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Across Mongolian Plains by Roy Chapman Andrews

The Russians came to Urga from the north and


But there was one point of contact which we had with this dream-life of the Middle Ages. Yvette and I both love horses, and the way to a Mongol's heart is through his pony. Once on horseback we began to identify ourselves with the fascinating life around us. We lost the uncomfortable sense of being merely spectators in the Urga theatricals, and forgot that we had come to the holy city by means of a very unromantic motor car.

We remained at Urga for ten days while preparations were under way for our first trip to the plains, and returned to it often during the summer. We came to know it well, and each time we rode down the long street it seemed more wonderful that, in these days of commerce, Urga, and in fact all Mongolia, could have existed throughout the centuries with so little change.

There is, of course, no lack of modern influence in the sacred city, but as yet it is merely a veneer which has been lightly superimposed upon its ancient civilization, leaving almost untouched the basic customs of its people. This has been due to the remoteness of Mongolia. Until a few years ago, when motor cars first made their way across the seven hundred miles of plains, the only access from the south was by camel caravan, and the monotonous trip offered little inducement to casual travelers. The Russians came to Urga from the north and, until the recent war, their influence was paramount along the border. They were by no means anxious to have other foreigners exploit Mongolia, and they wished especially to keep the country as a buffer-state between themselves and China.

Not only is Urga the capital of Mongolia and the only city of considerable size in the entire country but it is also the residence of the Hutukhtu, or Living Buddha, the head of both the Church and the State. Across the valley his palaces nestle close against the base of the Bogdo-ol (God's Mountain), which rises in wooded slopes from the river to an elevation of eleven thousand feet above sea level.

The Sacred Mountain is a vast game preserve, which is patrolled by two thousand lamas, and every approach is guarded by a temple or a camp of priests. Great herds of elk, roebuck, boar, and other animals roam the forests, but to shoot within the sacred precincts would mean almost certain death for the transgressor. Some years ago several Russians from Urga made their way up the mountain during the night and killed a bear. They were brought back in chains by a mob of frenzied lamas. Although the hunters had been beaten nearly to death, it required all the influence of the Russian diplomatic agent to save what remained of their lives.

The Bogdo-ol extends for twenty-five miles along the Tola Valley, shutting off Urga from the rolling plains to the south. Like a gigantic guardian of the holy city at its base, it stands as the only obstacle to the wireless station which is soon to be erected.

The Hutukhtu has three palaces on the banks of the Tola River. One of them is a hideous thing, built in Russian style. The other two at least have the virtue of native architecture. In the main palace the central structure is white with gilded cupolas, and smaller pavilions at the side have roofs of green. The whole is surrounded by an eight-foot stockade of white posts trimmed with red.


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