1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Urga

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URGA (the Russian form of the Mongol Orgo = palace of a high official), a city of Mongolia, and the administrative centre of the northern and eastern Kalka tribes, in 48° 20′ N., 107° 30′ E., on a tributary of the Tola river. It is the holy city of the Mongols and the residence of the “Living Buddha,” metropolitan of the Kalka tribes, who ranks third in degree of veneration among the dignitaries of the Lamaist Church. This “resplendently divine lama” resides in a sacred quarter on the western side of the town, and acts as the spiritual colleague of the Chinese amban, who controls all temporal matters, and who is specially charged with the control of the frontier town of Kiakhta and the trade conducted there with the Russians.

Hurae, as the Mongols call Urga (Chinese name, K'ulun), stands on the high road from Peking to Kiakhta (Kiachta), about 700 m. N.W. of Peking and 165 m. S. of Kiakhta. There are three distinct quarters: the Kuren or monastery, the residence of the “Living Buddha”; the Mongol city proper (in which live some 13,000 monks); and the Chinese town, two or three miles from the Mongol quarter. Besides the monks the inhabitants number about 25,000. The Chinese town is the great trading quarter. The houses in this part are more substantially built than in the Mongol town, and the streets have a well-to-do appearance. The law which prohibits Chinamen from bringing their wives and families into the place tends to check increase. There is considerable trade between the Russians, Mongols and Chinese, chiefly in cattle, camels, horses, sheep, piece-goods and milk. Until the second half of the 19th century bricks of tea formed the only circulating medium for the retail trade at Urga, but Chinese brass cash then began to pass current in the markets. The trade of Urga is valued at over £1,000,000 a year.

The temples in the Mongol quarter are numerous and imposing, and in one is a gilt image of Maitreya Bodhisattva, 33 ft. in height and weighing 125 tons. When in 1904, on the occasion of the British expedition to Tibet, the Dalai Lama withdrew from Lhassa he went to Urga, where he remained until 1908. During his residence there the Dalai Lama would have no communication with the Urga Lama—described as a drunken profligate (see The Chinese Empire, ed. M. Broomhall, London, 1907, p. 357). The Chinese contemplate building a railway from Peking to Urga. The first section, to Kalgan, was completed in 1909 (see China, § Communications).