EXPERIENCE MONGO L IAN C AL L IGR APHY
But even the losers don’t take things too hard, since the game is less of a competition and more of an excuse for a rowdy gathering.
Despite the Mongols’ reputation as a warlike people – and their popular games being derived from precisely such pursuits – their sophisticated side shines through in Mongolian calligraphy, a handwriting technique that delineates the classical Mongolian script, Hudum Mongol Bichig, in vertical lines on paper made of mulberry bark. The characters are formed using a brush and consist of 90 letters connected vertically by continuous strokes to create words. This calligraphy often adorns stationery on special occasions, such as official invitations and love letters, as well as old Mongolian emblems, coins and stamps.
Created in the 7th century, Hudum Mongol Bichig is the world’s only vertical script written from left to right. Used widely until the forceful introduction of Cyrillic by the Soviet Union on Outer Mongolia, it is dying out today – and along with it the calligraphy with which it is inscribed. To save the art, three middle-aged scholars are voluntarily training young calligraphers, but mastery takes years of disciplined practice, a reality that tests the patience of youngsters.
Though the Gobi is harsh, progress is still harsher, and Mongolia is seeing many customs, like camel coaxing and calligraphy, enter UNESCO’S List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding as they fade from use. But the nomadic lifestyle is finding ways to survive, and for now, those who come across a caravan of nomads in the desert can still expect to be offered a warm welcome, shelter in a yurt, and a cup of salty tea made with camel’s milk. ag
Though the Gobi is harsh, progress is still harsher, and Mongolia is seeing many customs in need of urgent safeguarding as they fade from use WHEN WHERE HOW