July 01, 2003

Spirits of Alkhanai Mountain

In the 16th century, a Buryat man gave his beautiful daughter, Balzhin, to a Mongol landlord, against her will. Her new husband’s family gave her a gift of nine tribes of Buryats. Unhappy with the marriage, she escaped and ran from Mongolia. When the pounding army sent to find her by her mother-in-law cornered her among the dense forests of Mount Alkhanai, she cried out “Alhar!” (They are going to kill me!) Atop Mount Alkhanai, one can feel the tremor of her spirit while sitting where she stood.

The outcropping of granite at the summit stands sentinel over a world that few outside eyes have seen. Perching upon the rock of Mount Alkhanai in late spring is like sitting on a small island jutting up from the sea. Instead of waves, this sea features an expanse of green trees that float out into the distance. Larch, birch, fir, and pine form brilliant checkerboard patterns of green, which take on blue hues as they rise up to form mountains, turning turquoise in the distance, where they meet the white clouds.

At 1,662 meters above sea level, Alkhanai is the highest peak in the Aginsk Buryat Autonomous Region. Located in a sparsely populated area three hours south of the trans-Siberian stop Chita, it lies within a few hundred miles of both the Chinese and Mongolian borders. But back in Genghis Khan’s time, it served as the centerpiece of a much wider Buryat area, a land and a people that were subsequently divided between Russia, China, and Mongolia.

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