By Peyton Stoike
When a person thinks of nuns, the first thing that comes to mind is normally Catholicism. When a person thinks of Buddhism, the first thing that comes to mind is normally monks. The word association of Buddhist nuns is not common in anyone’s minds and being a Buddhist nun is not common either. In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Buddhist nuns are living in a shared Buddhist center instead of an actual nunnery. This center is a temporary home to seven nuns, one of them being Ani Gyalmo. In 2009, Ani Gyalmo had a mutual separation from her husband and her kids were adults and had their own families. Growing up, she had always had questions about different religions and Buddhism was a main interest. She was also practicing Buddhism while raising her children. "I didn’t really know anything about what it meant to be a nun, but then I went back to Australia because this was in the UK and I had a marriage and two young children, but always I would think in the back of my mind one day, I really want to be a nun," Ani Gyalmo said. After the separation, she went to France and became ordained in Buddhism and moved to Mongolia to practice. She is now the resident teacher for the Dolma Ling Nunnery in Ulaanbaatar. The other six nuns at the Dolma Ling Nunnery are all Mongolian and speak the language. Ani Gyalmo, however, is from Australia and her Mongolian is limited. Although she cannot understand her fellow nuns at all times, they understand each other through a shared religion and practices. She participates in the religious ceremonies and prayer practices. Her background may be completely different from the people that she is with day in and day out, but they share a common understanding and belief and that is what connects them all. They may be living in a place that is not their typical home, but again, their shared belief keeps them strong and connected to their faith and each other. "The future, I think it is going to take time. These women are really pioneers. It’s like we don’t have role models of nuns previous to the Soviet time, so it is not like they can look around and see how other nunneries are run in Mongolia. And I think if they hang in there, their future may not be big, but it will be a good basis, a good stable nunnery."
By Isaiah Somanas
Against the cold sweeping hills of Mongolia, livestock graze on the snow-covered pasture. Three dots move across the landscape towards the flock. One is a man on a horse. The other two following behind him are two balls of fur. They are large brown and black dogs. "It is the one and only protector of our animals, if we didn’t have the dogs, it’s like offering our animals to the wolves," says Tsogbayar Horol. About 100 kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar, in the province of Bornuur, lives Tsogbayar Horol, a herder. He lives here with his wife, Narantuya Chuluun and their two dogs, Aslan and Maazalai. He continues the herding life that his family has done for several generations back."I have nearly 60 cows and 200 sheep and goats. It is enough for my lifestyle," says Tsogo. Everyday he must take his herds to graze in nearby pastures. At night, Tuya milks the cows and stores the milk for selling later as well as personal use. It is their main source of income which is sold three times a week, making them around 500,000 tugriks (190 dollars) a month. The main threat to their livestock is wolves, which live in the forest nearby. To protect against them, herders employ guard dogs to scare off wild animals."Before the Bankhar dogs, wolves would just come into the animal fence and take away our livestock," said Tsogbayar Horol, "After we got the dogs, we haven’t lost any animals to them." Bankhars is historically the only dog claimed by the vast country of Mongolia. It an ancient landrace of dog as opposed to a pedigreed breed. This means that the Bankhar has adapted to live in the harsh Mongolian climate through coevolution alongside humans. "In the dead of winter, it doesn’t require much human help. Bankhars have the ability to find their own food," said Tsogo. "There is research that says Bankhars evolved from wolves around 40,000 years ago," says Saikhnaa Ganbold. "Bankhar dogs were used in war during the time of Genghis Khan. Bankhars are known as herders or shepherds, so our ancestors domesticated them many centuries ago." Even Marco Polo wrote about them in his travel log saying, "I have never seen such a large dog; it’s almost like a donkey." However, during Soviet rule of Mongolia, many dogs were taken away from herders and killed, making it rare.
"There was a false rumor in the 60s, saying that Bankhar dogs were spreading disease. Because of this, many of them were exterminated," said Saikhnaa. After Soviet rule ended in the 1990s, Mongolians wanted to bring back the dog. By that time the Bankhar gene pool had been contaminated by foreign breeds such as the Tibetan Mastiff. A search was done to find the purest dogs to reinvigorate the breed. Although they are still considered rare, they can be found throughout the country. Tsogo’s brother Tserendolgor Narangerel is one of many dog breeders bringing back the Bankhar. His breeding facility is part of the Mongolian Kynological Federation which is working to get the Bankhar recognized worldwide as its own unique breed. "Most dogs have different specific uses but Bankhars are very diverse. For example, Bankhars are good with babysitting just like golden retrievers but when it comes time to protecting the herd, Bankhars are just as good at guarding," said Saikhnaa. "Bankhar dogs are inseparable from herder families. You can’t imagine herders without them." Bankhars are highly prized by Mongolians and pure dogs are very expensive. "I traded Arsan for 40 male goats. He is getting a little bit older, 16 years. We bought Mazaalai when she was a baby for 500,000 tugriks (190 dollars)," said Tsogo. "When we had hybrid dogs instead of Bankhar dogs, they couldn’t stop the wolves attacking but the Bankhar dogs’ bark is unique. Their bark chase off wolves and notifies me if something is wrong." At sunset every day, Tsogo and his two Bankhars return home with the herd. The dogs settle down outside the ger as they are not allowed inside. While the cows are brought into the barn to be milked, the dogs continue their watch. They occasionally bark, chasing off potential predators through the night. So, ends another day for the herder and his ever-watchful Bankhars.
By Jessica Moore
Togtuun works as a chef during the day but when he is not at work he is singing. This unique tune was developed in the Altai Mountains — a place where Mongolia, China, Russia and Kazakstan come together.