Alkhanay is the name of a unique mountain-massif that rises above the steppe- and forest landscapes in South Transbaikalia. Permeated with legends of the past, it offers its grandeur to a modern man fatigued by the stresses of urban life and longing for the comfort in harmony with natural beauty. Here the outlier age-wrinkled rocks overgrown with moss and fanciful patterns of colorful lichens, these, as it were, custodians of ancient secrets are revered as natural temples – the abode of Buddhist deities and shaman patron spirits of the place.
Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and holiday-makers come to enjoy the pristine beauty of the place. Among the many attractions is also its history related to great Genghis Khan and the northern variety of Buddhism. Shrouded in legends and myths, beautiful every day in every season, the hallowed place of Alkhanay is a must to see.
Nature of Alkhanay
National park “Alkhanay” occupies an area of 141,907 hectares, its landscape and biological diversity is one of the biggest among specially protected natural territories of Russia.
The park is located at the intersection of steppes, forests and mountain taiga. There are more than 970 species of plants, many of which are rare or endangered, all of them are listed in Red Books of the Russian Federation, Chita and Aginsky Buryat Autonomous District. Almost half of the plants are used in official and popular (including Tibetan) medicine. There are also many precious food plants: pine nuts, mushrooms, berries, tubers, bulbs and wild greens. Every year biologists study diversity of plant communities and continuously update the list of growing plants in the national park. Truly it is possible to say that a museum under the open sky is located here, a natural laboratory for the inquisitive of native nature.
The distribution of vegetation is subordinated to the laws of high-altitude zonation. At the foot of the mountains the dominating forest-steppe belt changes to the forest belt, going further up it changes to the – Pinus pumila – larch sparse growth of bald-peaked belt. At apex itself – bald-peaked belt, expressed relatively weakly.
A combination of mountains, meadows, forests, mountain taiga, lichens and mountain woodlands is unusually harmonious here. Many types of landscape and plant species can be seen on small plots, where inhabitants of wildlife live in harmony.
White birch, pine, larch, cedar, Siberian elm, Labrador tea, cedar timber and other trees and shrubs dress our forests, and give people memorable experiences. Wild berries plantations: blueberries, currants, strawberries, honeysuckles; valuable medicinal and edible plants: Altay onions, Lilium pensylvanicum, Lophanthus chinensis, Rhodiola rosea (Golden Root), Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Rheum compactum, Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi, and many others, some of which are rare or endangered, are present in the national park in an extraordinary diversity.
All this plant splendour and wealth needs careful attention and is strictly guarded in the national park of “Alkhanay”.
AlkhanayMountain is the only place in Russia where unique natural monuments and sacred Buddhist religious sites coexist in harmony.
Canyon-like narrow ravines, pure water of cold healing springs, magnificent waterfalls, peculiar “stone rivers” on steep flanks of hills, weird looking outlier rocks that have names and where people go to bow, amazing mud geysers, rich diversity of flora and fauna all of this is Alkhanay. Mecca for Buddhist pilgrims and of the top ten most honored sacred natural sites of Buddhism.
Here you can find nature-made stone statues that are objects of devotion and worship of Buddhist pilgrims. The major sites are: Demchog Sume, an abode of the Alkhanay’s custodian divinity Demchog (Yidam Chakrasamvara), worship of whom is believed to bring people innumerable merits in this and next lives. TempleGates is a grand rock with a through passage, where a suburgan is erected that has a power to appease and heal people. Mother’s Womb gives a baby to women. Naro Hazhod is the Buddhist Priest’s meditation place. And many others.
Arshan (mineral spring)
Arshan in the Buryat language is a commonly used term to describe a healing spring, waters of which are holy. Arshan is a symbol of spiritual power of Alkhanay. Its waters are very soft, without smell and taste, rich in hydrocarbonate, calcium and other minerals such as iodine, selenium, fluoride, silver, etc. concentration of the minerals is a few dozen times higher than in average water of Zabaikalie. The healing qualities of Arshan make it very popular not only among Buryats, but also among Russians all over the region. On the Arshan you can find sites for dipping in water. They are equipped with runners, made of whole trunks of young trees.
For the local and many tourists Alkhanay is a popular balneological area that requires and targeted biomedical research of medicinal properties of its mineral waters.
Demchog Sume (Temple of Master of Alkhanay, Demchog)
Demchog is believed to be the master and the main custodian of Alkhanay, Sume in Buryat language means a NaturalTemple. Demchog is a custodian and protector of the Buddhist faith.
At the foot of the rock there is a grotto with a diameter of about 7 meters. The ceiling and walls of the grotto are wet with water, which is considered therapeutic and holds their properties for many years. Here believers gift rice, coins, tobacco, tie pieces of cloth to trees, asking divinity for health, wealth and well-being.
Zula Sume (Lamp Temple)
An Eternal Lamp or a LampTemple has a shape of a lamp with a handle. The handle is two meters high view platform, which can be easily reached; the rest is “a bowl”, an outlier rock with a height up to 30 meters. Zula Sume is the first to meet the sunrise and is kept illuminated by the sun till late evening. It is believed that a ray of Zula Sume’s light embodies strength and energy contemplation, the spread of Buddhist teachings; it can penetrate into the darkness.
Sendema (Heavenly Fairy of Wisdom)
One of the main rock objects in Alkhanay. It differs from the rest by an almost smoothed peak. Its height at the northern outskirts is 15 m., and 30 m. on the south. At the foot of the rock there is a large area covered with scattered stones. There are many cavities and caves in the rock. Heavenly Fairy of Wisdom is believed to be a protector of believers and the Buddhism faith. Pilgrims, passing around Sendema rock pray for Good to defeat Evil, for triumph of justice, peace and tranquility on earth and for their children to study.
Forty meters from the spring that flows to the TempleGates, on its right shore, there is a chapel made as a small brick house. The chapel is made of acute rocks and whitewashed outside. Inside there is a small room with metal bowls for offerings to Alkhanay’s local spirits.
Uuden Sume (Temple Gates)
Outlier rock TempleGates is believed to be a gate to the world of the greatest boon. According to a national custom of Buryats, people have to put in order their thoughts, clothing and the body before entering a door of the house. TempleGates is a gateway to the world of divinity Demchog.
This is one of the most revered and visited sites on Alkhanay, many tourists and pilgrims go to worship and give their offerings.
A long time ago there was built a suburgan – a Buddhist stupa where people make offerings with rice, sugar, money, milk or khadaks. Pilgrims go to round the suburgan for three times, read prayers and mantra.
Every year on June 29 at the Temple Gates, Lamas accompanied by numerous pilgrims hold public service – Hural, a worship of the master of Alkhanay – divinity Demchog. On that day a lot of people witness invisible presence of the divinity of Demchog, who blesses all the participants of the prayer.
On smooth rock walls you can see rock painting and writings of ancient men. On the northern wall of the TempleGates according to ancient legends there is one of the gates to mysterious Shambala.
Naro Hazhod (Heavenly musician)
Naro Hazhod is translated as Heavenly Musician. The main feature of the outlier rock is a wide cleft of natural origin; the foot of the cleft is an almost flat area. Deeper inside the cleft narrows, there you can find nature-stone steps; walking up, pilgrims put their gifts on an altar. Right at the top of the altar there is an oval aperture through which, it is believed, Cosmos emits negative energy, and vice versa, through the same aperture Alkhanay land is fed by a powerful flow of positive Cosmic energy. There is a special aura, a special atmosphere. Not without reason, the outlier rock for centuries has been chosen by Lamas as a perfect place for meditation. They say that some people can hear a magic music flowing from the aperture.
Zaguurdi (Interim World)
A significant feature of the outlier rock Zaguurdi is a natural pile of its debris, forming a small transverse passage 2.5 meters in length. The passage is the intermediate world where a dead man’s soul hovers for 49 days, after that it undergoes a transformation. Since a long time ago people say the passage in the Zaguurdi Rock is a kind of purgatory: if a man freely passes through it, then he is not sinful, and Alkhanay accepts him, but if he can’t pass through or is afraid to, then Alkhanay does not accept him because of his sins (hence there is another name of the outlier rock – a Sinners’ Passage).
Ehyn Umay (the Mother’s Womb)
Ehyn Umay is a natural grotto of approximately 4 meters length and more than 1 meter height. The site is one of the most visited worship and mysterious places of Alkhanay. Here pilgrims carry rituals and beg divinity Ehyn Umay for children. The grotto is visited by families who, for various reasons, do not have children. People make offering at the entrance to the grotto, praying for their request. Inside the grotto the icon-lamp is lit, the place is fumigated by fragrant grasses, the “prayer” is accomplished by drops of water, which flow on the walls and the ceiling of the grotto. Then they search for pebbles, literally picking them out with fingers from the pits of walls and the ceiling. By popular belief, depending on how many pebbles it was possible to obtain in the Womb of the Mother, so many children will be born.
Two hundred meters north of Uuden Sume there is a rock of a unique shape – an abode of dakini Vajravarahi (Dordje Phagmo) who is honored as Demchog’s spouse. It is believed that in between the Temple Gates and Dordje Phagmo there is the World of the Greatest boon. On the southeast side of the rock there is a natural grotto, which is a venue for various Buddhist ceremonies held by Lamas and believers. Here pilgrims can find a moral comfort, save themselves from emotional torment and physical suffering and fill the body with energy. The trail leading to the site is laid with stones by thousands of pilgrims visiting the site annually.
Alkhanay oboo takes the central place in the system of Buddhist ritual objects in Alkhanay. Built in the late 19th century it is located on a hill 1 km north of the stupa erected in honor of the Dalai Lama XIV.
It is a religious complex of 53 dome stone constructions of varying sizes, called “Munhan” (a Chapel). At the heart of the complex there is the largest munhan, a symbol of the SumerMountain. There are Baipurs on the four sides of the complex – stone constructions for ritual fires where aroma herbs and food are burn for all divinities of the region. A public prayer – Tahilgaan is held here every year on 13th of the midsummer month of the lunar calendar. It is believed that there is the highest representation of masters and divinities of the area at that day. During the ceremony, Lamas and believers ask divinities for good harvest, multiplying of cattle, extraction of problems, diseases and miseries, for the success and good luck in all matters.
During the prayer a “goroo” ceremony is held-people walk sunrise around the Oboo for an odd number of times reading prayers and mantras, asking for the well-being of their families. At the end of the public event there are shows, sport competitions, and other cultural activities on a vast lawn at the foot of the hill.
Memorable suburgan to the Dalai Lama XIV
As part of the commemorative activities the 250 year anniversary of official recognition of Buddhism as a religion in Russia, July 22 1991 the head of the Buddhist clergy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV visited Alkhanay and, holding a public service under the arches of the TempleGates, hallowed it. In presence of his disciples and followers from India and Tibet, Buddhist clergy from local Datsans and great affluence of people His Holiness prayed for clarity of the Alkhanay nature and confirmed the importance of the sacral land for all Buddhists of the world.
To honor the visit lay people raised money and erected the memorial suburgan at a place where Dalai Lama XIV first stepped foot on the Alkhanay land.
Alkhanay Mountain Peak
AlkhanayMountain is the highest of the Alkhanay massif, for a long time it has been the basis in the cult of Buryats. The Alkhanay peak is also called the divine’s abode. There is an oboo next to Alkhanay peak’s triangulation point, a place for offering and prayers. You can also see a trail by the perimeter of the flat peak of the AlkhanayMountain, walking the trail believers make a small goroo – a walk around the peak, reading prayers. AlkhanayMountain is one of the five sacred peaks of northern Buddhism.
In the upriver Saliya in a rocky gorge Hara Zaba (Dark Gorge) there are famous cascade waterfalls “Nine Gutters”. There are 21 waterfalls on a 1 km long distance. Waterfalls vary from 0.5 to 3 meters and higher. Among SaliyaRiver waterfalls there are fan, plunge, cascade and block waterfalls. Almost all call it. Water undermines the base, making it wider and moving upriver.