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Remnants of a realm

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The 100m high stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan on the road leading to his birthplace. (Pic:Kunda Dixit)

From the moment you land at Genghis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbataar the persona and visage of the great conqueror never leaves you. You shop at the Genghis Khan shopping complex, go to a Khan Bank ATM, nibble on Genghis Khan chocolates and buy Genghis Khan vodka at the duty free.

A four-hour drive east of the capital, on the road leading to his birthplace, the Mongolians have erected a 100m high stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan astride a metal stallion. You can see it from miles away: a white apparition glinting in the sun. Visitors can go up an elevator and climb on top the horse’s head to get a close-up view of Genghis Khan’s face as he gazes across the steppes.

In a museum below the structure, you learn about just how a herder named Temujin from the edge of Siberia went on to conquer most of Eurasia in the 13th century and ruled an empire that stretched from Korea to Austria, to leave a mark on modern human history.

The Mongolians have always been sensitive about European portrayals of him as a ruthless conqueror who raped and pillaged his way across Asia. Genghis Khan himself was responsible for this terrifying reputation because, as a brilliant tactician, he exaggerated his brutality in psywar.

From his birth in 1162 till he died in 1227, Genghis Khan conquered in 25 years of military campaigns more than the Romans did in 400 years, in what historian Jack Weatherford calls the First Mongol World War. He used the superior horsemanship of his warriors to strike with lightning speed, using pincer movements and outflanking techniques that are still taught in military academies around the world. He adopted the hardware of warfare of the places he conquered to deadly effect, introducing gunpowder and catapults.

He understood the importance of communications, his troops travelled light and rode horses that they ate when the horses had worn themselves out. They developed cartography into a fine art, and maps made then were used much later on the Silk Route.

After his conquest, Genghis Khan’s Empire was probably the world’s first free trade zone, opening up business between Asia and Europe for the likes of Marco Polo to follow. Mongolians were animists who revered the Eternal Blue Sky and the Earth, yet as they conquered lands with new religions Genghis Khan and his descendants amalgamated them into the empire, fostering harmony and tolerance between beliefs. Much before Europe, the Mongolians practised the separation of state and religion.

Yet, despite these civilising influences, the Mongolian “hordes” were a negative stereotype in Eurocentric history books, which has been handed down to present-day English vocabulary. “Mogul” is the Persian formulation for Mongolian, and it is used to describe someone fairly ruthless, like a media mogul. The word “Hurray” comes from the Mongol collective sacred praise, “Hurree”.

The Nepali word “paisa” comes via Persian from the Mongolian “paiza” which was the name for gold and silver medallions worn by traders as an early form of credit cards during transcontinental horseback rides. The Nepali word “khubi” (which means the quality of a person) comes from the Mongolian word for the spoils of war which Genghis Khan’s army distributed according to the need of every individual and family. In fact, the Dalai Lama gets his name from the Mongolian word, “dalai”, which means ocean of knowledge.

Pax Mongolica introduced not just military hardware, but also spread the use of maps and the compass, developed the first postal system, and was using paper and printing two centuries before Gutenberg. Genghis Khan adopted a universal script for his empire derived from present day Uzbekistan.

Genghis Khan’s sons welcomed Tibetan Buddhism, assimilated many of its tenets into their own concept of the Eternal Sky and even introduced the Tibetan script. If the Soviets had not destroyed the Tibetan monasteries here, Mongolia could very well have been called Northern Tibet.

It was the Mongolians who introduced trousers to Europe, and when the army of Genghis Khan’s son stopped in Vienna, they found it wasn’t worth conquering Europe because it was too poor. Genghis Khan’s empire was created by conquest, and a lot of it was brutal, but not any more so than other conquerors before, or after.

At the Hustai National Park in central Mongolia you can look across an endless steppe under an enormous cobalt sky, a landscape almost unchanged in the 800 years since Genghis Khan set forth to end what he saw as internecine fighting between Mongolian tribes, by unifying them.

The Park is home to a herd of the Mongolian wild horse, the tahki, which has been transplanted here from Europe and rescued from the brink of extinction. Like a lot of other things in Mongolia, the horses are just a remnant of a realm that spread across the world and left its mark.

Read also:
From rugs to riches, East West blog

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4 Responses to “Remnants of a realm”

  1. Bipulendra Adhikari on Says:

    Sir, you should better enlarge photos, it looks bit creepy when they are small, just a thought.

  2. Bibek Jang Karki on Says:

    It was great knowing some new facts about the greatest conqueror of all time Genghis khan and about Mongolia which is rarely covered by Nepalese journos.
    Thank you very much.

  3. dolpali on Says:

    never have i read a piece of literature so full of praise (and deservedly so) about the great khan and some new insights. thank you.

  4. nepali on Says:

    does anyone know how was Nepal during genghis khan period?
    did genghis khan came to Nepla?

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