Saturday, February 19, 2011

Transsiberian rail: Russia to Tibet

John Garnaut (, Feb. 19, 2011)
Gandan Monastery in Ulan Bator, Mongolia where an overwhelming amount of the country's population is Tibetan Buddhist yet few can read the scriptures (AFP).

A new start for a land where Buddha meets Louis Vuitton
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia - Weathered old folk in fur hats and goatskin gowns and young couples wearing designer sunglasses are squeezing into Gandan Monastery to lay money at the feet of a small and ornate statue of the Buddha. The room has the yak butter smell of monasteries in Lhasa, Tibet. But the scene is otherwise more natural, lively, and shambolic.

Going transsiberian by private train from Buddhist Beijing through Mongolia to Moscow.

Portly old monks in maroon robes are counting bundles of money, and child trainees [samaneras] are stifling yawns. They've been sitting and chanting all day and into the night for most of the two-week celebration for Mongolia's lunar new year.

I ask my friend what they are chanting about as he stops my coat from catching fire on the coal stove. ''I don't really know,'' he says. ''Actually, nobody does. [Because] it's all in Tibetan -- we just have to trust them.''

Ninety-eight per cent of the country's 2.7 million people count themselves as Tibetan Buddhists, thanks to ties that go back centuries. But only a few hundred trained monks can read the scriptures of their [Vajrayana] faith. My friend, a Mongolian neighbor from Beijing, has brought me here to pray for good health and fortune in between his meetings about national politics and personal uranium exploration. More>>

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