Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mongolian Monuments - I (Ulaanbaatar)

Since my last posts were about Хөшөө Цайдам and the word хөшөө 'statue,' it's only fair I show off Mongolia's statues. As the capital and home to almost half the population, Ulaanbaatar has the largest share of Mongol monuments.

The most important statues are in Sühbaatar Square (Сүхбаатарын Талбай - Sühbaataryn Talbai), in the very heart of the city, in front of the Parliament building. And in the very heart of Sühbaatar Square, of course, is the statue of Damdiny Sühbaatar himself.

Монгол ардын хувьсгалантын баатар Д. Сүхбаатар - D. Sühbaatar, hero of the Mongolian Revolution. Standing in the center of Sühbaatar Square, in the center of capital city, this is the country's most famous and iconic statue. Images of it are seen, and recognized, all over.
Sühbaatar (usually transliterated Sukhbaatar) played a pivotal role in the Mongolian Revolution, in which Mongolia gained independence from the Qing dynasty. As a result, he is one of the best-known historical figures in Mongolia, and he is the only person other than Chingis Khaan to appear on Mongolian money. The large Soviet-style square in UB was named after him, and his statue (erected in 1946) has become a national symbol.

View of Sühbaatar Square from the south



Mongolian script on the east face of the statue
Staring back at Sühbaatar from across the square is a statue of Chingis Khaan. Seated on his throne he guards the house of Mongolian government with his descendants and Ögedei and Khubilai Khaan on either side, announced by two mounted warriors in front.

Across the square from Sühbaatar, Chingis Khaan himself watches over the country from the steps of the Parliament building. Note the two equestrian statues in front.

Close-up of the Great Khan. This is the closest I got. Then the police stopped me.

Diagonally across the street from the square to the southwest (and directly across from the central post office) is a much smaller statue of S. Zorig (С. Зориг). Leader of Mongolia's democratization in the 1990s, he was murdered in 1998, shortly before he was to become prime minister. His killer remains unknown.

This statue, on the corner of Peace Avenue southwest of Sühbaataar Square, commemorates Zorig. It reads, С. Зориг - Монголын ард түмнээс, "S. Zorig: from the Mongolian people."

On center median of the road between the National Circus and the State Department Store (Улсын Их Дэлгүүр) there is a monument to the Beatles. Bronze images of John, George, and Ringo stroll across a vaguely heart-shaped brick wall, while Paul lingers behind, staring at you. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any pictures I took of them. I only have a picture of the reverse side of the wall, which features an anonymous guitarist. However, it's very easy to find the statue on Google.

Guitarist, on the the avenue connecting the State Department Store and the National Circus. The other side of this wall has statues of the Beatles.
Mongolia loves its national heroes, but it also takes a lot of interest in famous foreigners who were connected with Mongolia. Hence, I heard a lot about people like Marco Polo and Roy Chapman Andrews while I was there. In fact, they put up a statue of Polo in the middle of the city, near Ulaanbaatar Hotel. Formerly, there was also a statue of Vladimir Lenin nearby, but it was removed in 2008.

Obviously, a statue of Marco Polo. Near Ulaanbaatar Hotel.

The National Library is graced, fittingly, by Byambyn Rinchen (Бямбын Ринчен), Mongolia's most famous scholar. His statue replaced a statue of Joseph Stalin that was put there during the Soviet era. (Thank God.)

Byambyn Rinchen (Бямбын Ринчен), one of the foremost Mongolian writers and scholars of all time, in front of the National Library. (I was sure I had a close-up picture of him, but I can’t find that either.)

A number of other historical figures and events are commemorated throughout the city.

Bazaryn Shirendev (Modern Cyrillic, Базарын Ширэндэв; in script, Bajar-un Sirindib), next to Urgoo Cinema 2 (Өргөө Кино).

Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal (Юмжаагийн Цэдэнбал) - the longest-lasting leader of modern Mongolia. Next to the National Drama Theatre, and across the street from the Library and the Rinchen statue.

Б. Цэрэндорж (B. Tserendorj) - first prime minister of independent Mongolia.
There are also non-historical and even non-figurative works, which are just as interesting.

Schoolchildren and a giant book, next to the National University of Education (Монгол Улсын Боловсролын Их Сургууль).
Predator statue at The Arizona Center. I don't have a clue what this is about.

Ram in front of the Natural History Museum (Байгалийн түүхийн музей)

Imitation Turkish stone in the sidewalk of Baga Toiruu or "Little Circle" road (Бага Тойруу).

Whirling dervish on the sidewalk. Baga Toiruu, getting close to the State Department Store.

Sidewalk dervish, seen from the south

I think this is near the National History Museum.

Relic of Soviet times, across the street from the train station.
The four friendly animals: bird on top of a rabbit on top of a monkey on top of an elephant, in an island in the middle of the road where it curves. Northwest part of the city.

Random Gargoyle far from the center of the city.
Zaisan (Зайсан) is a memorial area in a far southern corner of the city, far from the city proper. It is centered on a large hill with memorials celebrating Russian and Mongolian friendship. It's a steep climb up the hill, but worth it for the great view of the rest of the city. Near the bottom is a Buddhist idol. Even though the area is designated as a park, someone, somehow, got some high-rise apartments built there, right next to the Buddha. Now it is also known as the hot place to live for rich people.

Statue of the Buddha at Zaisan. To the right, out of the picture, are the luxury apartments.

Stone lion guarding the Buddha

Memorial to the Mongolian tank brigade

The tank says:
Монголын ард-түмний хөрөнгөөр байгуулагдсан хувьсгалт - Монгол танкийн бригад Гитлерийн Германы эсрэг дайнд оролцсон юм
The Revolution that was established by the Mongolian people - The Mongolian tank brigade participated in the war against Hitler’s Germany.

Зайсан толгой

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ögii Lake

As I mentioned before, Khöshöö Tsaidam was only half of my trip. After that, we visited Ögii Lake (Өгий нуур / Ögii Nuur, also spelled Ogii or Ugii). Ögii Nuur is not only a lake, but also the name of the sum (district) which surrounds it. It lies north of Khashaat sum, and along the same road that connects Kharhorin and Khöshöö Tsaidam. Sometimes people from my town went fishing up here, although according to them, the fish aren't as big as the ones in Tariat.

Овоо тойрон явах - Circumambulating the ovoo
On the way we stopped at an ovoo by the lake. Ovoos often mark boundaries, and if you pass one it is customary to attend to them before continuing with your journey. Usually, this requires walking around it clockwise three times and putting three stones on it.

When we got to the lake, it was melting, but the majority of the surface was covered still covered in ice, sometimes all the way to the shore.

It was often thin ice though. I didn't walk carefully enough, and one of my feet plunged through it. I came in my rubber boots, but the water flooded right in and I had to take it off and dry it off. Luckily, Ögii is very shallow, and I would have had to walk further out to get to a place deep enough to drown.

My feet, before they got wet.

The area was largely bare. The village area was farther away, and spring was still waking up. There were some living things around, but sometimes in surprising places. I found a ladybug out on the ice, but when I picked it up, it shook itself off and flew away. I found two live ladybugs just chilling, literally, on the lake.

One of two live ladybugs I found on the lake
Other hardy life forms included weeds, moss, and of course, lots and lots of lichens, which were colored brightly and covered most of one of the promontories.

We didn't see the far side of the lake, but it was beautiful enough where we were, and a fine conclusion to the trip.

Ögii Lake

Ögii Lake

Ögii Lake

The other side of Ögii Lake

A small cliff

Sitting on the shore

Another ovoo

Friday, May 1, 2015

MWW 57: Хөшөө

MWW 57: Хөшөө

Cyrillic хөшөө

Transcription höshöö
IPA [xɵ.ˈʃɵ:]
Translation statue, monument
In Genghis Khan’s time it was kösiye.
Plural: хөшөөнүүд; Genitive: хөшөөний.

You may recognize хөшөө from my last post about Хөшөө Цайдам. Хөшөө is usually glossed as "statue," but its sense is much broader than English "statue," and covers most kinds of monuments, including steles, obelisks, and gravestones. Any of these, if well-done, may be praised as a гэрэлт хөшөө, "statue with light," which does not literally mean that the monument is lighted, but rather that it is brilliant. The near synonym дурсгал (dursgal) is often paired with хөшөө as the compound word хөшөө дурсгал, which also means "monument." Other terms include:

  • булшны хөшөө - gravestone
  • оршуулгын хөшөө - cairn
  • шарилын хөшөө - cross, hearse
  • бичигт хөшөө - stele
  • дайны хөшөө дурсгал - war memorial
  • Эрх чөлөөний хөшөө - The Statue of Liberty
  • хөшөө цутгах - cast a monument
  • хөшөө босгох - erect a monument

I suspect that хөшөө is related to the verb хөших, which means 'congeal, freeze, harden, stiffen, set.' In medicine, it describes stupor, paralysis, catalepsy, and rigor mortis. Applied to emotions, it refers to being stopped by extreme fear or laughter, as in the idiom элэг хөших, 'laugh hard,' literally 'the liver stiffens.' Both must be related to хөшүүн, which can mean 'statuesque,' 'stubborn,' 'inflexible, inelegant, impractical, immovable' and 'angular, cross-grained.'

(I wonder if any of these are related to хөшүүрэгдэх, 'hunt a bear by barring the exit from its lair with crossed logs.')


As for the second part of the name, Цайдам is also the Mongolian name of a location in western China which is usually spelled Qaidam in English. Wikipedia says the name is derived from the Tibetan word ཚྭའི་འདམ (tshwa'i 'dam) "salt marsh" [X]. (I checked the translation at the "THL Tibetan to English Translation Tool": Tshwa = salt, 'i = genitive suffix, 'dam = marsh.) This would make Хөшөө Цайдам something like "Monument Marsh." However Хөшөө Цайдам did not seem any marshier to me than the rest of the countryside. Maybe it was drained?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Khöshöö Tsaidam / Хөшөө Цайдам

Khashaat's Ruins Evoke Ancient Memories

Exterior of the museum, with Japanese visitors
Khöshöö Tsaidam (Mongolian, Хөшөө Цайдам) - the nearly 1300-yea-old remains of a steppe empire - is the most famous place in Khashaat sum. However, it's far from the village part of Khashaat, hence it requires a special trip. I never ran into it just going about my business. I paid it a visit it last year on April 11, and although I'm a little late (April 17) now, in this blog's current spirit of "This Day in [the] History [of My Time in Mongolia]," let's look at Khöshöö Tsaidam, one of the archaeological treasures of Mongolia.

Poster in my school. It reads, "The Turkic-era memorial complex at Khöshöö Tsaidam, and several artifacts."
Khöshöö Tsaidam is also admired outside Khashaat: This poster is from a series of posters of famous Mongolian places that covered the walls of a classroom in Tsetserleg.

Bilge Khan and the Göktürk Empire

Modern Turkish is the best known of the Turkic languages, but it was spread to the land now called Turkey by invasion from Central Asia. There are many other Turkic languages spoken Central and Northern Asia, and in fact, the Turks may have originated in Western Mongolia near the Altai Mountains. While China was ruled by the Tang Dynasty, most of the lands to its north were part of the Second Turkic Khaganate. This vast nomadic conglomerate was led by the Göktürks or "Blue Turks" (Mongolian: Хөх Түрэг / Höh Türeg), and in the 8th century the Blue Turks were led by Bilge Khagan (Билэг хаан, 683? - 734 A.D.), with the help of his brother and military commander, Kultegin (Көлтэгин / Культегин / Күлтэгин, died 731).

In addition to accomplishing many things politically and militarily, Bilge Khan liked to boast about his accomplishments. To this end, he erected two stele in the valley of the Orkhon river. The stele describe his and his brother's achievements in a bilingual inscription in Orkhon runes and Chinese characters. Those runes (together with a few other inscriptions from the same time) are the oldest writing in any Turkic language.

Билгэ хааны тахилын онгон - "Bilge Khan's sacrificial idol"
How Bilge Khan's monument would have looked in the 8th century

The Turkic Empire soon crumbled, and its monuments were also left to crumble for hundreds of years. The site of these ruins became known in the Mongolian language as Хөшөө Цайдам (variously transliterated as Khöshöö Tsaidam, Khushuu Tsaidam, or Koshu Tsaidam). In the 19th century they were found by Russian explorers, and translated by the Danish linguist Vilhelm Thomsen. Along with other remains of ancient kingdoms scattered along the Orkhon river, Khöshöö Tsaidam was inscribed in UNESCO's world heritage list in 2004 as part of the "Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape" (Орхон хөндийн соёлын дурсгал) [1]. The museum was established in 2011 - just weeks after I arrived in Mongolia (although I didn't know it yet!) [2]

Headless stone men?

Bilge Khan's crown

The Museum

April 11, 2014 fell during the Mongolian secondary school's spring break, and I was at site, with nothing to do. When my JICA friends from Kharhorin told me they were going to visit Khöshöö Tsaidam and Ögii Lake and asked if I wanted to come, off I went.

When I was invited to Mongolia by Peace Corps and read about archaeological finds in Mongolia, I orignally imagined some broad lonely field with decayed stone brushed by the wind. I wondered whether I should bring tracing paper to make my own rubbings, as past archaeologists have done. I soon realized I had a fat chance of actually touching them - the ruins are in a museum now, of course.

Хар бэхээр зурсан зураг бүхий дээврийн ваар - black ink-drawing on a roof tile

The museum features many small artifacts from that time period, but the centerpiece, of course, is the inscribed steles. Orkhon writing is often referred to as "runes" due to its resemblance to the runes used by the Germanic peoples (and Tolkien's dwarves!), but they arose independently of each other. The sharp, narrow character of Orkhon runes is due to their use in decorating steles like Bilge Khan's. Cutting stone is hard and it's much easier to make straight lines. Around the world, stone-carved scripts tend to be angular and brush-written scripts tend to be curvier. That is not as interesting though, as the fact that apparently Orkhon were sometimes read from the bottom up [3].

One of Bilge Khan's monuments

Having seen them in person, I realize Khöshöö Tsaidam had been interesting to me long before I even knew what it was. When I was a child and beginning to be interested in language, I read an old, fat book about the history of writing around the world. Although I did not remember the name "Khöshöö Tsaidam," I remembered "Orkhon Turkish runes" and a page with a facsimile of them. How strange to think that now I was living next to something I had remembered from a book years ago.

Narrow, angular "runes" on the face of the stela

I took photos of the entire surface of the stele shown above in case I ever had the chance, and knowledge, to interpret it, but it turned out I didn't need to. Passing a tiny merchandise stand on our way out, I saw the book shown below, Хөх Түрүгийн Бичиг by Д. Баатар. The book featured a complete transcription, transliteration, and translation (into Mongolian) of the steles. This being a museum gift shop, it cost almost $30 ... but the book was right there right then and I didn't know if I would ever see it again, so ... of course I bought it!

Read more on this blog about the word хөшөө in the next Mongolian Word of the Week!

More Reading


  1. See UNESCO's site for the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape at
  2. June 27th, 2011, according to the news article "Хөшөө цайдам музейн нээлт боллоо" at (in Mongolian).
  3. This odd writing direction (unique as far as I know of the world's languages) is mentioned on the Omniglot page ( However, from reading my book on the inscriptions - Хөх Түрүгийн Бичиг (The Göktürk Script) by D. Baatar, it seems clear that Bilge Khan's inscription at least does not work this way.