Lindsay Myron
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I Was There, but Don't Ask Me What It Looked Like

December 2, 2009 @ 6:46 PM | Permalink

‘If women go up it will bring bad luck to all travelers in their group.’ ‘Women aren’t strong enough to get to the top.’  ‘It’s a struggle for gender power.’    

Such were the reasons given to me when I asked why women weren’t allowed to summit Bayanzurkh Uul, a sacred mountain south of Sainshand in Dornogobi province.   The mountain is said to be home to Noyon Khutagt, a predecessor of Danzanravjaa, the proclaimed Fifth Gobi Lord as of 1809 and a professed worshipper of women.

Regardless the end limit, it’s customary for both genders to make offerings of juniper incense, baaw (biscuits), aaruul (cheese curd), candies and vodka at a temple erected halfway up the mountain.  Six men, two women and I were accompanied up the mountain by six very satiated goats, anointed with blue prayer scarves and eager to see new visitors (i.e. they were hungry). 

I wrote my wishes of forgiveness and blessings on a torn slip of paper.  A stone hearth outside the temple witnessed seventeen matches swiftly blown out by the Gobi winds in an effort to burn my wishes up to the heavens.

A cup of vodka offered to the mountain left only the climb.

The prohibition is occasionally budged for foreign women especially by the younger generations, but the older Mongolian men that were accompanying me only permitted the three women to go to the first ovoo two thirds up the mountain (and reluctantly so).  They handed me a bag of rice and raisins and followed me upwards.

I circled the ovoo three times raining grains and fruits on the sturdy cairn.  When I had finished the men retrieved the remaining bag of rice and ascended the peak.

I’m not one for gender roles and as it was explained foreign women weren’t despised for their completion of the trek.  There were no guards and only a few elderly Mongolians present that day.  Standing at the base of the path the temptation to see the top was overwhelming.

Questioning the physical strength of women seemed demeaning, especially after spending weeks in the countryside with Mongolian women whose forearms and demeanor seemed stronger than most men.  That was, in fact, the basis for the theoretical argument of power struggles.  Mongolian women run the herding household, raising the children, preparing food for winter and often handling family finances.  In Ulaanbaatar, women hold high rankings in the professional scene. I’ve been told that religion is one of the few spaces left where men can maintain a sense of dominance.   

Watching one of the men struggle to summit, these thoughts surfacing in my mind, I realized one thing: this wasn’t my place to revolt.  Experiencing culture is not refuting culture.  This wasn’t my home nor was it my religion.  And if I thrice encircle an ovoo , out of respect and in an effort to experience Mongolian tradition, then I should keep my feet stagnant, out of respect and in an effort to experience Mongolian tradition. 

I never saw the top.


Posted on 12/19/2009 by

Alaina Rose

Alaina Rose

I'm sad that such inequalities exist that prevented you from seeing the top of must I must say that I LOVE your photos!!!

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Lindsay, Enjoyed the woven threads of humanity in the family lesson on telling time. Thanks for sharing. TIm

Tim Matthews on Nomads Give New Meaning to the Cuckoo Clock 2009-11-03

Ouch. Not a fun way to finish off the semester. Get well soon and safe travels; look forward to seeing you back on the hill next month!

Matthew Hintsa on I've Never Been More Afraid of Pigs 2009-12-06

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