Monday, October 15, 2007

Meditation and Metaphor

On my last day in Ulaanbataar, suffering from a spectacular abscess on my back, I walked to the Gandan Monastery. Like many monasteries throughout Mongolia, it was partially destroyed during the Soviet era, while its monks were forced out of service, jailed, or killed. This standing image of the Bodhisattva of Compassion—almost 90-feet tall, cast in copper, and covered with gold—was completed in 1996, a half-dozen years after the Soviet departure.

As a personal metaphor, an abscess takes the cake: a festering from within, a little haven of infection that your body nurtures and grows.

Slightly delirious with pain, I entered the Dechengalpa Datsan, where the monks awaited their noon meal. They sat on raised platforms, with their shoes attending faithfully behind them, a sundry assortment of sandals, athletic shoes, and cavalry boots.

In their chants I could hear a blend of the mature and the childish; some of the robed figures looked as young as seven or eight. In the air I could scent the faint tang of sandalwood.

Each monk received a flat oblong of bread on which was piled a package of cookies, another of candy, and then a layered procession of other small snacks. I watched, straight-backed on a low bench, famished and grateful.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More about Mongolia

One of the things I dislike about the New York Times’ travel magazine, T: Style (I mean, other than their disregard for my work) is its focus on getting and spending. They even call one of their regular departments “The Get.”

According to the Fall 2007 issue, “Greenland is the new Mongolia,” which means, I suppose, that Mongolia has been officially relegated to “last year” among travel destinations. As it happens, I did go last year, to work as a flyfishing guide for Mongolia River Outfitters. I returned this year, to the same magnificent—and therefore threatened river—along with scientists from the Taimen Project, the World Wildlife Fund, and a crew from AEG Media, also known as the Trout Bums.

Last year, I was able to bottle what I learned into a single story, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal. This year, the confusion has so far resisted all of my attempts at distillation.