The great emperors, remembering the vision of Jenghiz Khan, sought here new revelations and predictions of his miraculous, majestic destiny, surrounded by the divine honors, obeisance and hate. Where could they come into touch with the gods, the good and bad spirits? Only there where they abode. All the district of Zain with these ancient ruins is just such a place.
"On this mountain only such men can ascend as are born of the direct line of Jenghiz Khan," the Pandita explained to me. "Half way up the ordinary man suffocates and dies, if he ventures to go further. Recently Mongolian hunters chased a pack of wolves up this mountain and, when they came to this part of the mountainside, they all perished. There on the slopes of the mountain lie the bones of eagles, big horned sheep and the kabarga antelope, light and swift as the wind. There dwells the bad demon who possesses the book of human destinies."
"This is the answer," I thought.
In the Western Caucasus I once saw a mountain between Soukhoum Kale and Tuopsei where wolves, eagles and wild goats also perish, and where men would likewise perish if they did not go on horseback through this zone. There the earth breathes out carbonic acid gas through holes in the mountainside, killing all animal life. The gas clings to the earth in a layer about half a metre thick. Men on horseback pass above this and the horses always hold their heads way up and snuff and whinny in fear until they cross the dangerous zone. Here on the top of this mountain where the bad demon peruses the book of human destinies is the same phenomenon, and I realized the sacred fear of the Mongols as well as the stern attraction of this place for the tall, almost gigantic descendants of Jenghiz Khan. Their heads tower above the layers of poisonous gas, so that they can reach the top of this mysterious and terrible mountain. Also it is possible to explain this phenomenon geologically, because here in this region is the southern edge of the coal deposits which are the source of carbonic acid and swamp gases.
Not far from the ruins in the lands of Hun Doptchin Djamtso there is a small lake which sometimes burns with a red flame, terrifying the Mongols and herds of horses. Naturally this lake is rich with legends. Here a meteor formerly fell and sank far into the earth. In the hole this lake appeared. Now, it seems, the inhabitants of the subterranean passages, semi-man and semi-demon, are laboring to extract this "stone of the sky" from its deep bed and it is setting the water on fire as it rises and falls back in spite of their every effort. I did not see the lake myself but a Russian colonist told me that it may be petroleum on the lake that is fired either from the campfires of the shepherds or by the blazing rays of the sun.
At any rate all this makes it very easy to understand the attractions for the great Mongol potentates. The strongest impression was produced upon me by Karakorum, the place where the cruel and wise Jenghiz Khan lived and laid his gigantic plans for overrunning all the west with blood and for covering the east with a glory never before seen. Two Karakorums were erected by Jenghiz Khan, one here near Tatsa Gol on the Caravan Road and the other in Pamir, where the sad warriors buried the greatest of human conquerors in the mausoleum built by five hundred captives who were sacrificed to the spirit of the deceased when their work was done.
The warlike Pandita Hutuktu prayed on the ruins where the shades of these potentates who had ruled half the world wandered, and his soul longed for the chimerical exploits and for the glory of Jenghiz and Tamerlane.
On the return journey we were invited not far from Zain to visit a very rich Mongol by the way. He had already prepared the yurtas suitable for Princes, ornamented with rich carpets and silk draperies. The Hutuktu accepted. We arranged ourselves on the soft pillows in the yurtas as the Hutuktu blessed the Mongol, touching his head with his holy hand, and received the hatyks. The host then had a whole sheep brought in to us, boiled in a huge vessel. The Hutuktu carved off one hind leg and offered it to me, while he reserved the other for himself. After this he gave a large piece of meat to the smallest son of the host, which was the sign that Pandita Hutuktu invited all to begin the feast. In a trice the sheep was entirely carved or torn up and in the hands of the banqueters. When the Hutuktu had thrown down by the brazier the white bones without a trace of meat left on them, the host on his knees withdrew from the fire a piece of sheepskin and ceremoniously offered it on both his hands to the Hutuktu. Pandita began to clean off the wool and ashes with his knife and, cutting it into thin strips, fell to eating this really tasty course. It is the covering from just above the breast bone and is called in Mongolian tarach or "arrow." When a sheep is skinned, this small section is cut out and placed on the hot coals, where it is broiled very slowly. Thus prepared it is considered the most dainty bit of the whole animal and is always presented to the guest of honor. It is not permissible to divide it, such is the strength of the custom and ceremony.