Toro Band: The Robin Hood of Mongolia and The Infamous Horse Smuggler
Heath’s host sister Nomou,
Hello friends, I have been feeling a little under the weather the last couple days. So, this is the perfect opportunity to relax and catch up with my blog.
I am in Dariganga still. I finished camp last week and have been keeping myself busy. The day camp ended, the counselors decided to rent a meaker and to explore the Dariganga countryside. Heath told us there were some more holy mountains to climb and even a cave to explore! So, we packed ourselves into the car and drove into the middle of nowhere Mongolia.
The largest ovoo I’ve ever seen.
Our first stop was the caves, but before I get too into it, I must let you know why these caves are so special. Back in the 19th century, there was a Robin Hood of Sukhbataar province. His name was Toro Band. Toro was a run of the mill guy, except he was very talented at riding horses.
As you may or may not know, Mongolia is not too fond of China. They actually very much dislike China. Dariganga is very near the border and comparatively, it is pretty close to Beijing. So, Toro believed it was unjust for the Chinese emperor to have the fastest and strongest horses. He believed that the poor deserved horses just as good, so he did what any person would do; sneak into the emperor’s palace and steal his royal horses.
In the black of night, he would enter the palace, steal a horse, and then ride the horse back across the border. Of course, the Chinese officials were not happy about this. The emperor’s guard would chase Toro into Mongolia, but magically Toro always got away. Little did the Chinese know, Toro knew where all the caves near Dariganga were and he would smuggle the horses into these caves. Also, these caves are not the cliff ones, but random holes in the ground. If you were not following the road or weren’t looking while in your car, you could easily fall into one of these caves. Since Sukhbataar is all steppe, from a distance everything looks the same. No wonder Toro would disappear.
See the cave entrance in the left corner?
Well, we entered one of Toro Band’s caves. The entrance was blocked once upon a time, so it was a bit of a squeeze to get inside. After the entrance, the tunnel was very low to the ground. We had to crouch and avoid the stalagmites and stalactites. It was also very cold. There was ice everywhere. After crawling for 15-20 feet, the cave began to get bigger and bigger, until we were in this giant circular room. There were decorations everywhere and the rock formations were stellar. The cave ceiling must have been at least 15 feet tall. I’ve been in caves before, but nothing like this.
The cave ceiling. It is covered in ice. It was at least 15 feet high (4.5 meters).
Just giving some perspective.
After hearing the story about horse smuggling, I could imagine this cave being full of horses. It was sure big enough to fit at least 20-30. Something cool about Dariganga is that it is famous for having the fastest horses in all of Mongolia.
This is only because Toro Band stole the emperors best horses and now those genes have passed down to the Dariganga horses of today. Isn’t that interesting?
I guess I’ll let you know one more tale about Toro Band. Well, after some time of horse smuggling, Toro was caught. The Chinese guard finally found him (possibly at the cave I visited) and arrested him. They brought him to Dariganga prison to hold him captive till they could bring him to China. Well, Toro wasn’t having it, so he escaped in the middle of the night and did what he does best: he stole a horse. He rode the horse towards the Ultan Ovoo, the holy mountain bordering the town. The Chinese guards learned right away about his escape. They jumped onto their horses and got on his tail. Toro decided to go straight up the mountain, believing he could get ahead of the guards, but the guards went around the mountain to meet him on the other side. When Toro reached the top of the mountain he either saw the torches or heard the guards racing to the other side of the mountain. Toro is a clever man, so instead of going down the other side, he turned back and went down the same way he went up. In the story, I was told that his horse slipped and he surfed down the mountain, made it down, and then stole another horse to make his escape. He was never caught again and continued to steal horses till the end of his days.
Well that’s Toro Band. Heath told me that the trail up the mountain is the same trail Toro took. For some odd reason, I feel a slight connection to him. I’ve been to his cave and I have walked on his path to the mountain. One of my favorite parts about traveling is hearing these kinds of tales. It gives me a better understanding of the world around me. So now when I see horses gallop around, I feel some excitement because these horses are here thanks to Toro Band.
Other than that, I have been relaxing. I learned how to make some Mongolian dishes, such as soyven and milk tea. I’ve gone on very long walks into the countryside. I’ve milked cows a couple of times and helped herd them (eating the fresh yogurt afterward is so worth waking up at 5am). I even visited the camp again and played games with a new batch of campers. Heath and I also got pulverized at UNO by Heath’s host family. Man, was that embarrassing. Heath’s friend Jeremy (another PCV) is here visiting and he brought his guitar, so I’ve been able to play and to listen to Jeremy play.
Life is good and I am very happy.
My next post will probably be about Nadaam. It’s in 2 days!
Heath and I at the top of the sacred mountain.