A huge black vulture rushes over the camp.
But what is this high above in the air? A shiny body flying from north to south. Field glasses are at hand. It is a huge body. One side glows in the sun. It is oval in shape. Then it somehow turns in another direction and disappears in the southwest, behind Ulandavan, the red pass in the Humboldt chain. The whole caravan excitedly discusses this apparition. An air balloon? An Ebolite? An unknown apparatus? Not a vision, because through several field glasses you cannot see visions. And then the lama whispers: “A good sign. A very good sign. We are protected. Rigden-jyepo himself is looking after us!” In the desert you can see wonderful things and you can smell fragrant perfumes. But they who live in the desert are never astonished.
Again around the bonfire ten fingers are raised and a story, convincing in its simplicity and reality, will uplift the human heart. Now the story is about the famous black stone. In beautiful descriptive symbols the old traveler will tell to the awed audience how from times immemorial from some other world fell down a miraculous stone—the Chintamani of the Hindus and Norbu-rin-poche of the Tibetans and Mongols. Now since these times, a part of the stone is traveling on earth, manifesting the new era and greatest world events. How some ruler possessed this stone and how the forces of darkness tried to steal the stone.
Your friend, listening to this legend, will whisper to you: “The stone is black, ‘vile’ and ‘fetid’ and it is called the origin of the world. And it springs up like germinating things. So dreamed Paracelsus.” And another of your companions smiles: “Lapis exilis, the Wandering stone of the Meistersinger.”
But the narrator of the fire continues his tale about miraculous powers of the stone, how, by all sorts of manifestations, this stone is indicating all kinds of events and the nature of existence.
“When the stone is hot, when the stone quivers, when the stone is cracking, when the stone changes its weight and color—by these changes the stone predicts to its possessor the whole future and gives him the ability to know his enemies and hostile dangers as well as happy events.”
One of the listeners asks: “Is not this stone on the tower of the Rigden-jyepo, whose rays penetrate all oceans and mountains for the benefit of humanity?”
And the narrator continues: “The black stone is wandering on earth. We know that a Chinese Emperor and Tamerlane possessed this stone. And authoritative people say, that the Great Suleiman and Akbar had it in their possession and through this stone their might was augmented. ‘Treasure of the World’ this stone is called.”
The bonfires are burning like old fires of sacrifice.
You are entering your tent. All is calm and usual. In the usual surroundings it is difficult to imagine something unreal and unrepeatable. You touch your bed—and suddenly there leaps up a flame. A silvery-blue flame. Entering through the gates of the practical you attempt to act in the usual way, trying to extinguish it. The flame does not burn your hand, it is slightly warm—warm and vital as life itself. Without noise or odor it moves, issuing long tongues. This is not a phosphorescence—this is a living substance. The fire coming from space by a happy combination of elements. An intangible moment passes. And the unceasing flame begins to droop as mysteriously as it was born. It is dark in the tent and not a trace is left of that phenomena which you felt and saw in full reality. And another time. In another place, also at night, out of your fingers the flame leapt up and rushed through all the objects touched by you, not harming them. Again you come in contact with some inexpressible combination of currents. This occurs only on heights. The bonfires did not yet grow brighter, when a shot resounded in the twilight. Who is shooting?
Tashi has killed a snake. What a strange snake! With a sort of beard, gray with black and gray shadings.
Around the fires long stories are told about snakes. One Mongol tells:
“If somebody does not fear the snakes, he should grab them by their tail and should shake them very strongly. And the snake will become as hard as a stick, until you will shake it again.”
My companion was bending down to me:
“You remember the Biblical staff of Moses, how he manifested a miracle, when the staff was transformed into a snake. Maybe he used a cataleptic snake and with a powerful gesture returned her to life.”
Many Biblical signs are to be remembered in the desert. Look at these huge pillars of sand, which suddenly appear and move for a long time as dense masses. This miraculous pillar, which moved before Moses, is so clearly vi-sioned by him who knows the desert wanderings—and again you remember the burning and unburnable bush of Moses. After seeing the unceasing flame in your tent such a bush is for you no longer an impossible miracle, but a reality that lives only in the desert. When you hear how the great Mahatma traveled on horseback for the fulfilment of undelayable high missions you also do not wonder, because you know of the existence of the Mahatmas. You know their great wisdom. Many things which absolutely cannot find a place in the life of the West—here in the East are becoming simple.
There are still more Biblical echoes. On the very summit of a mountain several stones can be seen. Some ruins, probably.
“This is the throne of Suleiman,” explains the leader of the caravan to you.
“But how does it happen that throughout Asia everywhere there are to be seen thrones of Solomon. We have seen them in Srinagar, near Kashgar; there are several in Persia.”
But the caravaneer does not give up his favorite idea.
“Certainly there are many thrones of the Great King Suleiman. He was wise and powerful. He had an apparatus to fly all over many lands. Stupid people, they think that he used a flying carpet, but learned men know that the King possessed an apparatus. Truly it could not fly very high, still it could move in the air.”
So again something of the way of the traveling is revealed, but the old flying carpet has been given up.
In the same way the stories of the conquests of Alexander the Great are mixed up. On one side the Great Conqueror is linked with Geser Khan, in another version he is the Emperor of India. But to Geser Khan is attributed quite an elaborate myth. It tells about the birthplace of the beloved hero. In a romantic way are described his wife Bruguma, his castle and his conquests, which were always for the benefit of humanity. Quite simply a Horpa will tell you about a palace of Geser Khan in the Kham province, where the swords of his innumerable warriors were used instead of beams. Singing and dancing in the honor of Geser Khan, Horpa offers to procure one of these inconquerable swords. Sands and stones are around, but still the idea of inconquerability is living.
In Europe when you hear about a city of a robber-conqueror you think that perhaps you have something of the old tales of Spain or Corsica. But here, in the desert, when you hear that your next stop shall be before the walls of the city of the famous Ja-lama, the bandit of Central Gobi, you are not a bit astonished. You only look over your arms and ask what kind of an attire is most suitable for this encounter: European, Mongolian or Sartian. During the night you hear dogs barking, and your men say calmly: “Those are the dogs of the men of Ja-lama. Ja-lama himself has already been killed by the Mongols, but his band has not scattered as yet. During the night, in the red flames of the bonfires you can again see the ten fingers. Some stories about the awe-inspiring Ja-lama and his cruel companions are being told. How he stopped big caravans, how he took many people as captives and how hundreds of these involuntary slaves worked upon the construction of the walls and towers of his city which gave life to the solitude of Central Gobi. It is told in what battles Ja-lama was victorious, what supernatural powers he possessed, how he could give most terrorizing orders and they were executed at once. How, following his orders, ears, noses and hands of the disobedient ones were cut off, and the living witnesses of his terrible powers were set to go free.