire massif, which is miles long, dominates the southern sky line of the city. I look out to this mountain each morning and each evening, living in its somewhat imposing shadow.
We moved to Ulaanbaatar in the days before Tsagaan Sar and peering out the window on my first night here, I could see trees off in the distance. I originally thought the hills were covered in pine, but was later told that the trees are actually cedar and larch forests. The brown spring grass which covers the mountain today was only a month ago shimmering with white brilliance. Bogd Khan, has been changing each day before my eyes.
I’ve since learned that this mountain is part of a national park and is on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List. Had I realized this, I may not have dared to climb it during Tsagaan Sar, but we had no plans and most of Ulaanbaatar’s residents were in a deep slumber.
We set out on that freezing morning covered in thermals and down jackets. It was the first time my children heard snow crunch beneath their boots. The icy slopes of Bogd Khan were magical for us that day.
We hiked behind the Zaisan prison where my daughter came across the skull of what she thought was perhaps a prehistoric dinosaur. The look of excitement soon turned to that of defeat when she was told it was probably the remnants of a horse rather than a Protoceratops.
Anybody looking out of their window that freezing morning would have wondered who the heck was out there and why. Perhaps people thought we were escapees from the Zaisan prison. After all, it was only last year that four child prisoners escaped and were eventually captured. Animal skulls, child prisoners, gers with pluming smoke and the barking of a few half starving dogs surrounded us. A deep sense of history and hardship overwhelmed me that morning.
The great Mongol Khans of the thirteenth century first declared the whole mountain a sacred reserve where no hunting was allowed. The slopes of Zaisan are now, however, dominated by cranes and filled with illegally built apartments. When expats arrive to live here, most are unaware that Zaisan is located within the boundary of Bogd Khan’s National Park. I myself, am an intruder living in what is actually the oldest national reserve in the world. It feels as if Bogd Khan knows this and stares down at me each night as I close my curtains.
At dawn on Tsagaan Sar and for many days that followed, I saw dozens of people climbing up and singing and chanting at the top of one of the smaller ridges of Bogd Khan. My friend Erdenebat tells me that it is the “man’s hill.’ I’m puzzled by this, but he explains that only males are allowed to climb it and that if a man reaches the summit and can see the sunrise of the new year, then they believe it will be a healthy and prosperous year.
I ask about the beautiful singing and he explains that this is the “calling and the melody.” In Mongolian this is known as the “Uuhai.” When I later Google Uuhai, I find the translation simply means “Hooray!” Yes indeed, that sounds exactly like what they were merrily chanting that white February morning.
Erdenebat has a grin as long as his stories. His eyes twinkle as he shares a fantastic tale about his grandmother who lived in an apartment on the lower slopes of the mountain range near the Tuul River over 40 years ago. Every day she would hang her laundry and on many occasions, particularly when it seemed her big white sheets were flapping in the breeze, deer would come down to investigate out of curiosity. It was not uncommon for large stags to get their pointy antlers stuck in her sheets and carry them away up into the sacred foothills.
I tell Erdenebat that a colleague of mine refers to Zaisan as the “Beverly Hills” of Ulaanbaatar. His face is pensive as he listens. He already knows this and smiles, accepting of the change he cannot in any way prevent. His grandmother’s sheets and the deer are now long gone.
Yesterday, I hollered at my son for walking underneath a large crane carrying a ton of bricks overhead. The pace of progress here has been fast and reckless. I myself feel a sense of loss when I hear the mad hammering and clanking of machinery and other equipment carving into the sacred slopes. I ask Erdenebat if this is why the deer left the foothills of Bogd Khan in Zaisan.
“No, it had nothing to do with construction,” he replies. “After the Russians left 20 years ago we were left with a free market. The Chinese wanted the deer –the meat, the antlers mostly – every part. Mongolians shot most of them to sell to the Chinese. The ones that survived used to come down to the tourist bus stop in Zaisan in search of food in the trash.”
Progress has come at a price, as it does all around the world. What’s worse, is that I can’t help but feel part of the problem and I wonder what the Mongol Khans would have made of it all this?
Tonight a crescent moon glimmers behind Bogd Khan and all is silent.


Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=1125

Posted by on Sep 24 2012. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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