Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara


Light in the Desert

“Arantan” cries out lama Sange, as he reins in his horse. Between two hills in the morning mist leap the outlines of galloping horsemen with a spear and long rifles.

Now they are surely here! These are the same fifty horsemen of whom we were warned by the unknown well-wisher who came galloping to us from the mountains. Our road is intercepted. The attack will begin from the hill. Our forces are divided. The Torguts—our best shots—are far behind. Konchok and Tsering are with the camels. There is also Tashi and the other Konchok from Koko-nur. But behind us is a hill, a high one. If we succeed in reaching it, we gain a commanding position over the entire site. And there we can gather our forces. The enemy in groups approaches the next hill but we waste no time. We reach the hill. We are prepared. Osher and Dorje ride out to meet the enemy and wave a hatik. Osher calls out and his Mongolian address is heard far around. He calls: “Beware of touching great people; if some one dares, he will feel the power of mighty arms which can demolish an entire city in ten minutes.” The Panagis huddle together in a group. They listen to Osher and count our arms. Even our lama, Malonoff, has put a spade into his gun-case and threatens them. The counting of arms is in our favor. The Panagis do not dare an open battle. They lower their rifles. Only one long spear, as before, remains rising in mid-air.

“Can you sell this spear? I want to buy it.” Our enemy smiles. “No, this spear is our friend. We cannot part with it.” Afterwards I heard that this spear was a sign of war and that riders leave their yurtas only in case of hostile intentions. Our enemy, finally deciding to abandon hostilities, begins to relate some long story about a lost white horse which they had gone to search. This story about a lost white horse is already familiar to us. In other parts of Asia suspicious strangers would also begin a story about a lost horse, thus hiding their original intentions.

When we spread our tents, we saw how the herds were being driven home, from the mountains to the far-off yurtas. This also was a characteristic sign that a battle had been resolved upon.

Strange riders went to the mountains, in different directions. Did they ride to retrieve their hidden possessions or to summon new allies?

One must be ready for unexpected events and one’s arms must always be at hand.

Towards evening, when the bonfires of peace were already lit, some of our “enemies” came to the camp. Their special interest concerned our firearms. With astonishment we learnt that this wild tribe knows such words as “mauser,” “browning,” “nogan,” and were discussing very profoundly the quality of our rifles.

Again they went back and nobody knew what final decision they had taken. But they asked us, under various pretexts, to stay there one day more. Who knows! perhaps expecting some help on their side.

In spite of the peaceful fires of the camp we took measures against a night attack. In two points, defending the camp from two sides, dugouts were made in the soft sandy ground. The watch was increased and a post was assigned to every one, which he had to occupy in case of alarm.

Before the dawn we discovered the loss of a few camels. After long searches they were found in a very strange place, between the rocks. Perhaps some one hoped that we would depart, disappointed at being unable to find our animals.

The sun was already setting when we moved towards the pass, with guards flanking both sides of our caravan.

Again, strange armed riders rode past us. They dismounted from their horses and stood with their long rifles. Some of our men also dismounted and paraded before them with their rifles ready.

Passing a stony way we came to the pass, and suddenly we heard two rifle shots in the far distance. Later, on the very edge of the mountains we saw our vanguard with his rifle over his head. This was a sign of warning. We again took position and two of our men with field glasses approached the danger zone. Several minutes passed, they examined something and then we saw a signal—”no danger.”

When we came near, our vanguards were still looking through the field glasses. One of them insisted that something had happened and that probably one of our Torguts and a horse were shot. But the other noticed that our mule detachment was proceeding without any obstacles and behind it was a black spot outlining several figures below the pass.

This must be something free from danger. Descending from the pass, we saw in the distance huge herds of wild yaks—several hundred heads—so typical of the mountains of Marco Polo. By now it was apparent to us that the black mass below was a huge yak, which had been shot and was being skinned by our Torguts.

But the danger of an attack had not completely vanished. Our Mongols insisted that the Panagis would not attack us near their yurtas, fearing that, in case of defeat, their yurtas would be set on fire. But that beyond the pass, in a far more isolated spot, there would be greater possibility of an attack. The Mongolian lama Sange was frightened to such an extent by these hypotheses, that he approached us with a white hatik in his hand and begged our leave that all Mongols depart and return at once to their homes. But we did not accept the hatik and this entirely unpleasant discussion remained hanging in the air.

Accidentally, another circumstance was already hurrying to our aid.

The local deities, in spite of September, had been spilling thunder for some time in the mountains and our Mongols whispered that the powerful god, Lo, was very angry at the Panagis for their evil motives. After the thunder and lightning, heavy snow began to fall, which was most unusual for that time of the year. The courage returned to our Mongols and they shouted: “You see the wrath of the gods! They are helping us! The Panagis never attack in snow, because we could persecute them, following their traces!”

But nevertheless our camp was a gloomy one. Through the blizzards the fires burned but dimly and the voices of the sentinels sounded faintly.

I recall another stop, also around bonfires, but other fires are seen in the distance. These are the camps of the Golloks. The entire night they shout: “ki-ho-ho!” and our horpas answer: “Hoyo hey!” By these distant calls the camps announce to each other that they are vigilant and ready to resist and fight. It means nothing, that at sunset the men were still visiting each other, for with the departure of the sun and the opposite luminary in sway, the mind may also change. And suddenly the fires of peace may be extinguished!

Again a snowfall. Huge sharp rocks surround the camp; gigantic shadows are throwing open their flat ridges. Around the fire sit some drooped figures. Even at a distance you see one of them lifting up his arms, and, against the red streams of fire, you see his ten fingers. He is ardently recounting something. He counts the innumerable army of Shambhala. He speaks about the unconquerable weapons of these legions; how the great conqueror, the ruler of Shambhala himself, leads them. How no one knows whence they come, but they destroy all that is unjust. And behind them follows the happiness and prosperity of the countries. Messengers of the ruler of Shambhala appear everywhere. And as an answer to this tale, on the opposite rock there appears a gigantic shadow! And some one, all golden in the rays of the fire, descends from the mountain. Everybody is ready for most exalted news. But he who comes is a yak driver. Nevertheless he brings good news; that the yaks for Sanju Pass are ready. Good news! But the charm of a fairytale is gone. With disappointment they throw new tar roots into the fire.

And the fire hisses and sinks again. On a guilded yellow stone, surrounded by the violet mountains with snowy white peaks, under the dome of the blue sky, they sit closely. And on the long stone something in shiny bright colors is stretched out. In a yellow high hat, a lama is relating something to an attentive listener, while with a stick, he points to something illustrating his story. This bright-colored picture is an image of Chang Shambhala.

Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: