“Father, whose arms extend eternity. A sky of blue above the human family. We gather now in circle ’round the foot of thee. You, the giving tree.” -Todd Scheaffer
There is a place in Khentii.
A place Omnodelger claims as its own. Its miles away though. Over rough terrain, tall mountains, and through shallow rivers. Wind through the valleys and rugged trails long enough and you’ll find this place.
Its called Baldan Bereeven, and once upon a time it was the top religious center in eastern Mongolia. It boasted as many as 3,000 monks and its population swelled further with frequent visiting pilgrims. The small monastery, nestled in the mountains was a community in itself. The monks and pilgrims lived and prayed together in this monastery by a lake. That was so long ago.
Change swept through Russia, then through eastern Europe, then central Asia. It wasn’t long before the change came to Mongolia. “No religion!” So the change said. The change found Baldan Bereeven, next to its mountains and little lake. They came. The pilgrims fled. The monks, jailed and murdered. The old stones of the monastery smashed and toppled to rubble. That was all so long ago.
Today the central monastery has been restored, proving that tradition, religion, and customs can’t be snuffed out so easily. Though resilient, beautiful, and still alive, walking through Baldan Bereeven lets on a somber feeling. Moving past the ghostly foundations of buildings that once housed dozens of monks one takes on the sense that Baldan Bereeven is now a shadow of its former self. Though restored, it is a fraction of what it was, with only a hundred or so monks coming to pray in the monastery only in late summer.
The real magic of Baldan Bereeven lies in the things that could not be destroyed and toppled. The shamanistic mixed with the Buddhist. Things that withstood the test of time and the atrocities of man. Walk around Baldan Bereeven and one will come across these sacred places. Places that hold mystical wonder. A rock when laid upon that cures a bad back. A mediation place in a field that soaks energy from the sun. A split boulder that when walked through restores health. Stones carved with script, Buddhas, and symbols. Faded paint and weathered edges.
At the base of Baldan Bereeven’s mountains sits a tree. A tree that grew through the ages. Stretched skyward through decades. Extended roots and branches through centuries. Its called the Wishing Tree. Be silent, stand close, make a wish and the tree will make it so. I stood with my palms clasped and leaned into the ancient tree. I could feel the cool bark against my forehead. Eyes closed I could hear birds chirp. A breeze rustled the wild flowers at my feet. I strained, leaning in further for emphasis.
I made my wish.