You’ve heard of Loch Ness, but you’ve probably never heard of Mongolia’s mythical creatures. Some of our cryptids are hilarious and underrated, but most of them have some bizarre back stories. So, the next time you’re in Mongolia, ask a local about the whereabouts of the following creatures.
Khangarid, aka Garuda
OK, let’s address the elephant in the room now: Yes, Khangarid has big tits. This ancient Buddhist scroll describes it as a half-man, half-bird hybrid, so it’s definitely a guy. You can see that the loin-cloth of feathers in the front are definitely covering something … long.
But you always see it on the Ulaanbaatar city banner. So, why is a sexually ambiguous creature the official mascot of Mongolia’s capital? Well, Khangarid is a myth borrowed from India, where it’s known as Garuda. Garuda is featured in fables and legends as the benevolent king of all the birds, so it represents mightiness and like-a-bowse stature. He also has a serious beef against snakes, which represent evil, so that makes him a savior. But best of all, he has inspired women’s hairdos.
Interesting thing is that folklorist Adrienne Mayor has stated that the myth of griffins originated from the skull of a triceratops found in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, because—holy shit, you guys—ancient Greeks were totally friends with Central Asian nomads in the 7th Century BC!
Hadnii Mangaa, aka The Boogeyman
It’s the same in almost every culture. When a child misbehaves, a boogeyman comes out and eats them. In European cultures there are many twisted boogeymen – there’s even one named “The Mongol” in Albania. But in Mongolia we have Hadnii Mangaa, which literally means “the monster of rocks“.
Hadnii Mangas—or Mangaa, as it’s affectionately called—lives inside rocks, boulders and walls. It comes out like X-Men’s Kitty Pride, or ghosts, and whenever it hears a naughty child crying, it grabs em and drags em back into the rock. There’s no definite description about what Hadnii Mangaa looks like, but if you find yourself surrounded by four walls (like in a room), and hear something behind you, please do us a favor and snap the monster’s photo before you’re kidnapped by the dark and sinister entity. Thanks!
The rationale behind this boogeyman’s specialty could be that the rocky area next to a ger camp was a great scary place to point to and show a disobedient child.
3. Almas, aka The Yeti
Aside from being a favorite insult among Mongolians, almas is the Mongolian version of Bigfoot, or Yeti, or Sasquatch, or Will Ferrell. But in Mongolia, this giant hairy crypto-hominid is called “Yellow Hag of the Gobi”, manbear or human gazelle – and they’re surprisingly harmless.
In our legends, almas live a timid life in the mountains and sometimes come down to save a child from leopards or assist in emergency childbirths. They’re the hairy, watchful protectors–sometimes even midwives–of the Altai. But the only catch is that they eat the placenta, which gives them the power to shoot energy beams like a firebending wookie.
The definitive guide on almas was written by Ravjir Ravjir in 1990, who collected stories and anecdotes for 20 years and sent footprints to famous cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, who said, “Holy Crap! You might actually have Neandarthals in Mongolia.” What properly creeps us out in Ravjir’s book is the stories of 19th century almas-skinning practices. Apparently, people killed or found almas corpses and took their skin, and—it gets weird here—gallbladder, or lkha erdene, because it magically cures everything.
So there you have it, they were called human gazelle because they ran fast when they were being hunted. But, sometimes, the Almas are aggressive. There’s a story in China about a Big Foot that raped the woman who gave birth to this person.
4. Galbingaa, or Kinnara
Galbingaa is a half-human, half-bird with long tail-feathers who is famous for being a pop star and dictating women’s ideal body shape in the 12th century. The creature originated from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, so it’s not just Mongols who are obsessed with big fluffy behinds.
This creature is known by many names in many countries, and the earliest record was found in Karakorum from the 12th century. Scholars believe that it’s the winged girl on top of the Silver Tree, as described by William Rubruck. You know, the one that serves you free drinks 24/7.
This creature is well-known for its role in the Buddhist creation myth among Mongols. The story goes that the world was full of water and Galbingaa collected specks of dust to build her nest, and over time, a land mass gathered and we all came to be.
Yast Melkhii, aka Bixi
The Yast Melkhii is a giant turtle with a tall stone slab on it. Originating from China in the 3rd century, where it had the body of a turtle and the head of a dragon, these commemorative statues started appearing in Mongolia as early as the 6th century, during the Kok Turk era.
Despite the fact there have been many Yast Melkhiis of Turkic and Mongol origins in Orkhon Valley, there’s not much of a story behind this turtle. There’s also two near the Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing from Kublai’s Yuan Empire. The Chinese tradition is that people touch the turtle or rub on it to find good luck. But a senior official in Mongolia’s Ministry of Tourism apparently thought something else was worth rubbing. Thanks to him, we now have this:
The Dick Statue, um, erected a lot of problems, and the official who commissioned it argued that this would increase tourism. Naturally, the public decried it and the official took it back to his own yard. Overcompensate in your own yard, dude. But we digress…
Olgoi Khorkhoi, aka the Death Worm
Of course we saved the best for the last! Aptly nicknamed the Death Worm, Olgoi Khorkhoi is a red worm-like creature “the size of an adult man in the spring and a young sheep in the autumn.” The Death Worm is supposed to exist in the Gobi. It shoots acid, turns anything it touches yellow and corroded, and electrocutes you from a distance. Yes, wireless electricity, like Tesla coils.
The first international news about Olgoi Khorkhoi happened in the 1910s, when explorer Roy Chapman Andrews wrote about it in his book “On the Trails of Ancient Man”. But there were several mistakes in his interpretation, e.g. olgoi means appendix, not intestine, so the look of the worm was misinterpreted to be long like an earthworm, not short and tapered like a caterpillar.
Needless to say, the world’s imagination ran wild with the idea of the Death Worm. The Dune novels of 1965 had giant sandworms in it. In the 1990s Hollywood made Tremors, where graboids or sand sharks terrorize a rural community. Also, we like to think Sarlacc from the Star Wars franchise was inspired by our worm, partly because Sarlacc sounds like sarlag, or yak, in Mongolian, and we know George Lucas has a history of borrowing from Mongolian culture. But it could just as well be inspired from Charybdis.
Anyhow, at least SyFy (which recently made Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!) was decent enough to credit us when they made thw VOD film Mongolian Death Worm, so that’s nice. But the real Death Worms are lurking in the Gobi, seething at its inaccurate portrayals. Waiting to take revenge on some unwitting filmmakers.
Natso Baatarkhuu lives in Mongolia and writes in English. His works have appeared in Cracked.com and The UB Post, and he started this website. He dreams of publishing novels and selling screenplays someday.