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


Light in the Desert

In the middle there is the ruler, the Blessed Rigden-jyepo, and above him, Buddha. Many magnificent offerings and treasures are displayed before the Ruler, but His hand does not touch them and His eyes do not seek them. On the palm of His hand, stretched out in blessing, you can see the sign of high distinction. He is blessing the humanity of the future. He is on His Watchtower, helping the good and destroying the sinners. His thought is an eternal, victorious battle. He is the light destroying the darkness. The lower part of the picture shows the great battle under the guidance of the Ruler Himself. Hard is the fate of the enemies of Shambhala. A just wrath colors the purple blue clouds. The warriors of Rigden-jyepo, in splendid armor with swords and spears, are pursuing their terrified enemies. Many of them are already prostrated and their firearms, big hats and all their possessions are scattered upon the battlefield. Some of them are dying, destroyed by the just hand. Their leader is already smitten, and lies spread under the steed of the great warrior, the blessed Rigden. Behind the Ruler, on chariots, follow fearful cannons, which no walls can withstand. Some of the enemy, kneeling, beg for mercy, or attempt to escape their fate on the backs of elephants. But the sword of justice overtakes defamers. Darkness must be annihilated. The point of the lama’s stick follows the course of the battle.

In the silence of the desert evening, seated around a bonfire, the sacred history of the Victory of the Light is related. Ten fingers are not accounted sufficient to indicate the number of legions of Shambhala. No hyperboles are adequate to describe the might of the King of the World.

Amidst the all-conquering frost, the bonfires appear meager and without warmth. The short period from eleven to one seems somewhat warmer, but after one o’clock the frost is augmented by a sharp wind and the heaviest fur coat becomes no warmer than light silk. For the doctor there is a wonderful possibility to observe the extraordinary conditions of altitude. The pulse of E. I. reaches 145, or as the doctor says becomes as that of a bird. Instead of 64, which is my normal pulse, I have a pulse of 130. The ears ring, as if all the cicadas of India were gathered together. We are attacked by snow blindness. Afterwards, it is followed by an extraordinary sensation: the eye sees everything double and both reflections are equally strong! Two caravans, two flocks of ravens, a double silhouette of the mountains.

Our doctor prophesies that with such frosts, the heart, already exhausted by the altitude, will begin to get weaker and during the coldest night a man may fall asleep forever.

The doctor writes another medical certificate: “Further detainment of the expedition will be considered as an organized attempt on the lives of the members of the expedition.”

Early one morning, when the sun had just touched the highest summits, the doctor came in quite excited, but satisfied, exclaiming: “There you have the results of our situation! Even brandy is frozen! And so, all that lives may become frozen and quiet forever!” He was told: “Certainly, if we desire to freeze, we shall be frozen. But there is a remarkable thing, like psychic energy, which is warmer than fire and more nourishing than bread. The chief thing in cases like this, is to preserve our calm, because irritation deprives us of our best psychic weapon.”

Naturally, I do not blame the doctor for his pessimism; the usual medicines, in such unusual situations, do not have good results. Moreover, the chief medicine of his supplies, strophanthin, is at its end. And of the other needed medicines—adonis vernalis—he could produce only an empty bottle.

Fuel is almost impossible to get. For a bag of argal the inhabitants of the black tents demand large sums of money. And each one prefers some special coins. One requires old imperial Chinese tads; another insists on coins with a figure—a dollar from Sinkiang; the third wants money with the head of Hun-Chang and with seven letters, and still another desires this same coin with six letters. One person will only sell for silver Indian rupees. But nobody accepts American or Mexican dollars, nor the Tibetan copper sho, despite the imposing inscription upon it: “The government victorious in all directions.”

But what gives their warmth to the modest bonfires? In spite of an indescribable cold, ten fingers are again uplifted. First they are lifted to count the frozen caravans and then to enumerate the numberless armies of sacred warriors, which shall descend from the Holy Mountain to erase all criminal elements. And during these stories of fiery battles, of victory, of righteousness over the dark forces, the bonfires begin to glow and the ten uplifted fingers apparently cease to feel the cold. Bonfires of the cold!

A black mass moves quickly up a very steep rock. Wild yak herds of no less than three hundred heads flee from the caravan. Our Mongolian shooters sit up, move their rifles and try to slow up and remain behind the caravan. But we know their tricks. Although they are Buddhists, and around their necks and even on their backs they have incense bags and small caskets containing sacred images, above all they are shooters, hunters, and great is their desire to send a sharp shot into the black mass of fleeing yaks. The hunters stop.

“Osher, Dorje and Manji, listen, you must not shoot! You have food in abundance!”

But does a hunter shoot for food? Far away on the flint-stone plains a black mass can be seen again. It is still larger, and even more dense. There is something awe-inspiring in such a large herd of wild yaks. This time the Mongols themselves advise us to take a side path and go around the herd, for they estimate the herd at a thousand yaks. And there may be very old and fierce ones among them.

But as regards hunting kyangs, the Mongols are unre-strainable. Fines were levied in the camp for every unnecessary shot, and also for wilful absence from the camp.

But what can one do when a hunter, despite this, disappears behind a neighboring hill and returns, some two hours later, with the still bloody skin of a kyang thrown over the rump of the horse and with pieces of meat, hastily cut from the carcass, hung all around the saddle? They are just like the Hunn horsemen carrying their meat under their saddles. All smeared with blood, the hunter smiles. Whether you punish him or not his passion is satisfied. And the other Buddhists also watch you disapprovingly for your prohibition to kill animals. They all simply delight at the thought of having fresh meat of yaks or kyangs roasting over their evening fires.

An antelope, pursued by a wolf, runs right into the caravan. The riflers, under restraint, look covetously. But, if people may be restrained, you cannot restrain a dog, and the poor antelope soon finds itself between two fires. However the wolf is also frightened in the neighborhood of the caravan, and turning aside takes off, jumping instead of leaping. But the antelope will escape the dogs. Even the mountain hen and small wild goats make fools of the Mongolian dogs, and lead them far away from their young ones.

And here are the bears! Dark brown with wide white collars. At night they come quite close to the camp and if it were not for the dogs, they would satisfy their curiosity calmly without any attempt at escape by daytime also. Now we move along the riverbed of the clear Buren-gol. Under the hoofs of the horses, blue copper-oxides shine like the best of turquoises. Above us is a steep rock and at the very edge of it a huge bear keeps pace with our caravan, watching us curiously. Who will touch him, and for what?

But certain species of animals have become real enemies of the caravan. Those are the marmots, the tabagans and the, shrewmice. The whole district is undermined by their innumerable burrows. Despite the greatest care, the horses often slip, and at once they are up to their knees in these underground cities. Not a day passes without a horse slipping into the treacherous excavations of these burrowers.

In the evening the Tibetan Konchok brings two mountain pheasants up to the bonfires. How he caught them barehanded, remains a riddle. One need hardly guess who it is that wants to kill and eat them, but there are also voices for their release. We again turn towards the Buddhist covenants and after some bargaining, we exchange the birds for a Chinese tael. And a minute later both prisoners gaily flit away in the direction of the mountains.

The fox hunts mountain partridges; a kite watches a hare and the dogs zealously chase marmots. The animal kingdom lives its own law. The last case regarding the animal kingdom concerned three hens. From Suchow we had taken with us a cock and two hens, and the latter dutifully presented us with eggs every day, notwithstanding the unpleasant stirring up they got during the daily voyage. However, when there was nothing more left with which to feed the fowl, we presented them to a Tibetan officer. The eye of a searcher noticed the absence of the hens and he immediately reported it to the governor. A very lengthy correspondence was started regarding whether we had eaten the three fowls. In fact there were even letters to Lhassa about it.

And again, by the light of the night bonfires, our shaggy Tibetans assembled and, blinking to each other, told the latest gossip from the neighboring dzong, as usual, deriding their Governor. And the same warming fire, which just before had been the scene of inspired narratives about Shambhala, now illumined the faces that were condemning the officials of Lhassa.

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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: