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Searching for Genghis Khan's tomb in Tuva

Travel notes with thoughts and historical digressions

Searching for Genghis Khan's tomb in TuvaIt is an old truth: if you can't find something, you should look somewhere else.  It is the prose of life: it is useless to look for your keys in your purse, if you have left them at home by the mirror, and it is useless to look for your cell phone in your pocket if you have left it in the store. And it is totally  useless to search for Genghis Khan's tomb where it is not. But where should you search?


Where it was not found

Not anywhere! Mongols have already dug up everything possible in their country, and nothing. It is the same story with the Buryats.

One of the traditions states that the great conqueror was buried where he was born. That means Delyun-Boldok valley. The area is quite large - it includes Aginsk Buryat circle, Onon district, it crosses Russian-Mongolian border, passes through Dadaliy sumon (administrative unit of Mongolia) Khentei aimak (district), and  terminates in the area between Selenga and Onon rivers.

Russian specialists think that Genghis Khan was born 8 kilometers from the border on territory of Russian Federation. Mongolian scholars adhere to a different point of view, insisting modestly that the powerful ruler blessed the Upper Onon river with his coming into the world, in the place of its confluence with river Baldzhyn, near three small lakes.

Ekaterina and Igor Trifonov from Chita have expressed the hypothesis in their book "Taina Aginskoi stepi" (Secret of Aginsk steppe) that Genghis Khan's tomb is in Trans-Baikal.

Chinese citizens consider Genghis Khan to be their compatriot. They say that he served as an official in a northern province, but fell into disgrace and ran to the Great Steppe. Here, after long wanderings, he joined Mongol tribes, became their head, and uniting all other tribes under his standard he went on to conquer the world.  Naturally he was born on Chinese land, and his dust is resting within the boundaries of People's Republic of China.  According to the Japanese, Genghis Khan was a samurai who had a dispute with his brothers. He had to leave the country of the Rising Sun, and went to the continent. He served as a legionnaire in Chinese army, then he worked for the Manchurians, and then he left for the steppe and joined one of Mongol tribes.

In one word, there are many versions. Everybody wants to be close to the Great Khan. And everybody is looking for him. And they are not finding him. And they won't find him because they are not searching in the right place.

And what could they find? Mongolian chronicle "Erdeni Tobchi" (1662) states that Genghis Khan's coffin was empty when it was brought to Mongolia.  And "Altan Tobchi" (1604) states that only his shirt, tent and boots were buried in the Ordos.

And was there a river?

You can think whatever you want about water. This is the standard version: a thousand soldiers diverted a river, buried the great leader, and returned the river to its prior course. The slaves who dug the burial pit were killed the same night, so that nobody would ever find out the secret of the burial. It is a good version… but in general this is also a description of the burial of Attila, the leader of the Huns, and also many centuries before him this was exactly the way that Sumerian king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, was buried…

Possibly, the legend gets repeated. On the other hand, maybe there should be water - it may be a standard method of burial.

But Lev Gumilev does not mention a river: "They placed Genghis Khan's remains into the grave with many valuable objects and killed all the slaves who performed the burial work. According to custom, exactly one year later there was to be a memorial service. So that they would find the place of burial without any mistakes, this is what the Mongols had done. They sacrificed a newborn baby camel just taken from its mother. And one year later, the mother camel herself found the place in the endless steppe, where her baby was killed. The Mongols killed the mother as well, performed the necessary memorial ritual and left the place forever."

But there should be some water anyway…

Chronicler Rashid-ad-din (1247-1318) draws a totally different picture. Rashid-ad-din created a great and serious work. He was almost a contemporary of the events he described, and may have met people who took part in the great campaigns and have seen Genghis Khan with their own eyes. That is why it is difficult to doubt his words.

Five thousand of the best archers accompanied the coffin with the body.  For two years a huge area was surrounded by a tumen (military sub-division of approximately 10 000 riders), consisting of soldiers of the Uriangkhai tribe. Their head was Udadzhi, or Dadzhi, as Rashid-ad-din calls him in other chapters of his "Chronicles".

Their task was to protect Genghis Khan's tomb until such time when the surrounding lands become overgrown by a thick forest. Years went by before trees planted by the people grew big, strong, and formed a  thick forest. After that it was impossible for anyone to find the place of burial.

And because those forests were a secret protected area, they had to be guarded by people native to that area to avoid attracting attention.

And in this way, we get to Todzha. This is where the "Forest Uriangkhai" live. As a matter of fact: "Dadzhi", "Dodzhi", "Todzha"…another very interesting coincidence.

According to the version of Igor I, there was a TV program about a stone  found in Sosnovka, with an ancient inscription. It was one of the type of stones that are placed next to graves, where they enumerate merits of the deceased. "I took Genghis Khan's body to his homeland" - this is what the man buried here was proud of. And again the TV program emphasized that it meant Genghis Khan's homeland, not the homeland of the decedent.

And where did this hero, who delivered the great conqueror's body, die?

But various sources write about the fast death of all the soldiers who were involved in the transportation of the body and the burial. They could not have been killed at the grave. Who would bury them? And then it would be necessary to kill those who buried them, because it was right there! Somehow it does not work out…

Besides, Genghis Khan was a warrior. He would never order the killing of soldiers who faithfully carried out the orders. He was much more likely to destroy those who did not obey orders.

But all the soldiers died very quickly.

That means that the tombstone of the man who was proud of delivering Genghis Khan's body should not be too far from Genghis Khan's tomb.

And there really should be some water. When at one time Genghis Khan was taken captive, he saved himself in a lake - breathing through a reed. And the fact that water saves became firmly entrenched in his consciousness. If water had once saved his life, it should be able to protect his grave.

That means that the soldiers really dug.  And the grave should really be hiding under water. But how? And would it be necessary to divert a river?

And how did the soldiers die so fast, that even a legend was engendered that they were killed?

Mystery of a round lake

Now let's get back to our time, to Yrban settlement.

A native of this place, reserve lieutenant-colonel Oleg Tongak  used to go fishing in winter. He and his relatives used to ride "Buran" snow vehicles  to the lake. But later he wanted to find the lake on a map. It was not on the map.

But any, even the most detailed, maps can be found on the Internet. They are filmed from the Space, and there should not be any mistakes. Bit by bit, like a jigsaw puzzle, he glued together a most detailed map of the part of Todzha that was interesting to him. He found several more "unmapped" lakes. And there was something round, as he thought - a kurgan, in the center of a round meadow in the taiga. When he was still serving, he had no time for kurgans, but once he was retired, he had more free time, and he decided to go and see that kurgan. There are not very many in Todzha. And more than that, the round structure was not all that far from Yrban.

Well, not really. It was not like that. By that time he was absolutely certain that he found Genghis Khan's grave on the map. He knew everything about "Forest Uriangkhai", about the thousand soldiers who stayed to protect the leader's tomb, and about the water, and about the stone from Sosnovka.

He has his own version why the soldiers died so fast. One can't ride a horse without some rest. Even a car has to be sometimes given fuel. And horses have to be fed, and often. The soldiers who were guarding Genghis Khan's grave had to graze their horses somewhere.  Not too far away, some five kilometers, there are magnificent pastures with juicy grass in the Ak-Chol river valley.  And in the same place is a mountain with uranium ore deposits, with a cave. They may have used it as a shelter. That is where the soldiers received a mortal dose of  radiation.

Mongol soldiers knew nothing about uranium, and the dose they received was far from small. So they perished quickly. As a matter of fact, local people never settled around the Yrban area, they avoided it in a wide circle, and said that it was a prohibited place.

But at that time the remaining part of the soldiers left that place and moved to the meadows in the valley of river Uzyu - three kilometers from Yrban.

Where else would you search, if not here!

This is where we have to begin the description of our journey in Todzha in search of Genghis Kan's tomb. Oleg Tongak bought his own metal detector. Olga Mart-oolovna Darzhaa, employee of MChS, lent us her  personal radiation dose meter, and many thanks to her for that - we would not like to share the fate of Genghis Khan's soldiers.

In the next issue we will write about how we reached that "kurgan", which turned out to be a real lake, why the whole Todzha knows how Sergei Donets mortgaged his apartment and jeep, the secret of an old, sick expert hunter, we will find out what "Todzha barbecue" means, and many other things. Including about the strange behavior of the radiation dose meter…

Irina Kachan,, translated by Heda Jindrak
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