My trip to Mongolia in August 2004 was a short one but still unforgettable. Participating in the Conference on “Present State and Perspectives of Nomadism in a Globalizing World” took most of my time but whatever time I had left I tried to use it exploring Mongolian past and thinking about its future. This unusual country is mostly known for Genghis Khan (Chenghiz Khan), feared by the most of the “civilized” world in the 13th century, and admired indiscriminately by his Mongolian contemporaries and all future generations of the proud Mongols. His empire of the steppes, based on nomadic tribal associations, stretched from Hungary to Vietnam. His grandson, Kublai Khan, “finished” Genghis Khan’s dream of conquering whole China. He proclaimed himself not only the Great Khan of the vast steppes and conquered territories in almost all of Asia and European Russia (including “short trips” as far as Central Europe and Southeast Asia) but also carried the title of a Chinese Emperor by establishing the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). ....
The greatness of the 13th and 14th century Mongolian steppe empire is known to the Westerners thanks to the writings of Marco Polo, whether he actually visited all described places in person or not (still a subject of many scholarly discussions).
... The history of Mongolia after 1368 has not produced personalities of the Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan’s caliber (a very few leaders in the history of the world can match their achievements and legend), but many brave nomads fought for their freedom and autonomy against China and/or Russia, the powers whose political interests have always been at odds with each other. Interested only in controlling Mongolia as a political and military buffer, neither one of them cared in investing in it and developing its numerous natural resources. 
Thus, by default, Mongolia has entered the 21st century almost unchanged since the time of its greatest leader. If one was to erase Ulaan Baatar (Ulaanbaatar) from the map, the rest of Mongolia looks probably less “civilized” that under Genghis Khan. He would have probably feel disappointed seeing its empire reduced not only in its size but also in number of nomadic settlements forgotten by time and living in poverty as compared to the riches of the world he showered them with in the past. However, the true beauty of his empire has survived in its land and its people, making Mongolia one of the most interesting and unusual countries to visit today.  ...

Enjoy browsing through this section of my website but, remember, I saw only a small part of Mongolia - for more I will be back, hopefully, in the future. E-mail me at if you have any comments. 


Not many people in modern Mongolia speak English or any other Western languages although many, especially younger generation, are eager to learn them as soon as possible. One would think that since Russian education was compulsory in the communist Mongolia, the number of Russian speaking Mongolians would be relatively high. However, like many of their counterparts in the communist countries of the Soviet “Empire,” the Mongolians did everything possible and impossible to “dislearn” this language faster than learning it. However, I was not afraid of major language problems in Mongolia: after all I speak fluent Russian and know Turkic languages, which share a common ancestor with the Mongolian language. How wrong was I?
... Upon arriving to Ulaan Baatar I decided to give myself a haircut after a month of “mistreating” my hair under the scorching sun of Iran (see Iran) and its obligatory shawls. For that I needed scissors. Staying in one of the best hotels properly called Ulaan Baatar (unfortunately, still of the Soviet era so its comfort and attractions are quite limited but not its price), I called reception with my request in English. “No problem…Now, it’s coming” a young voice of a male-manager informed me. After one hour of waiting for a tool to be used in order to beautify my image I called in Russian. “Net problema…” a young lady answered. Another hour passed so I tried my Turkish. This time somebody just hung up on me. 

Since desperate times call for desperate measures I had no choice but to use my Mongolian. I found a Mongolian dictionary, which promptly provided me with the word for “scissors” nicely written in the Cyrillic alphabet, that has no mystery to me. “Khaich” seemed to be a simple enough word for me to pronounce so once again I called the reception. The most educated of the managers answered the phone exercising his knowledge of languages (“What?;” “Chto?;” “Ne?;” “Quoi?”) after my each attempt to correctly pronounce “the simple word.” I gave up!  After a few hours of trying to get scissors without actually going downstairs, I had enough. I dragged my tired body down four flights of stairs to face my multilingual nemesis ready for me in proper order of languages used for our miscommunication. 
The English-speaking manager held the English-Mongolian dictionary; the Russian educated girl was looking for one; and Mr. “What? Chto? Ne? Quoi?” was smiling at me with a pity. The would-be speaking Turkish person was probably hiding under the counter “ashamed” of hanging up on me. Being already humiliated I pulled out my dictionary and screamed again “khaich!” They all grabbed it and in unison yelled “kch!” (???) Well, I still don’t know how to pronounce “scissors” in Mongolian but was able to cut my hair and learned a valuable lesson for the future: Nothing sounds in Mongolian the way how it looks in writing!  ..

Ewa’s disclosure: If you wonder why I did not ask for scissors in person let me tell you that after flying from Tehran through Moscow (almost 12 hours of waiting at one of the worst international airports ever) to Ulaan Baatar, I was too tired to leave my bed. Then, after the third attempt, it became a matter of pride. So, at the end, I lost both: my pride and my sleep!

Map of Mongolia



There are two things that I always associate with communism: lack of creativity in architecture (same, old same drab buildings with no visible attempts to make them even slightly aesthetically pleasing) and lack of toilet paper (unless one counts grayish/brownish thick blotting-paper on a roll as such). While Ulaan Baatar is trying to overcome these shortcomings of the communist system, it will take a long time to erase their memories. This is quite unfortunate because this capital of Mongolia seems to be the only city in the whole country, which can be given this term without any hesitation. 

Since 1992, after the fall of the Soviet “empire,” Mongolia entered on its route to industrialization and modernization focusing mostly on its capital. Gradually, but too slowly for young people, its communistic past is being replaced with technological wonders of the 21st century. Japanese SUVs and Korean buses are becoming normality in the city where less than one-hundred years ago horses, wagons, and camel caravans were roaming through the dirt “roads,” passing hundreds of Buddhist temples, most of them destroyed by the Soviet “inspired” government. 

As usual, modernization touched first the young generation of Genghis Khan’s descendants proudly displaying their Western clothes, chatting on cell-phones while waiting in Internet cafés for their turn in front of a computer. They mingle with others still wearing traditional Mongolian attires and with many monks who are glad to be able to practice their religion freely, sometimes in official temples, at other times at small gers (see below) set up in the middle of concrete apartment buildings. 

Ulaan Baatar is the first permanent capital of Mongolia established in 1778. Before that time, the capital known as Urga (a term derived from a “temple ger”) was a mobile one moving almost continuously along the river valleys of Orkhon, Selenge and Tuul. This was truly “The City of Felt” with thousands of gers and temples referred to as the Great Camp under Bogd Khan. The first permanent architecture, brick and stone temples, was constructed in the first part of the 19th century and the name was changed to Nuslel Khuree (Capital Monastery) in 1911. Thirteen years later, the city was renamed once again, this time in honor of its revolutionary leader, Sukhbaatar, as the Red Hero, Ulaan Baatar. The main square carrying his name is the focal point of the modern city with his statue towering in its center.

Less than 50 years ago only ca. 50 thousand people inhabited this Mongolian capital. Today Ulaan Baatar is home to at least a million people although many Mongolians and foreigners believe that this number is much higher, around 2 millions. This means that overwhelming majority of the Mongolian population (ca. 2.7 million) is living in the only “true city” of Mongolia, changing its suburbs into “The City of Felt” once again. 

Many herders moved with their families into makeshift ger-compounds where they reside without basic city-accommodations as water, sewage system, electricity, etc. However, they all hope for the better future for their children believing that the life on the vast steppes of Mongolia is the story of the past without any opportunities to be integrated into a new civilization in progress. 

Although Ulaan Baatar is known as the “coldest capital of the world,” its people and its many attractions make one feels rather warm even in the winter which one must avoid at all cost since temperatures in Mongolia can be as low as -58C! 


There are many of them in Ulaan Baatar with most visitors overcrowding the Museum of Natural History where an extraordinary amount of dinosaurs can be seen. However, my most favorite museum is of the Mongolian History - simply exquisite. The first floor is dedicated to the early past of Mongolia representing an excellent collection of deer stones, gold and silver artifacts, stelas, statues, etc. of the early Turkic period. This is one of the kind collections where I could have spent hours. The second floor is about different ethnic groups presenting their colorful costumes, jewelry, hats and domestic. The third floor is the pride of Mongolia - the history of the Mongol horde with Genghis Khan in its center, sitting on his throne in a great ger. 

Numerous weapons, clothes, inscriptions, documents, domestic implements, a traditional furnished ger as well as some Buddhist artifacts are exhibited tastefully. You want to skip the Soviet-era gallery unless you did not have enough of dull buildings, statues, etc. spread all over the city. 


Remembering my experience from visiting Tibet (see China), I made sure to stay away from any attempts by Buddhist monks to bring me happiness or to cure any invisible illnesses lurking somewhere in my body. Thus, I was only a spectator when in simple gers set up in different parts of Ulaan Baatar, various monks were more than eager to fulfill my great desire for happiness with ancient treatments. Acupuncture, acupressure, herbal treatment as well as bone implements have been used to heal variety of diseases including exorcism of evil spirits. In the Museum of Mongolian History one can see the Ganlin Horn made from human thighbones that is claimed to be very effective against all devil. 

Although I found small Buddhist gers of Ulaan Baatar very interesting and cozy, I had to see other temples in the area, especially three famous ones whose true long names are not pronounceable for non-Mongols: Gandan Monastery (the only one open during the Soviet era), the Bogd Khan’s Green (Winter) Palace Museum, and the Choijin Lama Temple/Museum. The first one is easy to spot because of its 23 m statue of Buddha which is fit into a few storey temple. It is the place of the Mongolian Buddhist University and includes additional temple buildings erected at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The Winter Palace of Bogd Khan is quite attractive because it was the seat of the Eight Living Buddha who was also the last king (1869-1924) living there for 20 years. 

As the story says, Bogd Khan (again, the real name is way too long and with too many consonants) liked to expose his powers by hooking up “a car battery to a long metal cord, hung it over the Winter Palace walls.” When any of his followers touched the rope he experienced an electric shock reminding him that the Living Buddha’s powers are beyond his comprehension. So was his legendary drinking (one of the favorite activities of nomadic heroes of the steppes). However, these are only few of his exploits - others are too raunchy to be described here. The Choijin Lama Temple is more about spiritualism and religion than about exhibit of wealth so visible in the Bogd Khan’s palace where gold boots and a ger lined with snow leopards’ skin are main attractions.

For some strange reasons I found Mongolian monasteries more interesting than the ones I saw in China. I guess, their stories seem to be more entertaining and less holy than those of the main stream Buddhism. 



Leaving Ulaan Baatar means leaving the civilization, as we know it. There are no roads, mostly dirt tracks (if you are lucky), and none of cell-phones is working. So always be prepared for unexpected, like spending a night in a friendly ger (if you find one, ger, not friendliness) because your car breaks down and there is no-one to fix it or no parts are available within 400 km. 

However, this little inconvenience is always compensated by unbelievable view whether of mountain ranges, steppes or deserts. Mongolia is one of a very few countries in the world where time stands still allowing the traveler to admire her diversified landscape, unspoiled habitat with many rare species of flora and fauna. Each trip outside of Ulaan Baatar is a great adventure since each day brings another discovery of this beautiful land. I regret that due to the limited time I was only able to experience the vast steppes of Mongolia with a brief glance at the Little Gobi with its quiet dunes. But, what I saw I fell in love with … over and over again. 

The life of Mongolian nomads has never differed much from its Turkic nomadic relatives (see Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan). It has been a mobile life, always in search of better pastures or better opportunities… always in unison with nature whose destructive powers they respect and whose beauty they admire…always thankful for each day and each meal. Guided by the sun and sparkling stars they move through streams, seemingly endless sea of wild grass, looking for familiar hills and stopping for a short moment of prayer or admiration in front of deer stones or balbals (stone sculptures known in Russian as kamyenniye baby). 

Some of them may represent their heroes, others shamans and shamankas, dead ancestors or leaders of different tribes. We may never know their exact meaning because most of them were either destroyed or displaced under the Soviet rule.

The nomads share their long trips with their herds and most beloved of all animals, their horses. While horses seem to be first domesticated by Indo-European nomads, the Mongols and the Turks built the most interdependent and loving relationship with them. Without horses there would not be nomads galloping through the steppes. These heavenly animals made conquest of China, Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East possible. The nomads became one with their horses whom their cherish as much as their human families. They are born in the saddle whether they have one or not. They use them for battles, hunting and transportation, for hides, milk and meat. In the terrible condition of zud (“lack of grazing”) when a thaw is followed by freeze, horses are believed to be the only chance to save herds since they can find patches of grass not encased in ice and lead other animals to them. As the last resort a hungry nomad would slit a side of his horse and drink his blood to sustain him or her for yet another day. 

Koumiss, horse’s milk, is the drink of the steppe whether fresh, mixed with fat, or fermented to the point that one sip can make a visitor staggering as a “drunken” panda (see China). It tastes somewhat better than camel’s milk (see Syria and Jordan) and becomes your drink of choice after having yak’s “ambrosia” (see China). Be prepared, because Mongolian hospitality is legendary - you don’t stand a chance to refuse koumiss or any other traditional foods. Be grateful, because no longer Mongolian nomads offer their women as a part of their hospitality customs which called for providing a lonely traveler with four things necessary for survival: shelter, food, drinks and sex!

The most famous of Mongolian horses is takhi, also known as the Przewalski’s horse (named after Polish explorer who is credited, unjustly, with its “discovery”). This is the only wild horse (even mustangs are not pure “wild”), which survived its near extinction in 1960s and once again is roaming through its natural habitat of the Khustai National Park (Khustai Nuruu), not far way from Ulaan Baatar (ca. 100 km), and at Takhiin Talin in southern Gobi. There are around 160 of them after being reintroduced, thanks to international efforts, to Mongolia between 1992 and 2000. They seem to be very shy so my trip to the Khustai Park resulted only in seeing their pictures and a movie but I felt good that this cousin of now extinct Polish tarpan is still alive and well. 

However, I had plenty of opportunities to “play” with regular Mongolian horses. They are small but don’t let their looks to deceive you. They can also be very mean - after all they are still wild horses, pure or not pure. Their size seems to be perfect for the Mongols who are, at average, rather short. Young Mongolian girls are so tiny that I felt like a giant around them. What do I mean? My American size 4-6 became 4XL on my Mongolian clothes! Not good for any ego…

Another symbol of the Central Asian steppe is a ger known in other Central Asian Turkic countries as a yurt (yurta in Russian). This large, round, felt tent has its early origin with the Indo-European nomads of Eurasia. Due to its lightness, durability, flexibility and comfort all nomadic people of the region adapted it as home. It is perfect for the nomadic lifestyle since it can be carried easily on a wagon pulled by oxen (big gers of great khans) or other animals, on a camel back, or on horses and on yaks (today, trucks are used more often). It can be assembled within a short period of time, from one hour to four, depending on its size and number of people involved. It provides warmth during harsh winters and coolness during hot summers since the number of felt layers can be adjusted. 
... The cost of this prefabricated nomadic house is minimal: willow wood is used for its collapsible wooden frame while felt is easily made from sheep’s wool. Unless the ger is set up for a longer time when a wooden floor is needed, these felt tents are placed directly on the ground which then is covered with carpets and rugs. In Mongolia, the door always faces south and is made either of felt or of wood. The small opening in the “roof” of the ger is called a toon allowing smoke to exit and fresh air to enter. It also works like a sun clock “telling” time when animals need to be milked, etc. The average ger weights 250 kg without furniture, which traditionally includes stove, low table and stools, beds, chests, cupboards. Some furniture is placed inside the ger before it is erected because it would not fit through the door. Some families have an extra ger to be used as storage only. 
The spatial organization of the ger’s inside reflects Mongolian customs and beliefs. The most important part is the back of the tent (khoimor), which is reserved for the most honored guests, a family altar often decorated with images of Buddha and family photographs. The right side (east) is designed for women and here one can find cooking paraphernalia, water buckets, etc. While women’s site is dedicated to the sun deity, the left side (west), for men, is under protection of the sky god.  ...

These two have been traditionally the most important deities of the Eurasian steppe regardless of ethnicity of nomads and are still worshipped in spite of Buddhism being the main religion of Mongolia since the 16th century.

There are many special customs associated with visiting a ger which one should learn before exploring Mongolian hospitality. For example, never knock on the ger’s door. It is considered not only impolite but you may not even have a chance to do so if you don’t scream from the distance “Nokhoi khor!” (“Hold the dog!”). Due to my language problems as described above, I just yelled something similar as loud as I could to make sure that a vicious monster is contained. Never refuse any food nor a drink but also don’t finish your food. An empty plate/bowl indicates that the guest is still hungry so the hosts will be refilling it as long as you eat. For more do’s and don’ts check your guide before you offend anyone (just to be on a safe side, remember not to use your left hand and never turn your back to an older person, an altar, and any other religious objects). Always enjoy your visit but remember not to abuse your host’s hospitality and leave before two hours are over. 


Located in the Orkhon Valley, along the most important east-west routes across Mongolia, the pastures of this region have been a focus of habitation and important political and economic activity already in the 6th century (see below). Khar Khorin, a great capital of the Mongol empire, has always been associated with the name of Genghis Khan although he only selected this place for a new capital after moving it from the Onon Valley in Khentii. 

At his time it could have been a small settlement but his third son and his successor, Ogodei Khan, turned it into a legend by changing it into a flourishing city. Unfortunately, its glory lasted only for 40 years, when Genghiz Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, moved the Mongol capital to Beijing in 1264. The city was erased from the ground in1388 by a Ming army leaving little to admire today. Only a few sculpted bases in the form of turtles for inscribed memorial stelas (now missing) remain collected from their original places where they marked boundaries of the city in the past. Bricks and stones left after the city’s demise by the end of the 14th century were re-used in the 16th century to build Erdene Zuu monastery (see below). 

Khar Khorin is currently excavated jointly by Mongolian and German archaeologists hoping to re-discover some of its grandeur for increasing number of visitors to Mongolia. In the meantime, we must rely on descriptions of this capital from a few contemporary sources. Some of them as, for example, a narrative of Marco Polo who himself did not make it to Khar Khorin, seem to be rather exaggerated mentioning the city being surrounded by an earthen wall about 5 km in circumference. In reality, it appears that Khar Khorin was built on somewhat irregular rectangular plan, 1.5 by 2.5 km, with the town walls sufficient to control access to the town (four gates) but not prepared to defend its inhabitants from any major attack. 

The most reliable account written by the Franciscan monk, William of Rubruck, who visited Khar Khorin in the 1250s and stayed there for a year, described its size as not being “… as large as the village of Saint Denis, and the monastery of Saint Denis is worth ten times more than the [Khan’s] palace.” However, at least twice a year when the Khan was passing through his capital (“once about Easter, when he passes there, and once in summer, when he goes back [westward]”) the city and its palace were full of life. People were coming with their gers setting up the true Ger City from as far as “distant two months journey. ” They were greeted by the Khan who “then makes them largess of robes and presents, and shows his great glory. 

There are there many buildings as long as barns, in which are stored his provisions and his treasures.” Everyone was invited for seasonal feasts, which always involved obscene amount of alcohol. The famous silver fountain was designed by a captive Parisian goldsmith, Guillaume Bouchier, specifically for the purpose of drinking: mare’s milk was gushing from silver lion’s heads while wine and other alcoholic beverages were flowing freely from the mouths of four golden dragons guarding a sculpted, huge, silver evergreen tree in the middle. This “monstrosity” was decorated at the top of the tree with the figure of an archangel blowing a trumpet that, in reality, was used as a disguise for a servant sending orders to others to start pumping drinks out of the fountain. Obviously, money cannot buy taste… 
... But almost everything else could have been bought and the best of the best could have been spotted in Khar Khorin, including quite cosmopolitan of the crowd. Following William of Rubruck’s description we learn more about famous Mongolian tolerance for different religions: 

There are two quarters in it (the capital]: one of the Saracens [Muslims] in which are the markets, and where a great many Tartars [Mongols] gather on account of the court, which is always near this [city], and on account of the great number of ambassadors; the other is the quarter of the Cathayans [Chinese], all of whom are artisans. Besides these quarters there are great palaces, which are for the secretaries of the court. There are there twelve idol temples [Buddhists] of different nations, two mahummeries [mosques] in which is cried the law of Mahomet, and one church of Christians in the extreme end of the city.” 

Such the tolerance and recognition of others’ skills never stopped Mongolian khans from exterminating those who opposed them in any shape or form. Simply speaking, they never discriminated against the others, whether with life or with death. 

There is one more mystery associated with Khar Khorin: Was Genghis Khan buried near it or somewhere else? Most scholars believe that his tomb has been hidden somewhere in the Khentii province but there are many people who are continuously looking for this famous grave in many other places, including Western China (see China). As the legend says, it was Genghis Khan’s wish to keep location of his tomb in secrecy. All those who were involved in building it were either killed or committed suicide to guard its secret. The earth was trampled over the grave by thousands of horses to make sure that nothing would be seen to reveal its location. However, as the story goes in the West, there are at least a few Mongols who know exactly where their Great Khan was put to rest but out of great respect for him and due to the legendary loyalty of Mongolian nomads to their leaders, they refuse to disclose the location. 


The ruins of Khar Khorin were put into good use in 1586 when the monastery of Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) was set up by Abtai Khan. It was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia which then was followed by hundreds all over its territory. The Third and the Fourth Dalai Lama were reborn in Mongolia. The Fourth one was a nephew of Altan Khan (himself a descendant of Genghis Khan) who in 1577 invited the spiritual leader of Tibet, Sodnomjamtso, to Mongolia.  Under his influence Altan Khan adopted the Lamaism, the so-called yellow faith of Buddhism, and bestowed the title of Dalai Lama (“Ocean Lama”) on Sodnamjamtso as the leader of the Lamaism. Since that time, the head of the Buddhist church in Tibet is known as the Dalai Lama. 

Erdene Zuu was built for about 300 years and at its height encompassed over 100 temples, with a thousand monks living in gers nearby. Today only a few of them survived after centuries of tumultuous history of the Mongols.  The temples of Erdene Zuu, built mostly in Tibetan style (see China) contain an excellent collection of tsam masks, wooden and bronze statues, appliqués and papier-mâché of various gods made between the 16th and 18th century. 

The fortress of Khar Balgas, also known in Turkic languages as Kara Balgasun, is an archaeologist’s dream. Located on the eastern bank of the Orkhon river, this city was once a capital of the Uighur (one of the Turkic groups) Khanate which ruled Mongolia between 745-854.

Khar Balgas was founded on a virgin soil in 751 and “went out of use” for different reasons almost one hundred years later. The layout of this city is clearly visible even to a non-professional eye: the outer walls with northern and southern gates; lookout towers; remains of the khagan’s (ruler’s) castle; a Buddhist stupa; stables; streets; residential and commercial areas; outside market places, and many other features are well distinguished by different colors of flora. 

There is a brief description of Khar Balgas left by an Arab ambassador who visited the city in 821. After weeks of traveling through vast steppes of Mongolia he finally arrived at “a great town, rich in agriculture and surrounded by rustaqs [settlements] full of cultivation and villages lying close together. The town has twelve iron gates of huge size. The town is populous and thickly crowded and has markets and various trades.” Another great memory carried about Khar Balgas is the presence of the Gold Yurt (Mongolian ger), which was towering over the walls of the city attracting visitors.

The Uighurs were one of the largest groups of Turkic peoples who dominated Central Asian steppes in between 6th and 10th centuries. The term “Uighur” is usually translated as “united” or “allied” but its original meaning is still disputed. At the height of their power when Khar Balgas was flourishing, they were even more powerful than the Chinese emperor who needed them twice to save his own skin. 

Out of necessity, the Chinese “lowered” themselves to the level of the barbarians (the Uighurs) by letting them marrying their princesses, not mentioning the fact that they had to overpay significantly for acquiring horses from these fearless nomads. 

Unfortunately, life seems to become too easy for the Uighurs (meaning: they almost forgot about their nomadic origin) who after ca.100 years of ruling over an impressive empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to Manchuria, were overrun by their distant cousins, the Kyrgyz (see Kyrgyzstan). 

In the meantime the Uighur tried and/or adopted different religions such as shamanism, early Buddhism, Manicheism, and eventually Islam. Forced out of their land in Mongolia they moved back to their former land in modern Chinese province of Xinjiang (see China [Urumchi-Turpan]).



There is nothing more important to any people that establishing their roots. The Turkic inscriptions found in Mongolia are the earliest written evidence in Turkic script (Gokturk runic script; with the Chinese text) about the powers of the Turkic Khagans (a great empire between the 6th and 8th century), and the first time when the word “Turk” is mentioned.  There are three of them, all dated to the 8th century. 

Two of them, known as monuments of Kul Tegin and of Bilge Khagan, are found in the Orkhon Valley while the third one, the Tonyukuk monument, is located 360 km away on the Tula River. The Kul Tegin’s stela was erected in his memory in 732 by his brother, Bilge Khagan. The Bilge Khagan’s monument was founded in 735 by his son, Tenri Khagan. They are quite impressive (Kul Tegin’s stela still stands over 3 m) describing both weaknesses and strengths of the Turkic empire and his rulers. Before Elterish re-united the Turks again (682-692), his son described the situation of the empire in the following words: 

Weeping and lamenting came from where the sun rises; the strong people of the desert came, lamenting and weeping, for these had really been valiant khagans.

After that their younger brothers became khagans, their sons became khagans. But the younger brothers were unlike their elder brothers, the sons were unlike their fathers. Unwise khagans, weak khagans ascended the throne, and their officers were also unwise and weak.

And because of the iniquity of the nobility and of the people, because of Chinese guile, because the elder brothers and the younger brothers were plotting against each other, because of the quarrel of those who favored the nobles and those who favored the people, the Turkic people brought about the dissolution of the empire that had been its empire, and ruined the khagan who had been its khagan.

The sons of the nobles became the slaves of the Chinese people, their pure daughters became its servants. The noble Turks abandoned their Turkic titles and, assuming Chinese titles, they submitted to the Chinese khagan.

But the small people, in its entirety, thus said, "We were a people that had its own empire. Where is now our empire? We were a people that had its own khagan. Where is now our khagan?

And thus speaking they became the enemy of the Chinese.

But then:

My father [Elterish] the khagan set out with 27 men, and as word got around that he was advancing, those who were in the towns and those who were in the mountains gathered, and there were 77 men. Because Heaven gave them strength, the army of my father resembled wolves and his enemies resembled sheep. Leading campaigns to the east as to the west, he gathered the people and made them rise up. And altogether they numbered 700. He lead 47 campaigns and fought in 20 battles. And because Heaven was favorable towards him, he deprived of their empire those who had an empire; he deprived them of their khagan; he pacified his enemies and made them bend their knees and bow their heads.

Unfortunately, Elterish’s brother, Qapaghan (692-716), who was able to unify both the Western Turks and his own Eastern Turks under his leadership was murdered and decapitated by another Turkic group in 716. The crisis followed and only by staging a coup Elterish’s son, Kul Tegin, saved the empire. Being an unselfish brother and following the tradition of seniorship he proclaimed his elder brother, Bilge, a new khagan (no wonder that Bilge erected a stela in his honor). 

Thus, Bilge Khagan (716-734) says about himself and his people:

I (Bilge) did not reign over a people that was rich, I reigned over a people weak and frightened, a people that had no food in their bellies and no clothes on their backs. To preserve the reputation achieved by our father, for the sake of the Turk people, I spent the nights without sleep and the days without rest. When I became khagan, the people who had dispersed to different countries returned, at the point of death, on foot and naked. To reestablish the nation, I led twenty-two campaigns. And because of good fortune and propitious circumstances, I brought back to life the dying people, the naked people I clothed and the few I made numerous.

This just ruler was poisoned by one of his officials but before he died he had found time to execute him and his family. Unfortunately, this Turkic empire died with him but the new one (the Uighurs) was waiting to emerge (see above). 

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NOTES: Most of the pictures are taken and copyrighted by Ewa Wasilewska, a few have been borrowed for educational purposes from different Internet sites.
Basic information about Mongolia



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