Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ovoos of Mongolia

From a distance it just looked like a large pile of rocks. But it was much more than that. It was an ovoo at the top of a pass in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.

Ovoo's are a type of shamanistic cairn typically made of stones and wood. They are sacred and are also used for Buddhist ceremonies. You don't just drive or ride by an ovoo. You stop and as you walk three times around in a clockwise direction you may decide to say a prayer, wish for a safe journey or good hunting, or give thanks. By placing some type of offering, be it a stone, bottle, blue scarf, animal head, food or anything else that you may have, you complete the ritual.

Our first ovoo was quite interesting with bottles, crutches, scarves and a cow head on it. Within a few minutes of us stopping, a jeep pulled up and family emerged to walk around the ovoo. After everyone was done with their offerings, we all shared some vodka together. It was an amazing moment shared by all.

At another mountain pass we came upon this ovoo which was much more formal with steps and a framed entrance. It was fairly popular with quite a few people and much more colorful with red, blue and yellow scarves. There was even a small table with things that you could purchase.

On the side of an extinct volcano, our guide and interpreter, Badmaa, added to the beginnings of an ovoo.

As we neared Lake Khovsgol, in north Mongolia we came across this amazing tree ovoo (I guess you can tell I really like the sky-blue scarves).

On our way to the Gobi desert we saw this small cairn with a rams head on top of it. I'm not sure if this is a marker or a small ovoo.

I found it comforting to be able to make a wish or say a prayer or to ask for safe passage at every ovoo. It was also nice to get out of the vehicle and give my bones a rest from the bumpy ride.


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