One of the best Trans-Siberian top winter tour destinations is Mongolia. I recently traveled to Mongolia because I wanted to learn more about the traditions of the Tsam masks and the mysteries surrounding them. I also want to know how each Mongolian monastery represented the different Tsam masks. Each monastery owns its own set of masks and costumes, depicted often by frightening animal or bird creatures. The monasteries often hold festivals or dance rituals, including meditation and mythology. Sometimes, only a few participate, and other times, there were around 100 people.
During the communist regime, many monasteries were destroyed and thousands of monks were killed in the process. Some of these monasteries survived, and others were restored. These were some that I visited on my recent journey.
Photo by Mark Heard
Located in the Gobi Desert region, the Khamar Monastery is the only Mongolian monastery related to the holy concept of Shambhala. For hundreds of centuries, Buddhist monks in Kumbun and Gandan have meditated over Shambhala and pondered its true meaning. It was mentioned in a Buddhist manuscript, the Kalatshakra. However, it’s still unclear if it’s an actual place on earth, one that you find only after deep meditation, or it not only exists in our physical reality but also in our everyday lives.
I discovered that our reality and the legend of Shambhala meet only at this Mongolian monastery. You can only find both through deep meditation. This was one of the monasteries destroyed, but it was recreated in the 1990s and is still being added to.
Erdene Zuu Monastery
I also visited Kharkhorin, where I toured another historical monastery. It originally housed over 1,500 monks and 62 temples in the circular monastery that Avtai Khan founded. Unfortunately, just like many others, it was destroyed in the 1930s during communist times. It was restored in 1965 and became a museum, which now houses embroidered tapestries, paintings and ornaments from the 15th to 17th century. I was also able to see the restored artwork of 17th century painter Zanabazar and complete wooden manuscripts of that time period.
While the other monasteries were destroyed, this one survived, so it was a different experience to tour an active monastery with over 400 monks praying and attending services. The monastery is the largest in Mongolia and features an impressive 25 meter tall statue of Lord Magiid Janraising. It currently includes three temples, a Mongolian Buddhist University, and several other colleges, including one for Medicine and Astrology.
Other Cultural and Religious Experiences
In addition to visiting monasteries, I also attended some traditional Mongolian rituals in Ulaanbaatar, where the performers showcased folklore and mythology. They performed the Tsam mask dance, as well as the “Tumen Ekh” national song. I really enjoyed seeing the story of Buddhism through dancing and singing. And I like looking at their colorful costumes.
Booking Your Mongolian Holiday
Visit Mongolia, one of Trans-Siberian top winter tour destinations. You can check out The Trans-Siberian Travel Company for affordable deals in this region. Each tour is around five nights, and you could customize mine any way I wanted to.