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The Road of Winds

The Road of Winds

Автором Ivan Efremov

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The Road of Winds

Автором Ivan Efremov

Длина:
542 pages
9 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Jan 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393708841
Формат:
Книге

Описание

The Road of Winds is a non-fiction book by Ivan Efremov about his three years' travel in Mongolia (1946–1949) when he was the head of the Joint Soviet-Mongolian Paleontology Expedition.

During the expedition, Ivan Efremov conceived a book. In the "The Road of Winds" published in the mid 1950s, he wrote about excavations, his colleagues, as well as the harsh nature of Mongolia. A new generation of paleontologists grew up with this book.

One of his most important predictions enabled Ivan Efremov to create the science of taphonomy, i.e. the theory of the stages and patterns of living organisms turning into fossil remains. His speculations were proved true during three expeditions to Mongolia under his leadership in 1946 -1949. The results of the expeditions turned to be really epochal. In the Cretaceous sediments in the middle of the desert, the experts found so many bones of dinosaurs and other prehistoric inhabitants of the Earth, that they had to be taken to Moscow in many railway cars. The Russian Academy of Sciences arranged the display of some of those finds by Ivan Efremov at the Moscow Paleontological Museum and Orlov Museum. Moreover, excavations in Mongolia are still going on to this day.

Издатель:
Издано:
Jan 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393708841
Формат:
Книге

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The Road of Winds - Ivan Efremov

Author

The Road of Winds

Notes from Gobi

Ivan Efremov

All material contained herein is

Copyright © Ivan Efremov 2019 All rights reserved.

***

Originally published in USSR in 1956 as Doroga Wietrow

Translated and published in English with permission.

***

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-6734670-4-8

ePub ISBN: 978-1-3937088-4-1

***

Written by Ivan Efremov (04/22/1908 -10/05/1972)

Published by Royal Hawaiian Press

Cover art by Tyrone Roshantha

Cover Image by Galyna Andrushko - Shutterstock Image #225072112

Translated by Rafal Stachowsky in 2018

Publishing Assistance: Balasubramanian Nambi

***

For more works by this author, please visit:

www.royalhawaiianpress.com

***

Version Number 1.00

Foreword

B

etween years 1946-1949, I had to manage three successive paleontological expeditions of the USSR Spider Academy to the Mongolian People’s Republic. Expeditions worked in the southern part of the republic - in the semi-desert Gobi.

The nature of Gobi Mongolia is poorly illuminated in Mongolian culture, even in Mongolian literature. Thirty-three great Gobi is sung in ancient tales, but rather as a symbol of the vast expanses of the country, than as a favorite place for life. It’s better to be a Hanbai bull than a Gobi girl, says the adage, which reflects the shepherds’ long-established desire for a freer life in the grassy steppes of Khangai, full of rivers, springs, and keys.

Now, with the radical changes in the life of the Mongolian people, the attitude towards the Gobi has changed. Automobiles win huge spaces; the number of wells increases every year and migrations must be ordered and planned. However, in modern Mongolian literature, the Gobi has been paid insufficient attention.

In the past, the Gobi part of the republic was primarily a camel industry. Camels served the great caravan routes from Central China to its western provinces and to Russia. These paths permeated through Mongolia through the southern Gobi part of the country and were collectively called the Windy Road or Winds of Winds. Another great caravan road, called Bypass, ran along Inner Mongolia and went to Xinjiang through Gansu province. However, caravans pass through this route than the Road of Winds because of the numerous difficult steep passes they would encounter.

The route of our expedition was along the area of the Winds of the Winds – the Northern Gobi – and particularly in the least populated areas. Therefore, the reader should not pay any attention to the author’s little acquaintance with the Mongolian People’s Republic as a whole. A lot of good books have already been written about her people and economic successes. The creation of a book about the whole of Mongolia by me would be a presumptuous and unsuccessful attempt because I worked only in the desert Gobi,

Initially, I wanted to write a book about the Soviet scientific expedition, to tell about the selfless labor of the collective of its participants. However, the abundance of observations I unearthed in such a peculiar yet unusual geographic area, which was yet to be explained by anybody, made me deviate from the previous plan. This many notes about the Gobi nature would be unacceptable to leave in vain. After the completion of the expedition, the difficulties of working in the desert and the various marching adventures seemed unimportant and ordinary to me. Tens of thousands of workers of our geological parties, builders of hydroelectric stations, machine operators mastering virgin lands, and all those who must struggle with nature openly, experience these difficulties thousands of times.

Let my comrades forgive me for not being able to pay tribute to their friendly, brave, and patient work in this book. Descriptions of the Gobi nature, the tasks of the expedition, the discovery of scientific achievements, encompassed much of its content. This book should be considered as a traveler’s notes, acquainting the reader with an interesting area in Central Asia, as well as with some achievements of Soviet paleontological science. There is no word of fiction, embellishment, or artistic exaggeration in within these pages. Everything written in this book is the absolute truth. If, after reading this book, the reader, with the words: Khongor, Nemagata, Tsagan-Bogdo, have before their eyes pictures that paint the black deserts of the Zaaltaiskaya Gobi; if the reader hears the rustling of the daisy on a large caravan path and if the white bones of extinct animals sticking out of the cliffs come to life, the purpose of my book can be considered achieved.

Author

April 1955

Book One

Bones of the Dragon (Lunas Jas)

T

he dragon, flying by, approached the ground, fell, and died. His bones went deep into the ground and became stone. There, in the mountains of Unegata, these remains now lie. The head and trunk fell one and a half inches further west in the mountains of Zsostu-Undur-Hara. That is the size of a dragon! The old Mongolian tale

Chapter One

Ancient land

A man with friends is like a wide field,

A man without friends – like an empty handful.

-Proverb

O

n the vast expanses of the Gobi’s semi-desert in the southern half of the Mongolian People’s Republic, all the strata of the earth’s crust are open to the eyes of the scientist – the high-altitude plateau in the heart of the Asian continent. Mongolia in the remote times of earthly history was a land on which seventy million years ago there lived huge lizards – dinosaurs, former lords of the Earth. Later, the lizards died out and they were replaced by higher animals – mammals, which at first were strange, awkward, and combined in themselves a mixture of signs of a wide variety of species. Then, about ten million years ago, new animals appeared, which differed very little from those now living.

This segment of the geological record of our planet – the last period of lizard dominance and the entire history of mammals – are recorded in the layers of Mongolian rocks discovered by atmospheric destruction.

In the arid and almost uninhabited localities of the Gobi areas of the Mongolian People’s Republic, priceless treasures of science lie at the foot of bare rocky ridges. These ridges are hidden in the deep intermountain hollows. The sons of the Gobi, Arata – cattle-breeders, who studied the native nature to the delicacy, had long been aware of the giant bones washed from the rocks by the spring waters and showers lying on the slopes of the cliffs and at the bottom of the gorges. The people knew that these objects were bones, not anything else. However, they were unable to give a true explanation for their appearance here in the deadest and most waterless areas of the Gobi. Thus, they were forced to believe the religious legends of lamas about the existence of dragons – the sacred animals of the sky. So, the name of fossil bones - lunyas jas (bones of the dragon) appeared; although the more insightful and less gullible simply called them chulutuin jas (stone bones).

When the Great Patriotic War ended, the government of the Mongolian People’s Republic turned to Soviet scientists – paleontologists – with an invitation to come to Mongolia to study fossil animals. The Academy of Sciences of the USSR decided to send a special expedition to the Mongolian People’s Republic.

The expedition worked in Mongolia in 1946, 1948, and 1949 and discovered the locations of gigantic dinosaurs and ancient mammals. They also extracted whole skeletons of carnivorous, herbivorous, duck-billed and armored dinosaurs, crocodiles, and giant turtles. From the red-colored deposits of ancient Asian foods, they discovered deposits of fossil trees and excavated skeletons of the oldest large mammals. Today, part of the skeletons can be seen in the Paleontological Museum in Moscow, other finds are exhibited in the museum of Ulan Bator.

The work of the expedition completely refuted the idea of ​​the ancient land of Asia being an eternal wilderness and allowed us to imagine what Mongolia really was sixty million years ago – a vast lowland with swamps and rich vegetation stretching along the coast.

***

On the way from Moscow to Ulan Bator, I did not stop thinking about the expedition, trying to imagine a high plateau in the heart of the Asian continent. Waves of barkhan sands of the Black Gobi go to the south, to Inner Mongolia, to China. To the north of the sand, a wide belt of stony semi-desert occupies the southern, Gobi, half of the Mongolian People’s Republic. There, in hot waterless pits – depressions between ridges, there are red-colored rocks. These are sands, clays, and sandstones, once deposited in the mouths of the rivers of the Central Asian land, which has not been covered by the sea for the last hundred and thirty million years. In these rocks, the remnants of the most diverse land animals that inhabited the Central Asian continent from the Cretaceous to the present day are inviolable – historical documents of the great ladder the of the evolutionary development of animals from clumsy, brainless pangolins to fast and intelligent mammals – the closest relatives of a human being. Here, the evidence of the great extinction of giant dinosaurs must be preserved.

Find these documents, extract them from rocks, deliver them to Moscow, to the laboratory of the Academy of Sciences – this was the task of the future expedition. Not only that, it was necessary to study most rocks, restore the conditions for their formation, the climate, and character of the ancient Asian land, the conditions of existence and death of animals – all this must be done together with the search and excavation of petrified bones. Only then will the observations of the expedition serve as a solid basis for science. In the laboratories of the Institute and the museum, step by step, a grand perspective on the history of life on Earth will be recreated, going far into the bottomless depths of time.

The first finds of the bones of fossil animals in Central Asia were made by our geologist-traveler, the late academician V.A. Obruchev. Bones of titanoteri and aquatic rhinoceroses dating about 30 million years ago were found in a maze of ravines, on the slopes of cliffs, on the hollow of Kuldzhin-Gobi. The rhinoceros, delivered in 1894 from this little-known place by V.A. Obruchev, later served (in the 1920s) as a starting point for broad generalizations that proved that a huge number of animals lived in past geological periods on the Central Asian land and gave rise to the animal world of all Eurasia and, in part, Africa.

In the early years of its existence, it was difficult for a young Soviet republic to organize relatively expensive expeditionary research in Central Asia. However, the Americans did it. After the First World War, much gold was accumulated in America. As a result, private donations enabled the largely Central Asian expedition, organized by the New York Museum of Natural History, to work for several years in Outer and Inner Mongolia. The discoveries made by this expedition include dinosaur eggs, ancient mammals, a lot of huge titanoteries with strange skull outgrowths, and a number of clusters of the remains of smaller fossil animals – all of this were of great scientific interest and was accompanied by loud advertising that facilitated the collection of money.

However, work begun by this expedition in 1922 on the territory of the Mongolian People’s Republic (Outer Mongolia by the old geographical designation) and by 1925, was banned by the people’s government. Soon, the Chinese government also banned the American expedition from working in Inner Mongolia (part of China’s territory) for similar reasons, violating the sovereignty of the country. I remember the massive volume that came out in those years, in a yellow cover, with a deeply imprinted English title between the fonts of Mongolian letters. How many times I carefully turned over the inserts of the magnificent photographs, looked thoughtfully at the proud title A New Victory in Central Asia.

Images of formidable barkhans, processions of cars with star flags, huge camel caravans, and luxurious breakfasts with napkins and glasses on the background of the desert were dominant. The description of the work of the expedition was of an advertising nature and occupied the entire fattened volume. Only a few lost pages, which practically receded into the background, were devoted to actual scientific discoveries.

The paths chosen by the Americans passed along the Great Mongolian caravan route. The book often referred to the dangers that trapped travelers at the slightest attempt to evade cars away from the caravan trail. Areas where American researchers found the richest clusters of bones were described in a peculiar way. As if all the necessary information was reported in the book, but at the same time there was no way to determine the precise geographical position of these places.

I remembered that this unworthy maneuver surprised me even when I was making my first steps in science and was enthused by the successes of the American expedition. Now, thanks to the research of Soviet scientists in the Mongolian People’s Republic, it became known that fossil bones can be found in the Mongolian People’s Republic than in any other place.

The treasury of documents of the past life in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments, the MPR, now appeared not as random fragments of separate successful finds, but as a giant container of a whole segment of the history of the land animal world. The study of it could be carried out only as a result of a large, persistent, and laborious work for a number of years. A quarter of a century of unfulfilled dreams made the task quite clear, and it only remained to calculate what we really can do with our forces.

Now, we did not need the coded locations of the Americans. We decided to go the other way – for a quarter of a century of development of Soviet science we have developed our own methods! We studied the regularities of those processes that form the pages of the geological record in the history of the Earth – those layers, the layers of rocks in which they are buried, turned into stone, becoming part of the rock themselves, the remains of ancient extinct animals. We learned that large clusters of fossil bones are not formed by chance, but as a result of the coincidence of very definite processes that can be taken into account. We learned that the distribution of these locations in the strata of the earth’s crust is also subject to certain laws, which study a new branch of geological sciences – taphonomy.

Armed with this knowledge, we could go to the Gobi open spaces for methodical, systematic work, gradually unraveling the secrets of nature one by one. Work would have to be done in uninhabited and waterless places, where workers, products, tools needed for excavations, wood, plaster, boxes, paper, nails, and cotton should be brought. We would need winches, cables, hoists because the average weight of each dinosaur skeleton was several tons. We would also have to adjust the supply of water at large distances from the wells and, finally, the removal of tens of tons of collections from the depths of the Gobi off-road.

All these tasks could be solved only by powerful vehicles. This is what makes the decisive link in the organization of the expedition. Transportation by pack animals, i.e. camels, would be disadvantageous because it takes too much time and a camel raises too little cargo. Pack animals are advantageous to use only for short transportations of local character – transportation of water and transportation through places that are impassable for motor vehicles.

The first year of the work which involves exploration and evaluation, a small expedition will be organized. Then, a much larger expedition on heavy trucks would be planned for the next year.

Thus, the final forms of the paleontological research organization in the Mongolian People’s Republic were slowly but clearly described, and calm confidence came to replace anxiety and unrest.

***

The airplane swung swiftly from wing to wing. It pecked its nose and continued to fly swiftly, shaking from time to time, as if wanting to throw off a thin film of water that had poured over its metal body. The impenetrable fog dissipated. Ragged gray shreds slowly crawled down and opened the ground. On the left, shone wide columns of sunlight. Sunlight flashed at the wet, vibrating ends of the wings.

Down below, hills still huddled. The ground was now treeless and covered only with dried grass. Smooth slopes resembled the sides of well-fed camels covered in short and light summer wool. As the fog vanished, the clear bright blue sky appeared. The plane was gradually falling, heading along the asphalt highway.

Here, the car had laid down on a wing and noise and pressure arisen in ears. To the right, flashed the river Tola (Mirror) and white houses.

Resort Sangino, now there will be Ulaanbaatar! cried the Mongol companion.

A few minutes later, the plane rolled, hoisting dust over an even section of dry steppe in the ring of low treeless mountains. The amazingly clear high sky radiated a dry heat. The reflection of the sun off the whitewashed walls of the houses blinded the eyes. Sleepy cows languidly wandered around. There was complete silence except for the gentle roar of aircraft engines which was pleasant for the ears. A barely perceptible breeze brought the strong and fresh wormwood scent.

We spent a month here in the capital of the Mongolian People’s Republic. For a long time, I remembered the autumn Ulan Bator, first seen in 1946. They were filled with quiet, clear days with the mighty sparkling of the sun in the purest mountain air and nights of stellar abundance with the constant howl of countless dogs. The western part of the city – the remnant of the old Urga – was a labyrinth of narrow dusty streets, surrounded by fences of thin, unkempt larch logs. These logs were placed close to each other and were used to fence off yurts or small single-story houses trampled with yards – locally called hoshan. The same larch palings and Khoshans are scattered in other parts of the city. However, they are either cut, pushed aside or simply destroyed by the victorious procession of the new city and by the massifs of beautiful, mostly white institutional and residential buildings,

The university was almost finished then and proudly raised an arc of tall white columns against the backdrop of the conical peaks of the Chingilte Mountains. On a giant square with a monument to Sukhbaatar, new buildings – state theater, a cinema, a hotel, and a little further, closer to the Tole River, a majestic library building grew. Near, in a simple and stark still brick or whitewashed and blue-paneled buildings, clean and light architectural forms were depicted.

These new buildings contrasted so sharply with the gloomy isolation and cramping of the deaf stockades, the haughtiness of the huge but low-entry gates of the former wealthy households, the dirt and dust of Zaghodyra (a crush in the marketplace), the crowding and lonely labor of the shops of Chinese handicraftsmen in the old city who were unobservant and unfamiliar with the country of the newcomer. The new life of the Mongolian Republic spoke for itself, without requiring any additional explanations.

In Ulan-Bator, new houses, large and small, white with decoration from the beloved in Mongolian bright and pure blue paint. In the sun, these houses seem to be joyful and light, but they are especially good if you look over them to the south. Here, the green with the gray protrusions of the rocks and the flat Goltsovaya peak, the Bogdo-uly mass (Holy) hangs over the city.

The reserve mountain, the last spur of the Khenteiskaya (Heng-tai - Angry) taiga, which has moved to the south, alone among the steppe zone of Ulan-Bator, always attracts the attention of the inhabitants of the city. Its appearance is changeable and reflects all the rapid shifts in the weather.

Different colors, sullen and cheerful, run, changing, from the gray granite fields of the summit through the blackish green of the tall cedar forests to the light green velvety forestless slopes of the lower ledges, where white inscriptions are lined with Mongolian inscriptions and Roman numerals in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the People’s Republic.

In September, the weather was invariably clear and quiet. Bogdo-ula, it seemed, wore a gold belt - the autumn larch forests brightly yellowed in the sunlight, and the gray rocks and the gloomy dark stone pine forests seemed to absorb the bright orange glow.

But I was much more attracted by the line of remote naked mountains, to the right of the majestic Bogdo-ula, where the tract was going to the South Gobi. There, given to this often cloudy dusty haze, thoughts constantly rushed while preparations for field work were going on and willy-nilly had to linger in Ulaanbaatar.

A friendly meeting in the Mongolian Committee of Sciences, constant support and assistance from the Soviet mission and the trade mission encouraged us from the very first steps. We quickly became friends with a few Soviet specialists who worked at the university, the Committee of Sciences and other organizations. The Gobi part of the republic was almost completely unknown to the young Mongolian geology, so we tried to help gather all kinds of information about the dragon bones, old records and reports of travelers.

The staff of the Committee of Sciences diligently taught us complex Mongolian politeness and proverbs, chuckling at our ridiculous pronunciations. We, the newcomers to Mongolia, admired the romantic beauty of the Mongolian language. The Committee of Sciences, in Mongolian Shinj-leh Uhaani Hurelen, in exact translation was called The Circle of Wise Learners. The scientific secretary (narin bichgijn darga) was translated as the chief of the thin letter. Even my very, very dry position in the Academy of Sciences, where I was in charge of the department of ancient vertebrates of the Paleontological Institute, after the translation into Mongolian sounded like louny jas heltes darga – [head of the dragon bones department!).

Day after day, we equipped the warehouse, imported fuel, made iron stoves for tents, to work, without fear of night frosts. We got wooden barrels for water, and koshmas prepared the necessary products.

We were in a hurry, but the time flew by extremely fast. Finally, three of us - Yu.A. Orlov, VA Gromov, and Ya. M. Egon - managed to go to the Gobi as an advanced detachment to establish the base. It was decided to begin work within the most remote and difficult places in the Southbay Aimak Regional Center. Many advised us to start with the Eastern Gobi, which is closer and more accessible. In it, during the geological work of recent years, many places with remnants of fossil bones were discovered.

Nevertheless, we went to the South Gob. There, in unexplored areas, there were huge massifs of red rocks – deposits of ancient Central Asian land. In the large depressions between the newly risen ridges, we hoped to discover the rich locations of the remains of fossil animals. In other words, in the Eastern Gobi, the true success of the average hand was waiting for us. In the unexplored areas of the South Gobi, we were not sure if it was a failure or a major success. We could not be satisfied with the average result in the first expedition and so we went to South Gobi.

By the beginning of September, the composition of the expedition was definitively determined: three paleontologist professors, two experienced preparators and three chauffeurs. We were joined by an interpreter, Lubsan Danzan, who had just graduated from Moscow University, a geologist seconded from the Mongolian Committee of Sciences, as well as a chef and five young workers.

Our scientific forces combined successfully: Director of the Paleontological Institute, Professor Yu. A. Orlov was the largest specialist in the field of fossil mammals in the USSR; Professor VI Gromov was a specialist in later mammals and in Quaternary geology and I studied fossil reptiles and geology of ancient continental deposits. Our highly experienced laboratory technicians or paleontologists were versatile specialists, not only capable of extracting fossil bones from the hard rocks into which they are enclosed. The preparatory is a skillful person who knows and excavates and mounts the skeletons of extinct animals in the museum and who can also make gypsum reconstructions, restore missing parts and pieces, and much more.

Good craftsmen, of course, are rare and sometimes more important for science than other scientific workers. Such a craftsman of all trades, in addition to being a sculptor and wood carver, our chief excavator, J. M. Eglon was the most experienced excavator. Another important personnel, MF Lukyanova, the only woman on the expedition, was a skilled expert in cleaning the bones, fixing them and preserving them.

Our motor transport consisted of a three-axle three-ton and two half-ton trucks GAZ-AA. The three-ton was intended for the main transportation of cargo and collections to bases, a gasoline truck in long routes, and lorry as a light vehicle for all sorts of traveling.

Finally, I left Ulaanbaatar in mid-September to join my comrades who had gone a little earlier and had already made two short routes in the area of Dalan-Dzadagad (Seventy Sources), the aiming center of the South Gobi chosen by our base for Southbury research.

In Ulaanbaatar, the weather turned cold. Snow fell on the mountains around the city. From Bogdo-uli to the low and morose mountains of Chingilte in the north, the sky was covered with a continuous cover of whitish clouds. From the east, the peaks of the mountains of Bain-Dzurh (The Rich Heart) were given pink, where the sun began to make its way through the cloud cover.

A cold wind rushed into the cabin. Rocking and shaking, a heavily loaded machine crawled along with an endless rise. The layer of snow around was very thin, small stones and bundles of feather grass protruded from it. Therefore, instead of even snowy whiteness, the slopes seemed variegated. Black crushed stone with snow gave a clean gray tone on the slopes, and the grass, sticking out from under the snow, painted the mountains with a pale yellowness.

The road was actually, rolling on rocky, gravelly soil and rose along through the valley to the pass. Creeping clouds crawled lower and lower, the cold wind whistled more and more, and there seemed to be nowhere to hide from the cold in the desert Gobi plains at such a later time of the year.

Eagles were sitting at a distance in the hills, and the frown of predators was in harmony with the gloomy low clouds. In some places, the important tarangans clung to the stumps with curiosity and peered into the car, then hurried to the burrows, laughing boldly with greasy tasks. Gerbils fussed on the road, dived into barely noticeable holes in the densely rolled ground from the menacing, torn like wheels.

What is this trifle rummaging on the road itself? asked the driver of the three-ton, the driver of Androsov.

It’s a simple matter. On the road, the land is packed, it does not crumble over the entrance. It means the burrow is much easier to dig. And the burrow itself is stronger. It’s longer and harder to dig...

Here’s how! So, this is no accident?

In nature, there is no such thing as an accident!

To the left of the road, on a small level platform in front of a steep cliff, lay the corpse of a camel, frozen in an unusual pose - with legs bent under itself and a neck, high up. The skull fell and lay side by side. And the dead camel, like a gloomy statue, seemed to guard the desert valley. In general, we often found camel carcasses along the way. In the previous winter, animals died from snowdrifts in the mountains.

We got out of the valley and stopped at a huge stone pile, waiting for the lagging lorry. It’s about a meter and a half height, and was made of smooth, rolled stones, raised here from the river valleys.

Obo, if located on the pass, always unmistakably indicates its highest point, which is not always accurately determined by eye. Particularly, if on the sides of the road the slopes of the mountains create a deceptive picture of the ups and downs. It once – a kind of a victim to the spirit of the mountain – was then the road sign of nomads and caravans in the monotonous terrain.

In front of us, in the south, opened a wide ramp to the plain. The clouds were dispersed there, and the plain yellowed in the sunlight, revealing a far and bright expanse. The unusually transparent air of Mongolia looked away for dozens of kilometers. There was a new mountain range, but low, blue and friendly.

The sun lit up the top of the pass, and it immediately became warmer. A lorry approached, and both cars rushed down to the broad plain, breaking out of the gloomy, snow-covered mountains. In the evening, we drove two Somonas, which were in former monasteries and were distinguished by a great number of warehouses. These warehouses were arranged in countless wooden houses - once separate cells of lamas. We stopped for the night in a labyrinth of granite blocks, not far from the center of the Middle Doble Aimag Dundu, or Mandal Gobi (Average, or Reborn, Gobi).

The next day, everything changed. A bright, clear sky hung over the vast expanse of monotonous plains interspersed with flat hills or rare ridges of low rocks. The sun burnt gray and rare grass - low wormwood, a rare hummock. The hot wind rustled the dais, the metal wall of the cabin from the side of the sun was very hot. The road became better, more even, small rivers long ago disappeared, and instead of them, there were wide dry channels from temporary water streams. Machines quickly raced, first rising, then descending from the gentle hills, and dozens of kilometers of the road slipped back unnoticed.

The farther to the south, the more barren the steppe became. The vegetation was made less frequently and less often, and almost ever more almost bare, covered with monochromatic dark brown gravel.

Chapter Two

For three wonderful

Knowledge - the highest wealth, the home - the middle, the cattle - the lowest.

- An old proverb

Long before the arrival of our vehicles, the government of the Mongolian People’s Republic notified the Gobi regional centers (aimaks) about the arrival of the expedition, ordering that they assist us. In Southbay aimak (Dalan-Dzadagad), which was supposed to be the center of our research, came a government commissioner who, among other things, had to find people who knew about the finds of dragon bones. The commissioner himself saw the dragon bones in his childhood, and his relatives and friends were connoisseurs of the Gobi. On his call, the old arats arrived from distant places and stopped near Dalan-Dzadagad, waiting for the arrival of an authorized person who promised to visit their homes, that is, in nomadic yurts.

The sun descended to the rocky peaks of Gurban-Sayhan (Three Beautiful). The ridge piled above the flat, gravelly plain, blocking the way to the south, gleaming severely with wind-polished clouts. In a small rut, the thickets of déris were fluttering in a weak wind with a white and yellow mane framing the foot of a small hill. On the hill, there were almost two yurts, covered with motley, withered species. At the nearest entrance of the yurt to the gully, facing the ridge, sat three arats who smoked long pipes.

It’s late, Venerable Balsandorj, said the youngest of the interlocutors, Horlo. Your brother Zeven has in vain put on his new deli: from the aimak there is half a quarter, and the important chief will not go to bed.

The old man Balsandorj stroked the beard that had grown on two palms and shook his head, No, my Lodoy Damba never deceives anyone. He is the son of my best friend and me as a son. We taught the children that it is better to break their bones than their honor!

The elderly broad-leaved arat in the cherry divide. Tseven, brother of the old man, smiled approvingly, knocked ash from the tube into a silver cup and showed it with a jade mouthpiece to the east. From there a lone horseman was approaching quickly. The sharp eyes of the steppe people immediately noticed that he was in an uncomfortable European suit.

He did not have time to change, probably, directly from the council, muttered the old man, dejectedly.

What hasty business made him so hurry? asked Horlo.

Lodoy Damba came from Ulan Bator on behalf of the marshal, Balsandorj responded quietly, to find people who know where the dragon bones lie. Scientists arrived from the Soviet country. They want to watch these bones, dig them up, study and explain to our people what it is. So, he needs two old men – me and Tseven. We both drove the caravans in former times, and we know a lot of places in the Gobi, saw the dragon bones.

Bones of the Dragon... ha! Ha! ... fairy tales ...how can scientists from the great Land of Soviets search for nonexistent ...? the young arat laughed frankly. The old men frowned and looked at each other.

Later, the grown horns are longer than the ears that grew earlier, Tseven said softly and venomously. Horlo broke out, stopped, and began to look at the approaching guest – a short and thin man, in an excellent light gray suit.

Lodoy Damba shook off the dust and quickly approached the old men, smiling broadly.

So, we met, honored Balsandorj! he shouted joyfully and bowed respectfully to the old men who hastened to meet him.

We received your letter and yesterday waited for you. But it’s nothing... the old man interrupted the guest’s apology. But Tseven and I remembered the places where the dragon bones are stored. Zeven is ready to lead a Soviet expedition there. We talked about this when Zeven saw you, and Horlo’s neighbor found our conversation funny.

Not at all, protested the young arat. I just wanted an explanation. After all, I also went to school and learned that dragons never existed. These are ladies’ tales and these tales came to us from China. And now, the Chinese themselves do not believe in dragons.

I said the same words to Balsandorj, coming from school twenty-five years ago, Loda Damba said thoughtfully, and then ... He paused, looking at the slope of the nearby hill. There, like a big black tag on a lodging for the night, a sunset shadow stretched out.

And then you believed? Again, Horlo could not resist.

Loda Damba laughed softly, I’ll have to tell you, otherwise, it will turn out that I’m an instructor of the Central Committee of the People’s Revolutionary Party, I stand for religious vestiges.

Loda Damba pulled up his ironed trousers, bent his legs under him and began in a measured voice, The dragon, flying past, approached the ground, fell and died. His bones went deep into the ground and became stone. First, he hit the ground with his tail and hind paws, there are now these remains in the mountains of Unegate (The Color Mountains). The head and trunk fell one and a half inches further to the west, in the mountains of Zsostu-Undur-Hara (Ohristo-black height). That’s the size of a dragon!

That’s what Balsandorj told me twenty-five years ago, continued Lodoy Damba. Our yurts stood at Dzabkhan (Spilling out), and it was not far from Unegat. I, just as now you, Horlo, denied the dragons. Then, my father came and confirmed that thirty years ago he was walking here with a caravan, he saw the dragon bones."

Balsandorj and I saddled our horses and rode off. Soon, there were well paths, in the distance appeared low red hills. There were a lot of hills, they were round and low and stood in pairs. We rode for a long time, I obediently followed Balsandorzh, and he turned his head like a vulture and wiped his sweaty forehead with his hat. Finally, he gave a cheerful cry and jumped off his horse. We came to an even area, surrounded by five very low mounds. Everywhere lay giant bones of such size that they could not belong to any of the animals that live with us. It was impossible to make a mistake – the bones were as white as any bones in the steppes. I distinguished grandmothers by the size of twenty mutton, terrible claws, crooked, more and thicker than a long knife.

Further, behind the mounds, there were dozens of bones. I stood in silence. In my head, which had just been freed from the Lama science, it became dull. No one has ever seen dragons. I firmly knew that dragons are the same product of religious invention as all thousands of spirits and demons of the Buddhist sky and hell, but before me lay monstrous bones! Some seemed completely fresh, as if a dead dragon had collapsed here, into these red mounds, just a moon back. I carefully lifted a huge claw – strong, heavy and dense – and silently jumped into the saddle. Balsandorj took pity on my confusion and told me that there are many places in the Gobi where people met dragon bones. For some reason, the bones always lie among the barren cliffs of red clay and sand. They say that the dragon destroys everything alive around it

The narrator drank a cup of tea and listened. The dull and prolonged noise grew from the west. Suddenly, a whirlwind whirled, slammed the open door of the yurt and flew away in a dusty fog. A smooth and cool wind blew after the whirlwind. The nightmare slammed in an open tone, and it became dark in the yurt.

The wind came for the night, said Balsandorj, now they will light the lamp. You say so well, Loda Damba, so I see everything clearly before me and again I go along with you along the red boograms.

I was very impressed then, Loda Damba responded, as if from a high pass I saw a new country, and I remembered everything. Listen further. We came to our yurts at night and sat and talked for a long time. My father said that Balsandorj, therefore, knows a lot about the bones of the dragon; that his younger cousin Tseven, led caravans along the Great Bypass road through the Black Gobi and along the Windy Road. There, on the northern outskirts of the Black Gobi, in even more desolate and barren places, lies a lot of bones of giant dragons. That’s where the Soviet expedition should be conducted!

Balsandorzh and Tseven as on command have stuffed a tube.

It’s very far away, there, said Zaven, waved his hand toward the ridge, will the Soviet people go there? And if they go, will their cars pass?

I know Russian people, Balsandorj said. They’ll go wherever you need, but you, dear brother, are you not too old for this way?

I’m old. It’s nothing, we’ll find a guide younger. I will tell him, so I will tell him that he will find himself born there! Exclaimed Zeven with excitement.

Lodoy Damba smiled approvingly.

Two weeks after the departure of the commissioner, our vehicles, heavily loaded with equipment and fuel, slowly moved along the Middle Gobi. After a night’s lodging among the large stones on the grassy plain at Mandal-Gobi, we entered the real Gobi – gravelly, black, with rarely scattered bushes of grass. For several hours the tires rattled monotonously on the rubble. It was getting hotter as if the September sun was getting younger by the hour.

We made a stop for lunch at the ruined adobe walls of the ruins of Oldahu-hid (Found Monastery). A long row of broken white suburgan bowls fenced off the ruins from the flat, gravelly ridges from the north. From the south, directly to the walls came a huge, completely dead plain. The red clay of barren soil shone through the black fine gravel. Deep grooves which were traces of automobile wheels, plowed the plain in different directions – attempts by unknown drivers to break through the clay that had become soaked during the July downpours or spring snowmelt. Now, this plain did not pose any danger – the rains had long since ended, and there was dry clay many meters deep.

The cars had hardly stopped when the heavy heat surrounded us. The still air between the walls was literally heated. We took shelter from the direct sun into the shadow of the cars, ate and took a short nap. However, there was no time to rest; we intended to get to Dalan-Dzadagad that day, but there was still one hundred and ninety kilometers.

So, we set out on the dead plain, ignoring the growing heat. Rubbing the ears burned by the sun and scorching wind, I was pleased to note the huge difference between the weather in Ulaanbaatar and here in the Gobi; although we drove away from the capital of the republic only four hundred kilometers straight to the south, which is about four degrees in latitude. On the sides of the rubble was dark, and on the road itself it was much lighter - a deserted tan was wiped off the wheels with stones and was poured with dust, which made the whole road light gray. In the Gobi, when the sun is high, pure gray appears blue or light blue. I often met this phenomenon more than once. And now, under the scorching sun, on a dark gravelly plain, a bright blue road to the distance was blazing, near, in front of the radiator of the car, which seemed completely blue. Strange and unusual possibilities gave the imagination an unusual way of color.

As the clock went on, the sun came down and went away, the blue color of the rubble of the road was replaced by a reddish-gray. Two Mongolian ZIS-5 vehicles met. Unlike us, the local drivers furiously drove along with the bumps and pits and the cars jerked, tossed and rocked so that it was a pity to look at them. In addition, the comb went, and our movement slowed down.

A short autumn day was long over, and in the light of the headlights, everything stretched and strained a rutted bumpy road that crossed the clay basin. When braking in front of the pits, a whirlwind of dense dust with a hot breath of spent gasoline immediately overtook us, enveloped us in a dense cloud, hammered into the cabin and dissipated only when the car was picking up the course.

In the dead of night, we arrived in the aimak and drove up to a building standing alone on the very edge of the village, enclosed by an adobe solid wall. It was a local police club assigned to our base. Early in the morning, I went to inspect the base and aimak.

An old, leaky yurt at the corner of the yard was turned into a kitchen. In there, breakfast was already being prepared. A square of blind walls framed the whole house - protection from the terrible Gobi winds. Only one narrow doorway opened to the east. On the other side of the house, there was a large storage room leading to a long narrow passage between the wall and the house. There, we equipped a storeroom and a photo lab. Thanks to this wisely conceived wall, our new base looked even cozier compared to other houses that stood quite openly.

I went through the doorway. Both cars stood in front of the entrance; red Gobi dust was firmly gathered on their wheels, hoods, and wings. Aimak - separate stone houses, picturesque yurts, and tall masts of a radio station, a number of shops, a group of white hospital buildings and a large school that was on the move - was put here only a few years ago, and earlier it was significantly north to Delgher Khangai). Therefore, the yurts were many times larger than the houses, but the construction continued; in the center, not far from the aimak office, the foundations of three large houses were laid out.

Aimak Dalan-Dzadagad is located on a flat, gravelly and deserted plain stretching far to the west and to the east. From the north, for hundreds of kilometers, stretched the same and perhaps even more barren plains. They were sometimes interrupted by ridges of hills and chains of low, Rocky Mountains or clayey depressions – hollows.

From the south above the plain and aimak, the wall of a steep and high ridge appeared. Massive rocks majestically piled on the canopy of the base of the Bel. The ridge went off obliquely to the west and broke up into three massifs, separated by wide through valleys. This was Gurban-Sayhan (Three Beautiful), the eastern extremity of the Gobi Altai. The names of the mountains in Mongolia are the vestiges of the ancient pantheistic shamanism that remained and was assimilated by Buddhism, which managed to perfectly use the innumerable gods and devils of the primitive, intimidated by the forces of natural thought. With the obsequious attitude of the ancient travelers to the mountains, which sent the indefatigable winds, the snow and severe cold and the fatal downpours, the real names of the mountains could not be pronounced, and they were forgotten. Therefore, the largest mountains still bear generalized names: Sayhan Bogdo, Khairkhan - the Beautiful, the Holy One. Gracious, to which is added some distinctive adjective.

There was nothing beautiful in these Three Beautiful, arrogantly hanging over the protruded end at their foot aymak. But greatness, of course, felt in the steep and polished winds of the edges of gigantic naked rocks.

I went on

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