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THE Buriats whose myth-tales I have collected, and whose beliefs, modes of worship, and customs I have studied at their source and describe in this volume, are Mongols in the strictest sense of the word as men use it. They inhabit three sides of Lake Baikal, as well as Olkhon its only island. The place and the people are noteworthy.
Lake Baikal is the largest body of fresh water in the Old World, being over four hundred miles long and from twenty-four to fifty-six miles broad, its total area covering about thirteen thousand square miles. The Buriats living west of that water, and those inhabiting the sacred island of Olkhon, are the only Mongols who have preserved their own race religion with its primitive usages, archaic beliefs, and philosophy, hence they are a people of great interest to science.
The region about that immense body of water, Lake Baikal, is of still greater interest in history, for from the mountain land south of the lake, and touching it, came Temudjin, known later as Jinghis Khan, and Tamerlane, or Timur Lenk (the Iron Limper), the two greatest personages in the Mongol division of mankind.
From the first of these two mighty man-slayers were descended the Mongol subduers of China and Russia. Among Jinghis Khan's many grandsons were Kublai Khan, the subjector of China, together with Burma and other lands east of India; Hulagu, who destroyed the Assassin Commonwealth of Persia, stormed Bagdad, and extinguished the Abbasid Kalifat; and Batu, who covered Russia with blood and ashes, mined Hungary, hunting its king to an island in the Adriatic, crushed German and other forces opposed to the Mongols at Liegnitz, and returned to the Volga region, where he established his chief headquarters.
Descendants of Jinghis Khan ruled in Russia for two centuries and almost five decades. In China they wielded power only sixty-eight years.
From Tamerlane, a more brilliant, if not a greater, leader than Jinghis, descended the Mongols of India, whose history is remarkable both in the rise and the fall of the empire which they founded.
These two Mongol conquerors had a common ancestor in Jinghis Khan's great-great-grandfather, Tumbinai; hence both men were of the same blood and had the same land of origin,—the region south of Lake Baikal.
That Mongol power which began its career near Baikal covered all Asia, or most of it, and a large part of Europe, and lasted till destroyed by Russia and England. The histories of these struggles are world-wide in their meaning; they deserve the closest study, and in time will surely receive it.
When the descendants of Jinghis Khan had lost China, the only great conquest left them was Russia, and there, after a rule of two hundred and forty-four years, power was snatched from them.
The Grand Moguls, those masters of India, the descendants of Tamerlane, met with Great Britain, and were stripped of their empire in consequence.