Woody Packard

Words + Pictures


Temple Guardian
Although it had been sunny for most of the day, by the time we got part way down the seventy-five kilometer dirt road to Amarbayasgalant it was raining, dampening the dust we had been plowing through, to give us a better view. Five of us (Judy's sister Nancy and brother-in-law Steve, and my sister Jan) along with our driver Lkhagva (who invited us to call him Toggie) were heading to the tiny village that surrounds the one of the largest Buddhist temples in Mongolia, and one of only several that were not completely demolished in the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s.

This was our first night's stop on a week of touring that would take us in a rather undetermined loop through north-central Mongolia. Although it was the last day of May, we discovered that it was still early to be vacationing in Mongolia. A ger camp that we found near the temple was deserted, with few other visitors and two young women in charge of the family-owned camp, who seemed surprised to see more company. A chimney that had been in storage was fitted to our ger's stove and we were given a key that fit the padlock on the door. Some adjustments were made to the flap that covers the hole in the top of the roof to keep it from slapping around in the wind that had come up with the approaching storm. Meat was pulled from a freezer, and while they worked on tsoivan for our dinner, we climbed to the two new shrines that sit on separate slopes above the ancient monastery.

After a night of wind and rain, we visited the old monastery in the morning. We were guided by a monk (or lam in Mongolia,) through the grounds, several of the temples and back to a large "prayer ger," where he left us in the company of a group of young lams who were chanting, reading from printed pages of Tibetan script. Though the elaborate temples we saw are in need of care, they still are impressive. Much of the manual labor needed to maintain these structures can come from the lams who study there, but puddles of water on the floor of the main building are a sad reminder of just how much more care is needed than can be given. There is work going on to restore the tile roofs, but it is slow and expensive since contractors with the equipment and ability to work on these fragile structures must come from Ulaanbaatar.

I am far from being a student of Buddhism, but thought I had absorbed something about it from talking to others or from reading. But after almost two years in Mongolia, none of what I thought I knew about the basic ideas helps to explain the imagery found here, where I'm told that Tibetan Buddhism is mixed with other animistic beliefs. Look beyond the serene Buddha figures and somehow things seem less supportive of mindfulness and the Noble Eightfold Path, and more like a threat of Dante's torturous underworld. The frail are pinned underneath the feet or bodies of the powerful. Human faces bare sharp teeth, human bodies have the heads of animals, hold weapons, wear human skulls as decoration. The four traditional temple guardians, of course, need to look tough, but maybe not this tough. They are shown crushing animals and people beneath their big Mongolian boots.

Close Story—Back to Pictures


Click below to page through enlarged images or read the story.

Road to Amarbayasgalant

New Shrine


Dinner Preparations

Cooking Tsoivan

Ger Camp Staff

Prayer Flags

Watch Tower

Buddha's Hand

Gold Shrine

Enlightened State

A Story

Another Story

Amarbayasgalant Temples

Main Temple, Amarbayasgalant

Our Guide


Temple Buildings, Amarbayasgalant

Roof Detail

Young Lams

Guardian's Foot, Monkey

Guardian's Foot, Pauper

Entrance to Prayer Ger

Call to Prayer

Monks Chanting

Needs Work

Roof Tiles