Gaden Relief Projects
Helping to preserve Tibetan culture in India, Mongolia and Tibet

Photo Gallery
Amarbayasgalant Monastery and Area

By Matthew Richards

A view of the grounds, stupas and prayer-wheel walks of Gadantegchinlen Khiid in Ulaan Baatar. Gadan is the principal "khiid" or monastery of the capital and indeed is one of the flagship monasteries of Mongolia, famous for its grand Avalokiteshvara statue, open spaces and many temple complexes. Many new monks study at this venerable institution and old pilgrims from all over, come to do supplication. Ven. Zasep Rinpoche and his student, Matthew Richards, spent several days visiting the many sites at Gadan when they first arrived in the country.

Ven. Zasep Rinpoche at the gates of Gadantegchinlen Khiid. From these gates one has a good view of the main chapel housing the incredible statue of the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara. Build on top of a hill, from Gadan, one can see the many neighbourhoods of Ulaan Baatar and the large brown hills that surround the city. These hills are beautiful and dream-like when lit in the afternoon sun.

Mongolian "soul-food": fermented mare's milk, "airag" and fried dough. The traditional Mongolian diet is similar to that enjoyed by Tibetans. Mutton dumplings, noodle soup and fried bread are common. "Airag" is unique indeed. Tasting somewhat like a mix between milk and beer, it is considered a very healthy drink.

A number of nomad families live in the valley around Amarbayasgalant monastery. Outside of the capital, many people still follow Mongolia's age-old lifestyle, both enjoying it's gifts and suffering its hardships. Living in "gers" or yurts, the families often own many horses, sheep and goats. This picture shows a man driving his horses back home. They had been out grazing at the far end of the valley.

This picture was taken from a southern hill overlooking Amarbayasgalant's valley. The monastery is in the distance. Just below this hill, facing Amarbayasgalant is a small field stream where the monks get their water. An inconvenient two kilometer walk from home, you can see the difficulties faced by the community. Mongolia Project hopes to alleviate this by pumping the water right up to the monastery's courtyard. Notice the forests, rare in other parts of the country. In the foreground are both an "Ovoo" or shamanic sacred cairn and a Buddhist stupa. In a small clearing below, used to be the buildings used by monks and yogis in traditional retreat. These were of course destroyed by Soviet authorities long ago. Amarbayasgalant hopes to one day rebuild these huts - a vital aspect of their community.

Amarbayasgalant's Sangha after a study session. Wearing the traditional robes of the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, they stand on the steps of their prayer hall. Ven. Zasep Rinpoche stands in the middle, near the rear.

Amarbayasgalant's monks chanting during their daily morning prayers.

An "Ovoo" or traditional shamanic sacred cairn or "power place" on a hill overlooking Amarbayasgalant. Ovoos are found throughout Mongolia on top of most hills and crossings. They are usually a simple pile of stones bearing a few "auspicious" blue silk scarves, the traditional greeting or farewell gift for Mongolians. Some are more elaborate: sporting bones, inscriptions or even prayer flags.

A view of Amarbayasgalant's Manchurian architecture, complete with mythic gargoyle figurines.

A Buddhist stupa outside of Amarbayasgalant's courtyard. Using small white stones, the monks have written sacred Buddhist mantras on the hillside above.

Ven. Zasep Rinpoche outside the main greeting gates of Amarbayasgalant. Erected by decree by the Manchurian emperor of China, Yongzhen, the inscription details in the instituting of the monastery in traditional Mongolian, Chinese and Manchurian scripts. It is at this spot that one would dismount from one's horse before entering the monastic courtyard.

Amarbayasgalant's prayer hall where the monks do both daily chant and study. The monastery used to be the traditonal retreat place of Mongolia's Bogd Khaans or "Jetsun Dampas" - a private summer get-a-way for their personal practice. This building was the private residence of the Jetsun Dampas. It was looted by Soviet troops early on in the twentieth century. Due to its size and sturdy construction, it has been recently re-christened as Amarbayasgalant's place of prayer.

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