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Genghis Khan, great visionary?
By Nick Coleman
Staff Writer St. Paul Pioneer Press
Jack Weatherford never got used to marmot meat, but he learned to enjoy the taste of fermented mare's milk.
Now, he's getting used to the taste of success.
Weatherford, a stereotype-busting professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, has hit the bestseller lists with a book - seven years in the making - about the bloodthirsty barbarian Genghis Khan, whose Mongol ``hordes'' swept out of Central Asia in the 13th century to rule over the largest empire ever known. But forget about that barbarian stuff. Weatherford's Genghis is the inventor of modern civilization.
``He was the greatest conqueror in the history of the world, and the greatest lawgiver,'' Weatherford says. ``He was a visionary who recognized the value of communication, and that, to rule, you had to have the allegiance of the people, not just control of the land. No secular leader in history can compare to him. Not even Alexander or Caesar. Caesar conquered Gaul, but Gaul wouldn't even be one county in the Mongol Empire.''
Conquering tribe after tribe and subjecting them to their rule, Genghis and his descendants established an empire that covered an astonishing 12 million square miles - from the Pacific to the Mediterranean - where law, written languages, free trade, innovation and religious tolerance prevailed.
Weatherford's accomplishment is almost as impressive: Rescuing the image of one of history's great icons of evil. Even Saddam Hussein dissed Genghis: In his last speech, Saddam urged Iraqis to fight the Americans because they were ``the new Mongols,'' like the descendants of Genghis who sacked Baghdad in 1258.
``Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World'' (Crown Publishers, $25) does not even mention Donald Trump, presidential politics or carbohydrate-free diets, and yet it jumped onto the New York Times bestseller list last Sunday and has sold out its initial hardcover run of 27,500.
The ride to bestsellerdom was bumpy: Weatherford traveled by jolting SUV and on horseback for months at a time over the roadless and uncharted wastes of Mongolia. It included journeys into a sacred area known as the Great Taboo that was closed off to the outside for 763 years, until the fall of the Soviet Union resulted in Mongolians being permitted to become reacquainted with their own history.
A vast area of forests and mountains, it hasn't changed since Genghis the Leader (Khan) died in 1227 and was buried within its secret places.
Weatherford, who had initially gone to Mongolia to research a book he wanted to write about the silk trade and commerce between Asia and Europe, found himself gravitating instead toward Genghis Khan, prodded by the Mongolian scholars he had met.
Weatherford, 57, has established close contacts with the faculty of Chingis (a spelling closer to the way Genghis is properly pronounced) Khaan University in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. (In 2000, he was granted an honorary doctorate in the humanities - printed on a silk scroll - and next fall, the first Mongolian student is expected to arrive at Macalester).
So one day, the Mongolian scholars asked Bagshaa (Prof.) Weatherford if he would like to visit the Great Taboo.
``I'd love to,'' he said. ``Someday.''
``We go tomorrow,'' they told him.
It was still winter (and 51 below zero, one night) and the journey took weeks, in four-wheel-drive trucks bouncing across arid grasslands, then on horseback, 30 miles a day, standing in the saddle, climbing into the snowy forests. As he rode deeper into Mongolia (and coped with a diet of roast marmot and mare's milk) and encountered its rich history, Weatherford fell in love with Genghis Khan and Mongolia's story.
``Seeing the great homeland where he lived, and the herds of horses running across an open landscape and not a fence or a paved road for 1,000 miles - it was the most beautiful place on earth to me. To see it exactly as he saw it was incredible.''
Weatherford's unabashed affection for Mongolia makes his book seem personal. It is not a dry tome of the ``namby-pamby'' kind he doesn't like.
``It's tough to crack the bestseller list,'' says Weatherford's editor at Crown, Chris Jackson. ``But Jack passionately believes in Genghis Khan's greatness, and it comes from the heart. The combination of scholarship and passion makes it a lot of fun.''
``My work is a little bit odd,'' Weatherford says with a laugh. ``I don't write a book because I know about the subject. I write about a subject because I want to know about it.''
A native of South Carolina, Weatherford has taught at Macalester, where he is the DeWitt Wallace Professor of Anthropology, for 21 years. He has specialized in tribal cultures and their exploitation by powerful nations. His previous books include ``Indian Givers,'' which examines the riches the world received from native cultures and is now in its 23rd printing.
Financing his own work (``A book on Genghis Khan? Nobody's going to fund that - it sounds too bizarre,'' he says), Weatherford made five extended trips to Mongolia and two more to Russia and Central Asia tracking the legacy of Genghis and his descendants, the last of whom ruled in Uzbekistan until 1920. In the process, he became the first American to write a biography of Genghis, the first to visit the Great Taboo and the first to have a book published in Mongolia.
He also may be the first whose publication date was selected by Mongolian monks.
He asked the monks of Erden Zuu to select an auspicious publication date for his book. They chose the second day of the second month of the Year of the Wood Monkey: March 23, 2004.
Call it kismet or call it coincidence, the monks had chosen the exact date his publishers - who had not informed Weatherford - had already pegged for the publication. Something must be smiling on the book: It debuted at No. 15 on the list of bestselling nonfiction hardcovers (it will dip to 22 this Sunday). And the reviews, although some have criticized the book for trying too hard to rehabilitate Genghis, have been good.
It's just the roast marmot that didn't sit well with Weatherford.
``I ate it,'' he says. ``But I never got wild about it.''

Mongolia: A horseman's paradise
by Christoph Schork
Trail Blazer Magazine December, 1996
Start with a big sky, add abundant grassland, mountains and rolling hills; lakes and rivers with crystal clean, drinkable water; disperse free roaming herds of horses, camels and sheep according to taste. Finally, add the heady aroma of mutton fat to round it all out. One word of caution, however, you must not add any roads or fences. This would indeed spoil the horseman's recipe for the ideal horse country.
As an avid rider and endurance competitor over the last 10 years I have often dreamed of just such a horseman's paradise. In the summer of 1996 I found that paradise had a name: Mongolia.

As a young boy, I had read the adventures of Svend Hedin the explorer and all my life dreamt of Mongolia. Now I was one of 13 equally eager riders from Japan, New Zealand, Brazil, Europe and North America. We were under the wing of Linda Svendsen, owner and founder of Boojum Expeditions. Linda pioneered riding adventures in central Asia, breaking new ground in tourism and diplomacy with the first riding vacations in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and the Kazakh regions of China. We arrived in Mongolia's capitol, Ulaan Baatar for the Naadam festival, where Mongolian culture is celebrated through the "manly" sports of archery, wrestling and horse racing. As an avid competitor in ski archery, (the equivalent of biathlon, without firearms) I had a particular interest in the archers, who shoot at 70 meter targets with their handmade horn and wood bows. Genghis Khan's armies conquered the largest land empire in history with two things central to Mongolian life; the horse and the bow.

The horse races are the highlight. As many as a thousand horses mass at the start for a 30 kilometer race. The jockeys are boys and girls, four to seven years old. During the race, many kick off their boots and drop their saddles to give their mount every advantage.

As the first riders approached the finish line, the crowd, may of them mounted , took up the ululation of the young riders as they urged their ponies to the finish. I guarantee that no horse person, on viewing this spectacle, would be unmoved! They teach the horse not to stop during the race, no matter what may happen. In the race I observed, dozens of riderless horses ran on to the finish, their riders collected by the support jeeps. The winning horse is "Tumay ekh" or "Winner of ten thousand". The last horse also receives a prize; a song sung, not to humble him, but to encourage him for next year's race.

The Darhat Valley in the most northern part of Mongolia was our destination. Our objective: To ride through the Darhat Valley and search for the summer camp of the "Tsaatan" or "reindeer people". The Tsaatan summer near the Siberian border where their nomadic life is based on reindeer. Along the way, we passed through some of Mongolia's most spectacular and diverse scenery and experienced the renowned hospitality of the nomadic herders. By airplane and truck we traveled for nearly three days, until the confluence of the Tengis and Shishgid rivers stopped further motorized travel.

At this bucolic location, Boojum Expeditions had built a rustic lodge. It was mid-August and the river waters were just warm enough for an extended swim. The fishing enthusiasts among our group had a heyday catching lenok and grayling. The next morning we got acquainted with our mounts. Annette, one of the most experienced riders, took off at a gallop just seconds after swinging into the saddle. Some raised eyebrows followed her, but Baigalun, one of the wranglers, pointed out that this particular horse was a winner last year at Naadam. We all reflected on the training these horses receive; to keep going regardless....

In Mongolia, everyone rides. Travel on horseback is a way of life, perfected over thousands of years. The horses are pony sized but their appearance belies their character. They are spirited, tough animals, able and willing to carry their riders at a healthy clip all day long, for days in a row, with neither horseshoes or grain. Their preferred gait is a fast trot that lacks any leg extension, but displays a dizzying high cadence and covers ground rapidly. Horses make pastoral nomadism possible. From the back of a horse the nomad has both economic and political freedom. It's hard to tax and govern people who can simply gather their goods and be gone! So the Mongols learn how to ride before they can walk, and on the backs of their horses, they are always smiling. The indigenous saddles are made out of wood and were definitely an acquired taste. We chose the Russian Cavalry saddle instead, a distant relative to our English saddles. A prominent feature is a "horn" of metal tubing and "cantle" of the same. Convenient for tying necessities on but less appealing if one happens to loose fore and aft balance while posting!

Along with our horses we met our local crew; Ariunna, head guide, Gana ,cook, Oyuna, interpreter, and five wranglers who would handle the pack horses. We set off through a wilderness abounding in larkspurs, edelweiss and bluebells; bizarre rock formations with waterfalls and steep, high mountains creating an image of fairyland travel. After covering about 14 miles, we stopped to set up camp at the river side. We unsaddled our horses, set up the tents and build fires. Before long, Gana presented us with the first of a series of delicious variations on mutton stew.

The next morning, the forests became more dense with moss-laden larch trees and thick dark green underbrush. Deep taiga moss, sometimes horse-belly deep, and bogs slowed our travel to a walk. Then, late on our second day we spotted small white spots against the tundra. It was the tipi-like tents of the Tsaatan! We all scouted intensely for the reindeer, but they were still browsing in the distant hills. Only at dusk, after we have camped nearby, did they appear across the tundra and gather around the tipis. The cows were milked, the bulls tethered for the night or saddled to stand ready as mounts. Many of us enjoyed the offer to ride a reindeer. Smooth-gaited, the reindeer are a lot of fun to ride. Their hooves are very pliable and spreading laterally making them more sure footed on tundra than the horses.

The 3000 remaining Tsaatan are not members of the Mongol race. They are smaller in stature and have distinctly different facial features. They also have their own language, related to Turkish. But, Mongols and Tsaatan have much in common. They are both proud people, and their hospitality is boundless. We are invited to share tea, "airag" (fermented milk ), yogurt and reindeer cheese. Like the Mongolian gers, their tents have the hearth in the middle representing the center of family as well as symbolizing ties with their ancestors. Etiquette requires always entering and proceeding clockwise around the hearth. Mongolia is full of traditions and customs and Linda had briefed us thoroughly prior to our arrival to avoid any major faux pas. "Don't be a culture klutz" she admonished us.

Our return to the lodge went smoothly with great weather and plenty of opportunity to canter along the trails beside the Tengis River. We then set out cross country for the hamlet of Bom, where our faithful Russian truck would pick us up for the return journey to Ulaan Baatar. Along the way, we crossed the Shisgid River, loading people and gear into a rickety rowboat and then swimming the horses across. The remaining riding days were spectacular with a mixture of forest and valleys for loping and trotting. We were often joined by local riders, who, seeing this strange foreign entourage, dropped their herding duties for a while and rode with us in friendly and appreciative curiosity.

Flying back to Ulaan Baatar, we all reflected on the beauty of the country and warmth of the people. Yet we had seen some disturbing signs of the invasion of modern life. From the air, you can see multiple roads braided across the landscape and erosion of the grasslands beginning. We, the visitors, who have the privilege to experience this genuinely unspoiled part of our planet, had great memories but were left to ponder how Mongolia can avoid the mistakes that "modern" cultures have made in pursuit of "progress".
















































































We specialize in Mongolia travel but we also offer adventure travel to Patagonia, Uruguay, Tibet. Horseback riding was our original interest when we pioneered travel adventures to China and Inner Mongolia and Tibet. We now offer tours and travel packages of all kinds in Mongolia (formerly Outer Mongolia) including camel riding, trekking, photography, fishing, horseback riding, culture, visiting Naadam, the Gobi, Lake Hovsgol (Lake Khovsgol) and the nomadic herders of Mongolia. In Ulan Bator we have our own offices though we are not really a travel agent, but an outfitter of travel and adventure in Mongolia. If want a riding vacation; whether a horseback riding vacation, a camel riding vacation or a jeep riding vacation, we'll be glad to create a travel adventure across Mongolia for you.

In Patagonia and Uruguay remember you can combine two adventures and do both horseback riding trips in just two weeks of travel. A Patagonia horseback riding vacation or a Uruguay horseback riding vacation is just the thing for beginners or experienced equestrian travelers. An equestrain vacation, horseback riding in Patagonia, Agentina or Uruguay or Mongolia or Tibet is a great way to have a guided adventure.
Mongolia travel can also include rafting, trekking or a combination of rafting, trekking, horseback riding and culture. Mongolia travel means visiting the Gobi, Lake Khovsgol, Buddhist monasteries, or even fishing. The fishing in Mongolia and Patagonia is very good. In Mongolia the fishing is for taimen. In Patagonia, the fishing is for trout. Being an outfitter, we don't call our adventure horseback riding or other mongolia tours "tours" per se. We think that Monglia tour sounds like it lacks adventure. A Mongolia tour can include paleontology, horseback riding, a river trip or rafting, trekking or culture. Whatever you call it, a Mongolia tour or Mongolia travel, we will be sure to make your Mongolia tour feel like a private tour.

Those of you who have endured reading the awful prose just preceding are probably wondering what kind of idiot wrote it. We must confess to both a capacity for better prose and an ulterior motive in writing so badly. Search engines look for correlations between your keywords like Mongolia travel, horseback riding, mongolia tour, Patagonia, Uruguay, Tibet, Gobi.. (see there I go again) and the frequency with which they appear on your page. In this everchanging cyber world, we need to keep up, I guess. Have a good riding vacation or adventure and come for Mongolia travel.

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