Read on for a rare Indiana Jones style story which has been picked up by the BBC…
Danzan Ravjaa (1803-1856), the Fifth Noyon Incarnate Lama of the Gobi Desert, is perhaps Mongolia’s most beloved saint. The Fourth had caused so many scandals that the Manchu Emperor of the day banned his reincarnation. Consequently, when the young child was enthroned as the Fifth, the Emperor issued an edict of execution on the boy and all associated with the event. The child was only saved by the personal intervention of the Panchen Lama and a letter of appeal from the young Ninth Dalai Lama. Their efforts proved well worthwhile, for the boy went on to become one of the greatest mystics and creative geniuses of 19th-century Mongolia.
Danzan Ravjaa founded monasteries, wrote poetry, and promoted education and social reform. His unconventional life of women, theatre and alcohol was cut short by a cup of poisoned vodka.
In 1937, the Buddhist treasures of the lama — art, statues and manuscripts among them — were buried in the desert by the caretaker of his legacy, to protect it from destruction by the new communist authorities. The caretaker’s grandson Altangerel is the only person alive today who knows the precise location of the crates. Some have already been recovered, and the artefacts found within them are on display at the Danzan Ravjaa Museum in Sainshand, 400km from Ulaanbaatar. But another 15 remain where they were buried over 70 years ago.
Today, two of the last treasure crates will be unearthed, and the event is to be televised live to raise funds for Altangerel’s museum. Tune in to this event over the internet at Gobi Treasure Hunt 2009, and learn more about Ravjaa’s legacy from Michael Kohn’s new book: Lama of the Gobi.