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Mongolia: Bayanzag, Kharakhorum, Khongar Sand Dunes, Khustai National Park, Ongi, Ulaanbaatar, Yol Valley

Ongi, Mongolia: Once a Buddhist Citadel
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief

Temple, Ongi Monastery, Ongi, Mongolia

It was a 5-hour drive through gravel and dirt roads. And sometimes there was no road at all. Changing landscapes from lush green vegetation to hard rock; from rolling hill slopes to flat land to as far as the eye could see was indeed the highlight.

Cheese Making, Nomad Ger, Towards Ongi, Mongolia The drive was a good example that went on to prove that the journey is as exciting as the destination itself.

We had packed boxes for lunch. Our Land Cruisers climbed atop a rocky hill which would be our location for a picnic. There was no point in looking for a shade. No vegetation was over 2-feet tall.

Somewhere in between, we had the opportunity to visit a nomad family. Their gers were in the middle of green pastures. As soon as we arrived, the entire family gathered around us as we were welcomed in their ger. It is quite normal for guests to be treated with great hospitality. We were offered tea, homemade cookies and alcohol made from mare’s milk!

Typical nomads have herds of sheep, cattle, goats and horses. They are excellent horse-riders. It is said that Mongol children learn to ride before they learn to walk. Two of the kids were enthused enough to show us their riding skills. Simply awesome. An hour or so well spent.

Ruins, Ongi Monastery, Ongi, Mongolia We checked in at Ongi Resort. Let not the name confuse you; it was a Ger camp but the common facilities and the restaurant were well equipped. In fact, the resort had a spa too and we all made it a point to have our massages and relax for the rest of the day.

Before breakfast, the next morning we visited the Ongi Monastery - just a 10-minute drive from our resort.

Ongi Monastery is the collective name for the ruins of the two monasteries that face each other across the Ongi River. The Barlim Monastery is located on the north bank of the river while the Khutagt Monastery sits on the south bank. The older southern complex consisted of various administrative buildings as well as 11 temples. The northern complex, built in the 18th century, consisted of 17 temples - among them was one of the largest temples of Mongolia. The grounds housed 4 Buddhist universities. Founded in 1660, it was one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia and housed over 1000 monks at its height.

Nomad Children, Towards Ongi, Mongolia Both complexes of Ongi Monastery were completely destroyed in 1939 during anti-religious purges carried out by the campaign lead by the communist party under the pressure of Russian Comintern. Over 200 monks were killed, and many surviving monks were imprisoned or forcibly laicized and conscripted into the Communist controlled army.

A large number of ruins including stupas can be seen on the river and on the surrounding hills. In the 1990s, it was decided to rebuild the monastery. The first temple was inaugurated in 2004. There is a small museum in a Ger in front of it. One of the stupas has just been reconstructed as well. It has a plaque with the names of the monks who were killed in 1939.

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