For over a decade, Alan Nichols, a lawyer, politician and noted explorer, has been hunting to find the missing tomb of Genghis Khan. This fall, the editors of True.Ink have teamed up with Nichols and the Mamont Foundation to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries.
This story is the first in a series that will document our quest to find Genghis Khan’s missing tomb, one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries. We especially want to thank the Mamont Foundation and Outback Trading.
Before he told me about Mountain X, the funeral practices of Mongolian shamans in the 1220’s, and his unwavering belief that he had isolated Genghis Khan’s missing tomb, Alan Nichols had a point to make.
An emphatic point. He held a finger out across his desk like a high school English teacher, and issued a correction for centuries of error.
“Chinggis,” he said.
“Genghis—that’s a bludgeoning of what he was actually called,” Nichols said. “They called him Chinggis. Chinggis Qa’an. Qa’an means ruler. Of course his birth name was Temujin.”
This first conversation was over a year ago, held on the second floor of the legendary Explorer’s Club in New York. At the time, Nichols was president of the group, a post he obtained after an eclectic career in politics, law and religious studies. As we spoke about his hunt for Chinggis, he stood from behind a desk that once belonged to Teddy Roosevelt, and his tall, wiry frame was enclosed by a pair of elephant tusks perched behind him.
Nichols had not planned to look for Chinggis Qa’an.
“Stumble is the right word,” he said.
His expertise, he explained, had not been in archaeology. It was mountains. Specifically, sacred mountains. He traveled the world to find them and researched the cultures that worshipped them. He catalogued his findings in To Climb A Sacred Mountain, a now out of print book that documents his quest to find the holiest mountains.
“In the stages of all religions, mountains, high points, are very important,” he said. “If you haven’t got a mountain, you’ll build one, or a cathedral or pyramid or something.”
Worshipping mountains was a natural impulse.
“Getting up towards God or whatever is very inherent in man,” he said. “If you’re going to talk to God, like Moses. Or if you’ve got anthropomorphic Gods, you’re going to put ‘em on Olympus.”
Then he went to Dallas, Texas.
After the book was published, Nichols often organized talks about sacred mountains, sharing slide presentations to small groups on his treks. He spent a lot of time on mountains in Tibet and China, even bicycling the Silk Road or ‘Silk Web’ as he called it.
After a talk in Dallas, he was approached by Johan Elverskog, a professor of religious studies at nearby Southern Methodist University.
“You know so much about sacred mountains, I want to tell you something,” Elverskog said.
Huddling up in the back of the room, Elverskog told Nichols about expertise in Mongolian religious traditions and practices. He then raised the topic of Genghis Khan’s famously missing tomb.
“Marco Polo looked for him,” Nichols recalled Elverskog telling him. “Everybody looked for him. He was the greatest commander of the largest empire in the history of the world.”
Elverskog had his own theory about Khan’s missing tomb.
“I’m part of a group of a very small minority of Mongolian scholars, and we believe that Genghis Khan is buried about 1,000 air miles away from where everybody in modern times thinks he was buried,” he told Nichols.
Nichols knew little about Khan’s tomb, but the instructions that Elverskog left him that day would change the course of his life.
“When you cross the Yellow River at Luchow, take a diversion and go to Hohot,” Elverskog said. “On the way, you’ll find the Yin mountains, and that’s where he’s buried. He has to be buried on a sacred mountain.”
Riding his bike through China on his next expedition, Nichols remembered the clue the professor had given him.
He would make a detour. In China, he would cross the Yellow River. He would journey to Hohot, capital of Inner Mongolia, and keep on going to the Yin Mountains, scouring the terrain for possibilities. At sunrise, he would find the mountain with a cupola.
Instinct was first; the research followed. He would bring hi-tech equipment to the site, geophysicists from Stanford University and later, others. In the ground, they would use the machines to look for anomalies and they would find anomalies.
At the time of our talk, Nichols wanted to return. The testing was incomplete. The technology to search underground had improved. Nichols also wanted to document the hunt, capture the quest for the tomb of Chinggis Qa’an, arguably the greatest conqueror in history.
“He was a master of deception, even in death,” Nichols told me. “He deceived the world for 750 years. He kept it a secret where he was actually buried.”
As we packed for the trip, it was only a matter of time, I thought, to discover if we’d become the next victims of Qa’an, falling into the same booby traps as the treasure hunters before us. Or if the new equipment we were bringing would find what Nichols and Elverskog had suspected all along.
“If we find him, it could be the greatest discovery since the Valley of the Kings,” Nichols said, pulling out a map and following the Yellow River with his finger en route to Mountain X.
Read Part Two here.