Friday, December 27, 2002

Just returned from the top of Emei Shan, a 9200 foot mountain in Sichuan
Province, China. I arrived in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan on the 21st
and the next day took a bus to the base of the mountain. On the backside of
the mountain there is a road up two-thirds of the way and then a cable car
to the top. This is the route for sluggards. Up the front of the mountain
there is a trail which climbs up about 7000 vertical feet to the summit.
This is the way I went. The first day I walked in the steady rain about
halfway up the mountain and stayed in a monastery. It started to snow just
as I got there. Ten or hundreds of thousands of people visit this mountain
in the summer but now I was the only guest at this monastery. There was no
heat in the rooms and it was very cold and damp. The next morning I started
up the trail now covered with new snow and ice. Again I was the only
foreigner I saw all day and indeed I did not see any Chinese for several
hours at a time. It was very foggy and visibility was limited to about 50
feet. There are numerous Buddhist temples on the way up where you can stop
for a break, and most of them have a tea house in the vicinity where you can
get noodles and whatnot. Trudged up all day and arrived at a guest house
about an hour and half short of the summit. Again I was the only guest in
the place. I was also the only customer in the restaurant. Here I spent
Christmas Eve. The next day, Christmas, I got up an hour and a half before
dawn and headed up the trail to the summit. Most people go here for the
sunrise but today there would be no sunrise. It was very, very foggy and
visibility was only about 50 feet. Right at the summit of the mountain is a
big Buddhist Temple. There were perhaps a dozen Chinese people and a few
Tibetans here who had come up on the road and the the cable car. I stayed on
the summit all day and that night slept in the monastery attached to the temple.
Again I was the only foreigner there. The next morning was no clearer, so I did not
get to see the the sunrise . . . I headed back down to the base of the mountain
and took the bus back to Chengdu, where I am now. So that was my Christmas for 2002!

It snowed here in Chengdu today, the first time this has happened in years, according to locals . . .

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Hong Kong: Just arrived here. Everything is green and the temperature is up into the high 70s. Hope to spend the Holidays in China. Details to follow . . .

Saturday, December 14, 2002

It' a Heat Wave! This morning at 6:00 it was 0 degrees F. (that's 17 below 0 to you Europeans). Yesterday it went up to a scorching 21 degrees F. (that's 6 below 0 to you Europeans) in the afternoon! That's 62 degrees F. warmer than it was last Sunday morning.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Weather Update: at 8:00 am Sunday morning it is now 41 below zero F. (40 below zero C. to you Europeans). Since the sun just came up I suspect this might be the low for the night.
Spent an immensely enjoyable Saturday evening curled up on the sofa in my warm apartment with the current object of my infatuation: Volume III of History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, which contains an excellent section on the ancient country of Sogdiana, which from the 3rd to 7th centuries occupied most of the Transoxiana region in what is now Uzbekistan. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Sogdians, but more on that later . . .

This morning it is 39 degrees below zero F. in Ulaan Baatar. Oddly, it is also 39 below zero C. (for all you Europeans). 39 below zero is where the two types of temperature, F. and C. coincide. The good news is there is zero wind, so there is no wind chill factor. So it also feels like it is only 39 degrees below zero, F. or C. This reminds me of the notorious winter of '78 in Fairbanks, Alaska, when it never got above 40 below zero F. for the whole month of February and went down to as low as 65 below zero F. at night. Chilly . . .

Saturday, December 07, 2002

It is a chilly 37 below zero F. here in Ulaan Baatar this morning. That's 38 below zero C. for all you Europeans.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Met today with 90-year old Lama Gombo (left), bareheaded despite the 8 below zero F. temperature.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Readers may remember my recent visit (See Archives) to the official reopening of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, where I was privileged to see Bill Clinton whiz by in a limousine.

The newly restored and refurbished Brandenburg Gate

Now it appears that a major ruckus has broke out in front of the Brandenburg Gate. And, no, I am not talking about the latest Michael Jackson episode in which he dangled his baby off the balcony of the Adlon Hotel, located on the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Adlon Hotel, largely destroyed during the war but now completely rebuilt and back up
to snuff as Berlin’s toniest hostelry (at least it was before Michael Jackson’s visit).

Instead I am referring to the fate of bratwurst vendor Curt Boesenberg who was just recently evicted from his spot in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where he sold bratwurst from a cart for years. Apparently he is considered too déclassé for the environs of the new, refurbished Gate. “They say my bratwurst stand isn’t appropriate for the square’s historical surroundings. That’s ridiculous. Sausages have a long tradition in Berlin,” he told the International Herald-Tribune. There were some heated public protests in the square in support of Boesenberg but to no avail. The authorities have decided that Boesenberg and his bratwurst have to go. I agree with the protestors on this one. It’s a helluva world when a guy can’t get a beer and a bratwurst in front of the Brandenburg Gate! This is especially galling because one of the corners of the Brandenburg square, right across the street from the Adlon Hotel, is now occupied by a Starbucks. So it “Bratwurst – Nien, Lattes – Ja” for the hallowed precincts of the Brandenburg Gate. Is this what the Greatest Generation fought for?

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Well, my European wanderjahr is over and I fInally made back to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

November is not a popular month to visit Mongolia. The once-weekly Mongolian Airlines Airbus 310-300 from Berlin to Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia, (with a stop in Moscow) was less than half full with only four people in the business section. I had bought my ticket from the checkout counter at the airport two hours before the scheduled departure. In summertime, the three weekly flights from Berlin to Ulaan Baatar are often booked weeks in advance. But I had checked the weather in Ulaan Baatar before leaving, and it was –5º F., a tempature which tends to discourage casual tourism. The Mongolian Airlines web site has a special page touted “Mongolia in Winter (with various attractions listed), but this is a concept which has not yet quite caught on.

The big news in Mongolia, according to the two English-language newspapers handed out on the plane, was the recent (November 4 – 8) visit of the Dalai Lama. Had I known he was going to be in Mongolia at this time I would have came a week earlier and caught his visit. Actually, just three week before, I had been in Graz, Austria, where the Dalai Lama had given a Kalachakra Initiation and thus had an opportunity to see and hear him many times. Even in Graz there was a rumor that the Dalai Lama would be in Mongolia sometime in November, but no one knew exactly when. After leaving Graz I had checked the Dalai Lama’s schedule on his website several times and there had been no mention of any trip to Mongolia. Hoping to find reports of the Graz Kalachakra Initiation I had also googled the news with the words “Dalai Lama” and not seen any articles about the Mongolia trip until he was actually in Mongolia. Now I read in the Nov. 6 Mongol Messenger that officials at Gandan Monastery in Ulaan Baatar had held a news conference on October 30 announcing that the Dalai Lama was coming but did not reveal any of his travel plans.

There was a reason for the aura of secrecy around this visit by Dalai Lama. He had originally planned to come to Mongolia during the first week of September, before his trip to Graz, but this trip had been cancelled at the last moment. I myself had been in Mongolia at the time.

Problems had arisen. First the Russian government had refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa either to visit the Buddhist regions of Russia, including Kalmykia in the west, along the Volga River, and Buryatia, just to the north of Mongolia itself, or to simply pass through Russia on his way to Ulaan Baatar. There was wide-spread speculation in the press that the Russian government had caved into pressure from the Chinese government, which did not want see the Dalai Lama, whom it of course views as a dangerous “splittist”, promoting his views on Tibetan independence just beyond its northern border. The Russian Ambassador to Mongolia, Oleg Derkvosky, didn’t help matters by comparing the Dalai Lama to Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov.” The situation is similar if A. Maskhadov was invited to Mongolia,” Derkovsky explained during a news conference in response to questons about why the Russian government had denied the Dalai Lama a visa.

Then the Dalai Lama had attempted to come to Mongolia through Seoul, Korea, which maintains airlinks with Ulaan Baatar. This plan was thwarted when Asiana Airlines refused to fly him from Delhi, India, to Seoul. “We had respectfully asked the Dalai Lama to take a route that doesn't stop in Seoul for his and other passengers' safety,'' said Kim Haeng-seok, an Asiana spokesman.” Asked to elaborate on the security concerns he said: ``Some people like the Dalai Lama. Some people don't.”

`We cannot understand the airline's refusal to allow an internationally recognized religious leader to make a transit flight, commented a spokesman for the Dalai Lama Visit Preparation Committee, a Buddhist group in Seoul who had invited the Dalai Lama to Korea, commented. ”We are curious how much pressure there was from China.” This sentiment was echoed the Korea Times. “The government should give higher priority to Korea‘s sovereignty than stronger trade with China,” fumed an editorial. Right up until two days before his expected arrival monks at Gandan Monastery told me he was still coming, by means uncertain, but at the last moment it was finally acknowledged that the trip had been cancelled. Later in September he was also banned from visiting South Africa for the Earth Summit meeting, again because of alleged Chinese pressure.

Now the Mongolians monks were understandably being cagy. At the October 30 press conference the deputy head of Gandan monastery, Yo. Amgalan, had declared “I think that there is no need to talk about the routes of a famous person. We have no problems about visas now. Thanks to huge efforts and many requests , he [the Dalai Lama} is able to visit Mongolia.”

This announcement did not make international news however, and few outside of Mongolia knew the Dalai Lama was on this way there. The first widely broadcast news report about the visit came on the day he flew from Japan to Mongolia: “China denounced the Dalai Lama's visit to neighbouring Mongolia on Monday, hours before the Tibetan spiritual leader was due to fly into the predominantly Buddhist country to meet followers. ‘The Dalai Lama is not simply a religious figure, but is a political exile who has engaged in activities to split the motherland,‘ the Chinese Foreign Ministry told Reuters in a faxed response to questions. ‘The Chinese side is resolutely opposed to him going to any country in whatever capacity to engage in political activities aimed at splitting China or damaging its ethnic unity,’ it said.”

When he finally arrived in Ulaan Baatar on the evening of November 4 the Dalai Lama was met by various Mongolian Buddhist leaders and the Indian Charge d’Affaire in Ulaan Baatar, Amur Sanathu. Mongolian government representatives were conspiciously absent. Over 200 policemen guarded at the airport and the twelve-mile route from the airport into the city was lined with more police. Thus began the Dalai Lama’s sixth visit to Mongolia. He had been here before in 1979, 1982, 1987, 1991, and most recently in 1995, when he gave a Kalachakra Initiation like the one he had just given in Graz, Austria.

On Tuesday he visited the Gandan Monastery and the Janraiseg Temple—home of a immense 27 meter-high copper statue of Janraisig (commonly transliterated as Chenresig in Tibetan, also known as Avaloshitevara in Sanscrit)—a Buddhisattva of whom the Dalai Lama is considered to be a reincarnation, and he spoke to the large crowd who had assembled for over half an hour. Later he gave an address on television and presented a teaching at the UB Palace, Ulaan Baatar’s largest concert venue.

About 90% of Mongolia’s 2.4 million people consider themselves at least nominally Buddhist, despite that fact that religion was violently proscribed during seven decades of communist rule, with over 700 monasteries destroyed and thousands of monks killed or imprisoned. Now thousands of people turned out to hear the Dalai Lama. Typical was B. Badamdorj, a sixty-five year-old retired army man, who told the Mongol Messenger, “It is right that the Buddhist head pays a visit to Mongolia . . . He is seen as a unique person in Mongolia . . . My mother is 92 years old and I will take my mother to the speech by his Holiness the Dalai Lama.” Even those who had fully embraced communism were attracted to the Dalai Lama. As sixty-year-old G. Tuya told the Messenger, “I am not a strong believer. I have worked in a kindergarten for many years. As a member of the MPRP [Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party], I was brought up with the ideology of communism . . . My son told me yesterday about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia. When I saw in TV how many people will go to the monasteries, I wanted to go but my feet are not well and I am afraid of the crowds.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese government was not at all happy that the Dalai Lama had managed to circumvent their determined attempts to keep him out of Mongolia. On Tuesday, November 5, all rail communications between Mongolia and China were suddenly stopped. Chinese railroad officials cited “technical reasons” for the stoppage, but financial news services soon reported that the traffic halt was “widely believed to be the result of opposition by the Chinese authorities to the current visit of the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, to Mongolia.” Hundreds of passengers were stranded at the border station of Erenhot and all freight trains halted. Most significantly, this included shipments of copper concentrates which make up 50% of Mongolia’s exports. Forseeing a copper shortage if the embargo continued traders at the London Metal Exchange quickly bid up copper prices to a sixteen-week high of $1607 a ton. While the Dalai Lama’s visit was of limited interest to non-Buddhists outside of Mongolia the resulting spike in copper prices was featured on the business pages of newspapers all over the world (“Dalai Lama’s Trip Tied to Copper Rise,” trumpeted a headline in the Toronto Star). After two days, however, their pique apparently having run its course, Chinese authorities finally backed down and allowed rail traffic to continue. The Dalai Lama left on November 8, apparently not having met with any Mongolian government official of significance. This much the Chinese opposition accomplished.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Berlin - Rain, sleet, and brief snow flurries all day. Took the underground out to Spandau, one of Berlin's farflung suburbs. This is supposedly the oldest part of the city: the oldest house in Berlin is the so-called Gothic House at 32 Breite Strasse. Then ducked out of the cold into the Nicolai Church, which is rather plain red brick on the outside but has a surprisingly airy and light domed interior. Nice quiet place to sit for a while. Then on the underground to the whole to the whole other end of the city, getting off at Alexanderplatz in the old East Berlin. Even after 12 years of unification there is quite a difference. The underground station is gray and dowdy and the square itself is surrounded by big grim monolithic Soviet-style buildings. Just at dusk a cold rain was still falling and a sharp east wind whipping across the square. Gloomy in the extreme. I quickly left and took the underground back to Wittenburgplatz. Spend the evening inside - tired of walking the streets in the rain.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Finally got back to Berlin (Germany, that is). Checking out the city. Found what may well be the biggest internet cafe in the world - over 350 computers on two floors. You don't even have to talk to anyone. You just buy time from a machine which gives you a ticket with a password on it. Of course this place is open 24 hours a day. And there's even a Dunkin' Donuts outlet!!! It's right on Ku' Damm, the main drag, near the Zoo Station.

Yesterday went to the great Museum of Indian Art in the suburb of Dalhem, to the southwest of Berlin, just a short hop by the underground metro. Saw the famous paintings removed around the turn of the century from Khocho and Bezeklik in the Turpan Depression of Xinjiang in western China, which I visited last year. See photo of Three Donors mural from Bezeklik, now in the Dahlem Museum in Berlin

The day before went to the Pergamon Museum, surely one of the world's most awesome. Entire walls and buildings were removed from various sites in the Mid-East and reconstructed here. Of course, this kind of thing cannot be done anymore, which is probably for the best. Will have more details, with photos, soon.

Then to the Egyptian Museum. Here of course is the world famous statute of Neretiti, as drop-dead gorgeous now as she was 3000 years ago. What a babe! For photo see Nefertiti!

Bought a special three-day tourist pass good for unlimited use on all the public transportation in the city, so I have travelled from one end of this vast city to the other. What a difference from Vienna, where almost everything of importance to visitors is within the so-called Ring, which can very easily covered on foot. From one side to the other is only a 20 to 30 minute walk. Berlin is spread all over Hell and back. In fact, there really doesn't seem to be a city of Berlin, only different neighborhoods each of which seems like its own little city.

Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Finally got out of Vienna. After a night in the cosy little Pension Anna I walked up Mariahilferstrasse at six in the morning toward the Ostbahnhof (West Train Station) just as the what is apparently Vienna’s first snow of the years began filter down out of the black skies. Caught the 8:16 to Nuremburg. I sat in the last car of the train, which is a car with regular seats two abreast on each side of the aisle and not a compartment car, with six seats to a compartment. I have quickly learned that the misanthropes tend to congregate in this car, so there would be little chance of anyone striking up any pointless conversations: indeed, most people fell asleep the moment they sat down. One of the dangers of traveling in foreign countries is the assumption on the part of some people that you are interested in meeting new aquaintances or having interesting little chats about your experiences in their wonderful country. I just want to quietly by myself and gaze out the window, the passing countryside providing a convenient backdrop for my daydreams. And what a backdrop today. I am still a bit surprised by how rural Austria is. Not fifteen minutes out of the Vienna train station we are in some heavily forested mountains not unlike the fabled Alleghenies of western Pennsylania.m The upper slopes of these mountains are already coated like an apfelstrudel with a dusting of powdered-sugar-like snow. Then out into rolling farm land dotted with hills topped by grim castles, stern monasteries, and onion-domed churches. The streams we cross are flooded from yesterday’s rains and the edges of the fields are covered with standing water. As if it hasn’t been wet enough in central Europe this summer now they are getting still more now. At St. Polten we met up with the Danube River, now anything but blue swollen as it is with gray, muddy water. Now the entire landscape is covered with damp snow . . . Wild goose that I am I should be heading south, toward the Mediiterrean, or at least the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, but no, I am bound for the Teutonic austerities of Berlin.

At !0:10 we pull into Linz, famous mainly as the town where Adolf Hitler grew up. He had big plans for this place, hoping to turn into into a model city of the Third Reich. He also hoped to return here after he retired from public life. The Soviet Army advancing on Berlin obviously had something else in mind for him. Now Linz is an industrial hub with huge smokestacks spewing smoke into the already gray skies.

Crossed the border into Germany at Passau. Of course there really is no border any more. No passport checks or anything. The whole time I was on Austria I never had any kind of Austrian visa or even entry stamp in my passport. In fact I was never once asked to produce my passport, or any other kind of ID while in Austria. In the Bosch Pension I never even filled out a registration form. I just told the lady my name.

For awhile we follow the Danube, which is over its banks here, and then cut across a vast plain broken only by thin church steeples rising out of the small agricultural villages. Big piles of potatoes everywhere: they are going to rot as wet as it is. Water standing in the fields. Despite the flatness of this area there are numerous electricty producing windmills. Now if people in western PA. would only get off their duffs and built some of these. . .

Then through Regensburg (12:30 pm) which all the books say has a spectacular old medieval city at its center, despite the particularly bleak train station, which is all I saw. Then back into the hills and dales, dotted with tidy villages of houses with orange-tiled roofs.

Then Nuremburg, with its grimy, industrialized suburbs but spiffy new railroad station with a host of restaurants (including MacDonalds), bakeries, well stocked bookshops (papers from all over Europe, Turkey and the Mid-East: only USA Today from the States, internet cafes (the latter packed with people). Unfortunately I was only there for an hour before catching another train for Berlin (at 2:33) so I was not able to check out the city . . . Then Bamberg (3:06 pm) and on to Lichtenfels. All the creeks and rivers in this area are flooded too and still a lot of standing water in the fields. And poor Mongolia is dying from a drought! See photo of Nuremburg Train Station.

Rolled into the Zoo Station in Berlin at 7:50 in the evening.. As usual this train station is jammed; there’s a host of restaurants, stores, and perennial hangers-about. Outside it’s cold, windy, a few flurries in the air.
Headed for my regular hotel near Wittenbergplatz . . .

Monday, November 04, 2002

Saturday, November 02, 2002

A rainy, rainy day in Vienna. Now it looks like I am stuck here over the weekend waiting for some important news from Mongolia. I am starting to feel like a character from the movie The Third Man, doomed forever to wander the damp, gray streets of Vienna. On a brighter note I found a great bookstore called Shakespeare and Co in a small alley off Hohler Markt. Had an brief conversation with the proprietess about Claudio Magris's great book Danube and then bought a copy of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, which is of course the classic book about Vienna. I accidently picked up the second volume, which is about 5 inches thick, and which is actually an edited collection of outtakes on The Man Without Qualities put together after Musil's death. The woman who runs the store said she may be the only person who has read this.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Still in Vienna - I have to get a addition to my passport because mine was completely full. The American Embassy here is of course an fortress surrounded by a veritable Maginot Line. Fortunately there is a consulate downtown in the Ramada Hotel across from the Statpark where you can get passport matters taken care of . . . So I am in Vienna for a few day. I am not a very fussy eater but I cannot say I am all that thrilled with Austrian food. I have had a couple of truly appalling meals here. I thought after all my travels my stomach was immune to the onslaughts of strange cuisines but I am still reeling from the effects on one particularly horrific meal. If I see one one plate of weinersnitzel and french fries I swear I am going to hurl. I have taken to eating in Italian and Turkish places. Speaking of food, I can't help but wonder why there is an almost universal disparagement of Mongolian food. I like good honest Mongolian food. I could use a big plate of buutz right now . . .

Anyhow, last night was Halloween. There was a noisy anti-war-in -Iraq rally in Stephanplatz - from 1000 to 1500 people taking part. This of course is just the tip of the iceberg. If the USA does invade Iraq there will probably be big anti-USA protests all over Europe. It will not be pleasant to be a US citizen in many places. Just saying you are a US citizen is pretty much of a conversation-stopper in many places already . . . and it is going to get worse.

Got up early this morning and climbed the over 300 steps up 220 feet into the 484 foot-high main steeple of St. Stephen's cathedral (see photo below). Quite a climb. The steeply winding stone staircase is just wide enough for two slender people to squeeze by going in opposite directions. That this slender spire has survived two bombardments by the Turks (in 1529 and 1683), Napoleon (1805 and1809), bombing raids by British and American planes during World War II and Soviet artillery is clearly a miracle. See the View from halfway up the St. Stephan's north steeple

Then to the Museum of the Order of Teutonic Knights. More on this later , but for the moment see Here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

See a View of downtown Vienna from the Belvedere Palace, with the spire of St. Stephen's Cathedral (partly encased in scaffolding, as they are repairing it) in the middle.

Well, I am back in Vienna, after a tumultous stay in Graz. I will be updating about events there, but for the moment you can see some photos Here. I checked into the cozy little Pension Bosch (See the surprisingly snazzy Web Site for this huimble but extremely comfortable pension - the music rocks!) on Keilgasse just off Rennweg Street. It was Count Metternich, who as you probably know was the engineer of the 1814 Treaty of Vienna, who said that despite what geographers say Rennweg Street is the real boundary between East and West. When you cross Rennweg Street to the east you are essentially in Asia. I noticed that one street leading off Renweg is called Metternichgasse, apparently in honor of Metternich. Since it is so close to Halloween I then decided to duck into the Hapsburg Crypt, where 133 members of the Hapsburgs are kept in coffins. The many famous Hapsburgs encoffined (if that is the word; you can't really say buried) are Maria-Louise, Napoleon's wife, whose marriage to Napolean was brokered by the above mentioned Count Metternich. See Coffin of one of the Hapsburg Emperors

See more Coffins of Hapsburgs.

See Skull on one of the incredibly elaborate coffins in the Hapsburg Crypt. This guy looks like a member of that famous rock group The Crypt Kicker Five.

Of course, no visit to Vienna is complete without a stop at the Cafe Central. Now mainly a attraction for more sedate tourists but once the center of Vienna's intellectual life, with such notables of Leon Trotsky, who along with Vladimir Lenin founded the Soviet Union, holding down regular tables. There's a story that one Vienna official, told by the Secret Police that Russian exiles in VIenna were plotting a revolution in Russia, said sarcastically, "Oh, and just who to going to start this revolution in Russia. I suppose you will tell me it's that Trotsky felllow who sits drinking coffee all day in the Cafe Central." By the way, I was once in the tiny village in Siberia where Trotsky, whose real name was Bronstein, spent time in a prison camp for his revolutionary activities. He eventually escaped from this camp and made his way to Irkutsk, where I lived for three years. Here collaborators in the underground gave him a new set of clothes, a train ticket, and a forged passport with a name on it that he used for the rest of his life and by which he became famous all over the world: Leon Trotsky. The inside has a high multi-domed ceiling not unlike that of a church or mosque with high rounded at the top windows. Very nice, very expensive pasteries. One can only wonder what Trotsky had to eat here . . . See Cafe Central, hangout of Leon Trotsky and many other notables.

Monday, October 07, 2002

The next morning at 6:58 I caught the train to Vienna. Arrived about 6:00 on a cool rainy evening and checked into a hotel right across from the train station. The next morning I walk down Mariahilferstrass to the so-called Inner Ring, the downtown area of Vienna. It was rainy and cool and St. Stephens Square was deserted. I ducked into a cafe right on the square and had a cafe creme while studying the immense St. Stephens Cathedral through the rain-streaked windows.

St. Stephens Cathedral in St. Stephens Square, Vienna

FInally about nine o'clock the crowds of tourists started gathering. I headed up the street to the huge Hofsberg, formally the residence of the Hapsburgs and now a complex of extremely confusingly arranged museums. Finally found my way into the Royal Treasure Room where all kinds of Hapsburg relics and treasures are found. Of course I headed straight for Room 12 where the crown of St Stephen and the so-called Spear of Destiny are kept. I have wanted to see the Spear ever since reading Ravencroft's book "The Spear of Destiny" two decades ago. According to legend this is the very spear which pierced the side of Christ while he was on the Cross. Historians have more-or-less disproved this legend and dated the spear to the eighth century. Ravencroft floats another legend which says that whoever possesses the Spear of Destiny controls the fate of the World. According to one of his informants Hitler came here to this museum when he lived in Vienna and stood for hours transfixed in front of the Spear. Whether this actually happened is questionable. But when Hitler finally did take over Austria and enter Vienna he did have the Spear removed to Germany. During the war it was protected from Allied bombing in a cave along with other art treasures. General George Patton, who also seemed to be obsessed with the Spear, took control of it and it was later taken back to Austria under direct orders from Eisenhower. It it now back in the very room where Hitler supposedly first saw it. An very interesting tale, but many more sober minded historians have questioned Ravencroft's sources, some of whom seem to have gotten their information by what is now known as 'channeling' . . .

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Berlin, Germany

On October 3 I flew from Ulaan Baatar to Berlin, Germany, with a 90 minute layover in Moscow. Left Ulaan Baatar at 9:00 am and arrived in Berlin at 1:30 pm. Cloud cover most of the way, so I did not see much. Fortuitously, the clouds did clear just over Kizil, the capital of Tuva, and I could see where the Ka Khem and Biy Khem rivers meet to form the main branch of the Yenisei, the fifth longest river system on the world. I had once stood at the source of the Biy Khem, in the extremely remote East Sayan Mountains of eastern Tuva . . .

The layover in Moscow was uneventful. A school group of musicians from some school in Moscow came on board for the hop to Berlin. From the Berlin airport I took a cab to my hotel which I had booked sight unseen over the internet. It turned out to be a typically anonymous tourist but quick luckily located right next to the train station where the trains left for Vienna.

Berlin, Old and New, just across the street from my hotel. The church was partly destroyed during WW II but has been restored.

When I arrived the lobby was full of huge American black guys, all over six feet six, perhaps a basketball team, and about a half dozen tiny black guys, all under five feet tall, who were apparenty their mascots. Then there were swarms of Japanese tourists . . . My room was not ready yet so I took a stroll around the train station and the nearby zoo. The sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and there were big lines to get into the zoo. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and the outdoor cafes were jammed with people drinking beer or coffee, all of which seemed kind of strange for 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Only when I tried to find a travel agent to get train schedules did I discover that October 3 is a big holiday in Germany - Reunification Day, this being the 12th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So that is what everyone was celebrating. Although a half dozen people told me about the holiday not one mentioned that a newly refurbished Brandenburg Gate was being unveiled that very evening and that Bill Clinton - yes, our very own Bill Clinton, was giving the opening speech. I found this out much later that night when in my hotel room and tuned in CNN to find out what was going on in the world. So I missed Clinton's speech . . .

But the next morning I got up early and went over the the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate from the West Side

On the west side workmen were just tearing down all the tents and concession stands. From the big piles of litter, much of it empty beer cans and bottles, it looks as if the citizens of Berlin had a huge blowout. The Gate itself was actually much smaller than it appears in photos. I crossed over to the square on the other side, where on one side of the Adlon Hotel, featured in many a spy novel and now considerably spiffed up. Just across the street is a Starbucks, for those who need a quick latte fix. I walked the whole way down the street to the museum complex and spent most of the rest of the day in the huge National Art Museum (Alte Nationalgalerie Staatliche ze Berlin) - some nice Caspar David Friedrich landscapes, Manets, Cezannes Manets, marbles and much, much else.

Elvis Rules in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie Staatliche ze Berlin

It would take a week to really get a good luck at everything. I had opened to visit the Museum of Indian Art, which has numerous frescos removed from the famous Bezaklik Caves near Turpan, in Xinjiang, China, which I had visited two years ago but I soon discovered that this museum was in some God-forsaken suburb in old East Berlin and a 40 minute ride by cab. Since I have heard that many of the frescos were in in fact destroyed during World War II bombing I decided to skip this visit until the next time I am in Berlin and have more time.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Well, this may be my last post from Ulaan Baatar for awhile. Keep in touch here for updates on my upcoming wanders . . .

So Long!

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Well, Burkhan Khaldun was indeed a romp – great three days, but the next day I went to the Russian Embassy to get a visa for my trip to the Russian Altai and got abruptly shot down. The invitation from a well-known tourist agency in Moscow was declared "not valid." The official did not really even look at it; it was just a snap judgment. "Anyone could have made these documents on a computer in ten minutes," he said, and that was that. "Next person!" So that’s life: one day you are bumping your head on Orion and knocking askew the Big Dipper with your elbows and the next day you’re mired in the cloaca maxima of existence.

Now comes word that Russia will not issue the Dalai Lama a visa either, so his trip to Mongolia scheduled for September 4-9 looks like it will be cancelled. He cannot get here except through Russia. So I am not the only one who cannot get a Russian visa. The excuse the Russian government gave for not giving the Dalai Lama a visa was that it might offend the Chinese government. It’s a sad, sad day spectacle indeed to see the once mighty country of Russia shamelessly and spinelessly kowtowing to China like this.

Back to Burkhan Khaldun . . . It was very hot in the lower Kherlen valley around the confluence of Terelj Creek and the Kherlen where the ger of my friend Zevgee is located, but it could not have been nicer up in the mountains. (Zevgee is the character named Sampildendev in my Book). His Wife went along so he was on his best behavior. It did rain when we got to the top of the mountain but this always happens. It happened the last time I was there and Zevgee says it happens every time someone makes an offering to the mountain. The mountain, he says, "sanctified us." For more details and photos see Burkhan Khaldun.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Have just returned from a three-day romp to the top of Burkhan Khaldun Mountain in Khentii Aimag. Updates to follow . . .

Sunday, August 18, 2002

It has been an exceedingly busy week, which is why I haven’t posted for a few days. This past Wednesday I went with my friend Naraa to Gandan Monastery to met with a 90 year old monk named Lama Gombo. A relative of Naraa’s who is a monk at Gandan suggested that I met with this venerable personage. I had meant to question him about Zanabazar (b.1635), the first Bogd Gegen of Mongolia, whom I wrote about earlier and about whom I am still gathering materials. I soon discovered that Lama Gombo’s main interest was in fact the Kalachakra Doctrine and the Legend of Shambhala, subjects about which I am also gathering information. Lama Gombo was conducting a morning prayer service in one of the temples when we arrived but as soon as he was done we retired to a quiet room at the back of the temple and had an hour-long conversation. Lama Gombo turned out to be a fount of information on the Legend of Shambhala. I will have much more to say about my first and subsequent talks with him, but for the moment I will mention only the most interesting revelations. According to the traditional version of the Legend of Shambhala the 25th and last Kalkin King of Shambhala will be born in 2324 AD and lead the Final Battle against the so-called La Los, the enemies of Buddhism identified in various Shambhalic texts as the Moslems of Central Asia. Lama Gombo now asserts that a new timetable has been issued and that the Last King of Shambhala who will lead the Final Battle against the La Los (usually interpreted as Islam) will be born between 2012 and 2018. This is one interpretation of the prophecy. The other is that the Final Battle will actually begin between 2012 and 2018. In either case the unfolding of events has been accelerated. Most interestingly, the Bogd Gegens of Mongolia, according to Lama Gombo (and according to my understanding and subject to further clarification) will decide when the final battle actually begins. Also, the last Bodg Gegen will be incarnated as General Hanuman and actually lead the armies of Shambhala against the La Los.

This past Friday I again met with Lama Gombo at the Kalachakra Temple at Gandan Monastery and after the prayer service he talked with me for two hours, with the ever-patient Naraa again acting as translator. More on this later. He then asked me to photograph the 31 Kings of Shambhala which are displayed on thangkas in the temple. (See some samples of the thangkas Here) This is the only example of such thangkas that I have seen anywhere in my travels in Nepal, India, Tibet, and China. Lama Gombo wants to do a book describing all the kings and include his interpretation of the Legend of Shambhala. He also presented me a gift of a Tibetan-style loose-leaved book (written of course in Tibetan) which includes several ancient texts on Shambhala, including the 3rd Panchen Lama's "Guidebook to Shambhala" and a more recent although much more rare Shambhala text written by the Mongolian lama Agvaan Damdin who was killed at the age of eighty in 1938 by the communists. This book contain a description of the kingdom of Shambhala, and concludes with a small guidebook for reaching the fabled kingdom.

He told me much, much more but I must stop here. Today I must get ready for my trip to Burkhan Khaldun Mountain. I am leaving for the mountain early tomorrow morning. This is the mountain where Chingis Khan went to pray before he went into battle. I have been there before, actually, as described in my book, but I think it is time to go back. I want to be there on the Night of the Full Moon, August 21 . . .

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Someone just emailed me about my book, "Travels in Northern Mongolia". You can buy it Here
Have just received word from the estimable Ms. Thanh in France that she will not be coming to Mongolia. Says she can't get plane reservations. So anyhow now comes word that the Dalai Lama will be Mongolia September 5 - 9. I had planned to leave Ulaan Baatar on September 2, the day my 90 day visa expires but now I think I may try to have my visa extended and stay another week. Just after I found out about the Dalai Lama coming here I went shopping at the State Department Store and who should I bump into but a couple I had met last year at the month-long Lam Rim retreat at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu. They had just arrived in Ulaan Baatar yesterday and are planning on staying for the Dalai Lama's visit. Since they came all this way to see the Dalai Lama it seems downright churlish that I, having been here for three months, should not stay a few more days and see him myself. Then I will have to move very quickly in order to be in Novosibirsk, Siberia, on September 8 so that I can begin my long-planned trip to Mt. Belukha in Kazakhstan. From Novosibirsk the plan is to cross the border to Kazakstan (I already got my Kazakhstan visa here in Ulaan Baatar) and then proceed by horses to the base of Mt. Belukha. Here I hope to find the source of the Katun River, which is the ultimate source of the Ob River, one of the ten longest river systems in the world. This is part of my quest to visit the Sources of the longest rivers in northern Asia. All I lack now is a Russian visa and I am working on that.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Just got an email from Ms. Thanh in France who says she might be coming to Mongolia the first week of September. I last saw Ms. Thanh at Mt. Kailash (Photos) in Tibet in May. Hope to see her in Mongolia!

Saturday, August 10, 2002

The big news here is the recent celebration of the 840th anniversary of the birthday of Chingis (a.k.a. Genghis) Khan at Khodoo Aral which was attended by about 5000 people, 99% of them Mongolians. For photos see Khodoo Aral. In the morning I watched the shaman ceremony in honor of Chingis but left before the unexpected arrival by helicopter of notorious action movie hero Steven Seagal, who is apparently going to make a movie based on the life of Chingis. A few days later I went to Amarbayasgalant Monastery, where the body of Zanabazar, the first Bogd Gegen of Mongolia, was kept before it was destroyed by the communists in 1937. The monastery is currently being restored. For photos see Amarbayasgalant.
I am currently in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. For more information see My Wanders.
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