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Sacred Mountains of Mongolia

Date of Submission: 23/11/2015
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
Ref.: 6068

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1. Otgontenger Mountain

Otgon soum, Zavkhan province

2. Eej Khairkhan Mountain

Tsogt soum, Govi-Altai province

3. Khanbayanzurkh Mountain

Sainshand soum, Dornogovi province

4. The Great Bogd Mountian

Bogd, Jinst, Bayangovi and Bayanlig soums, Bayankhongor province

5. Altan Ovoo Mountain

Dariganga soum, Sukhbaatar province

6. Sutai Khairkhan Mountain

Tonkhil and Darvi soums, Govi-Altai province; and Darvi and Tsetseg soums, Khovd province

1. Otgontenger Mountain

N49° 30' 50" E97° 20' 50"      

2. Eej Khairkhan Mountain

N44° 56' 65" E44° 56' 30.65"

3. Khanbayanzurkh Mountain

N44° 41' 38" E111° 02' 43"

4. The Great Bogd Mountian

N44° 59' 35" E100° 13' 55"    

5. Altan Ovoo Mountain

N45° 21' 49" E114° 30' 50"    

6. Sutai khairkhan Mountain

N46° 38' 07" E93° 32' 35"      

Over the years, some of the mountains became venerated as sacred places, which are the “combined works of nature and man” and cultural landscapes of the highest order. Proposed serial property bears a unique living cultural tradition in Central and Northeast Asia of worshipping sacred natural sites such as mountains. The tradition of worshipping sacred mountains and waters is one of the outstanding cultural heritage elements created, developed and practiced by Mongolians since ancient times. The tradition initially developed and thrived during shamanic period and was later enriched with Buddhist ideologies and rituals. This significantly contributed to the preservation of our natural environment and wildlife as sacred and pristine.

The tradition of worshipping mountains has very specific customs and rituals. There are many wonderful intangible cultural heritage elements associated with the worship of sacred mountains that have been preserved and continue to thrive, such as chanting sutras and sharing folk knowledge, legends, benedictions, odes, epics, folk songs, folk art and performing art.

Nomadic Mongols worship and revere the highest, lofty and beautiful of their local mountains. According to reliable sources, the khaans of the Xiongnu Empire, who established the first Statehood in the territory of Mongolia, and later Chinggis Khaan all revered the mountains, conducting and practicing them as rituals of state worship. In the legal sources such as “Khalkh Juram” (or Khalkha Rules) of 1709, especially beautiful and scenic Mongolian mountains and lakes were designated and protected by the State law, and in 1778, the Bogd Khan, Khan Khentii (Burkhan Khaldun) and Otgontenger Mountains were declared as State protected and worshipped sacred mountains.

As the researchers have identified, there are more than 1000 sacred sites in Mongolia at present. In early times, all sacred mountains were worshipped with shamanic rituals and later these wonderful tradition and rituals were enriched with Buddhist teachings and rites. Since 1995, some sacred mountains of Mongolia were declared as State Sacred Mountains, and State Ceremonies were conducted to worship those sacred Mountains at the national level once every four years with the participation of President of Mongolia.  The President considers his participation to be an important measure in protecting the tradition. The major representatives of the State Worshipped Sacred Mountains, which are included in the Mongolian Tentative List are Otgontenger, Eej Khairkhan, Khanbayanzurkh, Great Bogd, Altan Ovoo and Sutai Khairkhan Mountains.

Otgontenger Mountain: Otgontenger Mountain, the highest point of the Khangai mountain range, is located in Buyant Bag of Otgon Soum, Zavkhan Province. Its elevation is 4031m above sea level (ASL). It has snow-capped peaks and glaciers which remain from the "Ice Age".

Earlier, people used to worship Otgontenger Mountain with shamanic perspective and rituals. The sutra created by Lama Agvaanprinlaijamts (1860-1936) is read during the worship ceremonies at present.

Eej Khairkhan Mountain: Eej Kharikhan Mountain is located in the depression between the Mongol Altai mountain range and the Gobi Altai range in Tsogt soum, Gobi-Altai province. It is a granite mountain located 2274 m ASL in the middle of the great desert at the Valley of Zakhui Zarman and surrounded by oases rich with saxaul, poplar, reed and tamarisk. Eej Khairkhan Mountain is a natural wonder, having unique formations with interesting shapes and structures naturally shaped over millions of years. The area is significant for the role it plays as a migration corridor for endangered large mammals such as argali, ibex and snow leopards.

In early times, Eej Khairkhan was worshipped with shamanic rituals. The worship ritual Sutra is named "Khatan Khairkhanii Ariusgal Takhil, Uils Daatgal Orshvoi". The site has now become a favorite worship destination for pilgrims and tourists.

Khanbayanzurkh Mountain: Khanbayanzurkh Mountain is located in Zuunbayan bag of Sainshand soum, Dornogovi Province. The Mountain is an ancient extinct volcano elevated 1032 m above sea level. The Mountain has been worshipped by locals since time immemorial. The Mountain is renowned among people with several different names such as Black Mountain, Mountain of Wishes or Chandmani Mountain, and is special for its pilgrims who come to say their prayers and make wishes. The 5th Noyon Khutagt Danzanravjaa, a prominent Buddhist figure, worshipped the Mountain, as did those before him. There are three wooden temples of Ariyabal, Nugneen and Danzanravjaa’s burial temple at the Mountain. Local people have properly restored the temples. There are several handwritten sutras for the worship ritual, which are currently kept at the hand of a monk in charge of worship rituals. This sacred mountain has now become a most favorite worship destination for pilgrims and tourists in Mongolia.

Great Bogd Mountian: The peak of Gobi-Altai Mountain Range – the Great Bogd Mountain is located at the boundaries of Bogd, Jinst, Bayangovi and Bayanlig soums of Bayankhongor province and continues over 60km. The peak point is 3957m high. The Great Bogd Mountain is a natural beauty of the Gobi region and a representative of a high mountain eco-system with rare and globally endangered animals and plants. The sutra created by Triumphant Abbot Damtsagdorj (1781-1855) is currently used in the worship ritual. By the Resolution of People’s Representatives Khural of the Province, the Mountain was declared as the "Totem Mountain" of Bayankhongor province.

Altan Ovoo Mountain: Altan Ovoo Mountain is located in the steppe zone at 1354 m ASL in Dariganga soum, Sukhbaatar Province. It is one of over 200 ancient extinct volcanoes located in this rolling steppe area. To the south of this mountain there are sand dunes. Dagshin Spring, Duut Lake and Ganga Lake are all located at its southern slope. At its southeast slope there are four human stone statues of “Khan (King), Khatan (Queen), Prince and Princess”. Scholars who conducted researches on the depictions of the king and queen, have associated their clothes, decorations and accessories with the XVIII century. Locals of Dariganga give offerings to the Khan and Khatan statues and read special sutras to worship the Altan Ovoo Mountain.

Sutai khairkhan Mountain: State Worshipped Sacred Sutai khairkhan Mountain is located over the boundaries of Tonkhil and Darvi Soums of Govi-Altai province, and the Darvi and Tsetseg soums of Khovd province. Sutai khairkhan Mountain is one of the branch mountain of the Mongol Altai Mountain range. Elevated at 4250m ASL, the area bears the distinct natural characteristics of the Central Asian plateau and is home to rare and endangered plants and animals. The Sutra for the worship of the Mountain was created in the 17th century and called “Sutai khany san”. This sutra is currently being used in the worship rituals.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (iii): The proposed six component parts of the property are an outstanding example of unique traditions and long-standing customs of the Mongols to worship and protect sacred mountains since ancient times. Due to worship traditions the sacred mountains remain untouched and pristine.  They preserve globally endangered and rare species of animals and plants, and, thus, they demonstrate the outstanding universal significance.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: Historic sources of Mongolia – the "Secret History of the Mongols", “Altan Tobchi” by Luvsangdanzan, "White Story of Ten Noble Books", legal documents called “Khalkha Rules" and the "State Legal Document of Mongolia constituted by a Decree" are the main sources and documentary evidences disclosing data on historic events and facts about sacred sites and their worship practices and rituals. Many national and foreign scholars have conducted studies on sacred sites and worship rituals since the early 20th century. Among them, famous scholar B.Rinchen studied for almost 40 years.  Between the summers of 1927 and 1963, he travelled all around the country, met local people and collected and documented important oral sources. His book called “The Call of Mongol Shaman” is considered a ​​significant source for identifying sacred mountains in Mongolia.

The book called “Sutras of Mongolian sacred sites” (Mongoliin takhilgat uul usnii sudar orshvoi)  by researcher O.Sukhbaatar (2002) is a major reference publication and the first of its kind, including the collection of sutras for the main sacred mountains and waters worshipped at the State and local levels during the 16th-20th centuries, a period when Buddhism flourished in Mongolia. The sutras of proposed sacred mountains are all found in this publication.

Serial projects supported by UNESCO has significantly contributed to the research and revitalization of our intangible cultural heritage, in particular the worshipping traditions of sacred sites.

Integrity: The proposed sacred mountains, as being sacred places and protected areas since long ago, have survived as pristine and sacred until today and, thus maintained their authenticity and integrity. These six mountains are the primary outstanding representatives of the unique features that characterize various distinct local sacred natural landscapes, worship customs and traditions within the country.

In 1994, the Law on Special Protected Areas of Mongolia was approved with aims to regulate the proper use and protection of natural and cultural heritage properties and safeguard biological diversity in protected areas. According to clauses and legal provisions of the natural and cultural heritage laws, the proposed sacred mountains are all protected within designated boundaries under one of the classifications of the state protected areas of Mongolia. The properties are also protected under their existing provincial and local protection according to the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia.

Comparison with other similar properties

On a global level, the nominated properties can be firstly compared with sacred mountains that were already inscribed in the WHL, which are considered and known as most sacred.

A number of sacred mountains of the world have been inscribed on the World Heritage List under natural or cultural criteria, and sometimes as mixed property examples of which are: Mount Athos of Greece (C-I. II, IV,VI), (N-VII), Tongariro of New Zealand (C-I, VI) (N-VII, VIII), Machu Picchu of Peru (C-I. III,) (N-VII, IX), Mount Kenya of Kenya (N-VII, IX), Kilimanjaro of Tanzania (N-VII), Mount Taishan (C-I-VI) (N-IX), Mount Emei (C-IV, VI) (N-VII), Mount Huang Shan (C-II), (N-IX,X), Mount Wuyi (C-III,VI),(N-IX,X) of China, Sacred Kii Mountain Range of Japan (C-II, III, IV, VI), Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain of Kyrgyzstan (C-III, VI), among others. Many of these mountains clearly embrace certain characteristics of sacredness. In this historical and cultural area of the Eurasian steppe, we can find only one sacred mountain on the WHL that can be compared to proposed property. This is the sacred Sulaiman-Too Mountain in Kyrgyzstan.

Comparing Sacred Mountains with the above mentioned sacred or worshipped mountains, there are several similar situations and characteristics. All of them reflect persistent and unique traditions of worshiping sacred mountain over the past several hundred years, in different natural environmental and cultural contexts. Each of these sacred mountains represents a symbol of national identity and the spiritual homeland of the nations, countries and civilizations within which these sacred mountains are located.

Comparing the sacred mountains with other of the most sacred mountains in the world, we note some very distinctive features and differences between our proposed sacred mountains and comparable world sacred mountains.

Mongolian nomads worship the mountains by coming near on horseback, providing their offerings and saying prayers, while some people worship at a visible distance from their localities or households.  They offer libation by pouring or sprinkling milk, tea or any type of dairy products as an offering. The female head of the household conducts a milk libation for the sacred mountains every morning. We find no evidence that such a ritual or ceremony of milk and tea libation is used in the worship of sacred mountains in other countries of the world.

There are other unique and distinct rituals and customs, which are not practiced during worship ceremonies in any other sacred mountains of the world, but are practiced for the worshipping of a Sacred Mountain in Mongolia.  Not only is a milk libation conducted, but there is also the consecration of a horse for the ovoo (cairn); the prayers and sutras specifically created for the sacred mountain are recited; and when the worshippers descend from the worshipping site, a small national sports festival is held. Festivities take place at a far distance from the main sacred mountain top and include the racing of swift horses, wrestling and traditional archery. Most compared sacred mountains are surrounded by greater population densities, and many constructions, temples, monasteries and stupas are built within and around.