Tovkhon Monastery is 2312 metres (1,4 mile) above the sea level, at the top of the sacred hill Shireet Ulaan. It’s in the province of Ovorkhangai, in the sum of Bat Ulzii. Surrounded with rocks and forests of larches, it dominates Orkhon Valley.
In 1648, the young Zanabazar, who was only 14 years old, decides to make built a monastery on the sacred hill of Shireet Ulaan, because the place was of good omen for him. The first building was built in wood in 1651, when the young Bogd Gegeen came back from his studies, and the whole was completed three years later. Zanabazar was a very good sculptor, musician and painter, and he has been using the monastery, originally called Bayasgalant Aglag Oron, ”Land of the happy loneliness”, for his personal retreat, for more than 30 years. He used to come to gather his thoughts in a cell that was reserved for him. In this small stone cell, he’s reported to have written the soyombo alphabet and many other famous works.
The Oirats destroyed the monastery in 1688 during one of the several warlike campaigns against the Eastern Mongolians. It was restored in 1773 but sustained new serious damages during the Stalinist purges in the late 1930’s, when the communist system was trying to eradicate Buddhism from the country.
Tovkhon Monastery today
From that period, two temples and two stupas remain. The other temples were built in the 18th century. The monastery started again its activity in 1992. It is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996.
The site also includes Ekhiin Agui, ”the mother’s cave”, that is composed of two cavities. We can crawl in the main cavity. Once at the bottom of it, we have to turn over to sit in the small cavity. These movements symbolize gestation and birth. Anyone will make them will have a great fecundity. The persons going out from this cave are told to feel like if they had had a new birth.
The monastery is surrounded with rocks. Some of them have a historic value, because they represent Zanabazar’s prints, the place where he used to rest, or the place where his horse was tied. A pile of stones is reported to find its roots at the period of the war between Khalkhs and Uulds. The Ondor Gegeen is reported to have rid away from the battlefields, using an underpass called “the door of the great pleasures” ; then he’s reported to have obstructed the entrance with a big stone.