The Name Quest

21 minute read Published: 2024-05-03

I went on a trip to Mongolia to find out the meaning behind my name.

Mongolia flag

Mongolia is a landlocked country in East Asia, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not a tour guide or a place to get all the information about Mongolia. I just had a great time and wanted to document my experience as a diary with the hope that you might find it interesting!


Hey! My name is Orhun.

It is a lowkey unique name, even in my country, Türkiye. Especially when you count the other variants such as Orhan, Orkun and even Orçun. I'm not a linguist but I'm assuming they mean the same thing. And meanings are important

Even in the tech world we sometimes think a lot about naming an insignificant variable. That being said, I can't even think of how hard it would be to name an actual human being.
So, good job Dad!

In my early years in life, I was already aware of the meaning of my name, thanks to the history lessons and from people who already knew about it. A quick Google search also reveals it: it comes from Orkhon inscriptions in Mongolia.

Okay, but what/where the hell are they and what's their importance? When I asked my dad he told me that he was impressed by the history behind it and named me after them.

That's cool, but still, why?

So I decided to go on a real life quest to answer that question. And who is a better company than my dad to discover/explore this together?

I'm typing these words on a plane that is about to land in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. 🇲🇳

The Flight ✈️

Let's take a step back and let me tell you the background of this flight. Finding the plane ticket and the correct timing was a bit tricky, but we found a direct flight from Istanbul by frequently monitoring the upcoming flights.

IST Istanbul (25 Apr 2024 14:10 UTC+3) ✈️ UBN Ulaanbaatar (26 Apr 2024 03:30 UTC+8)

Then the time has come:

Loved the name of the plane!

It was my first time flying with MIAT Mongolian Airlines (duh!) and I'm pretty happy with the experience/food!

Spoiler: Food 🥪 (click here to view)

Most of the flight is spent with writing Rust btw! 🦀

I also watched some stuff, most notably the Barbie movie 🫠

Arrival 🛬

We arrived in Ulaanbaatar at roughly 3 AM. There wasn't much to see in the city at that hour but our friend who picked us up from the airport was kind enough to fill us in with some general information:

Population3.5 million (+ 72 million animals (wow?))
Size6 million sq km
LandscapesSteppes, deserts, mountains
EconomyAgriculture, mining, herding
ReligionTibetan Buddhism (Lamaism), Shamanism, Islam, Christianity

This means it is a big country with not a lot of people, but a lot of animals! 🐄🐎🐑

Also, we drove though the Ankara Street which is next to the Atatürk School.

For me, it is always nice to see these things related to Türkiye! The lights in that street were actually brought from Ankara too.

Another interesting thing was there were a lot of Karaoke places. Apparently, it is a big thing in Mongolia.

It was a long travel, but we made it:

I'm in the hotel and gotta sleep now, cya tomorrow.

1st Day 1️⃣

Started the day off with gas station coffee. The traffic was a real problem here.

But I solved my realest problem, the internet, by buying a SIM card:

Today I'm visiting the Tonyukuk inscriptions near Nalaikh.

The importance of this is it's the first inscription stone that mentions the word "Turk".

The Tonyukuk inscriptions are Turkic inscriptions of the 8th century located in Nalaikh, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

They are the oldest written attestations of the Turkic language family, predating the Orkhon inscriptions by several years.

They are often confused with, or considered as a part of, the Orkhon inscriptions, although the Orkhon inscriptions are actually located about 462 kilometres (287 mi) to the west.

On the way, we stopped for the Friday Prayer and visited the Konya Kültür Merkezi. It was a magnificent cultural experience to speak Turkish with the Kazakh muslims.

One thing that they joked about was Turks immigrating from Mongolia on horses,
while they stayed because they ate their horses. Okay.

Then we arrived at the actual destination, here is how the Tonyukuk inscriptions looked like:

The Tonyukuk Inscription is an ancient stone monument from the 8th century, detailing the achievements of Tonyukuk, a prominent official and military strategist of the Göktürk Khaganate.

It offers insights into the empire's politics, military campaigns, and mentions Turkic shamanism.

Tonyukuk is a very important figure in the Turkish history.

Click here for introduction

The historical value of these writings were unimaginably priceless.

We also visited the security guard's traditional Mongol tent (also called "ger") next to the building, which was a nice place:

Also, it turns out this is a temporary site and they are in the process of building the actual museum very close to it:

Hoping the visit again in the future when the Tonyukuk museum is complete!

The next thing that I remember, I was taking a nap until we arrived at this absolutely mind blowing thing:

Yes, it is a gigantic shiny mighty Genghis Khan statue, in the middle of a large steppe.

Genghis Khan was the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his conquests in the early 13th century.

He is renowned for his military brilliance, leadership, and the unification of nomadic Mongol tribes into a formidable force that reshaped Eurasian history.

In fact, it is a museum, you can go inside and explore a bit about the history of Mongolia and Genghis Khan.

One of the interesting things was this huge boot (made from Tibetan lamb skin, called "yak"):

This is a boot specially designed to hide the direction of your footprints. For example, your enemies will see the same oval shape on the snow and they be like "Is he going forwards this way or backwards?". Cool trick.

You can also climb the statue from inside and get an amazing view.

There are also touristic activities that you can do outside:

Ended the day with some good Mongolian food.

Spoiler: Food 🥪

The rest is just resting & coding in the hotel. Big day tomorrow.

2nd Day 2️⃣

Today is the day.

I'm heading to Kharkhorin (the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire) to see the Orkhon inscriptions attributed to two Turkic princes, Kul Tigin and his brother Bilge Khagan.

The Orkhon Inscriptions, are ancient Turkic artifacts from the 8th century, found in Mongolia's Orkhon Valley.

These inscriptions, carved on stone monuments, commemorate the achievements of the Turkic leaders and the Göktürk Khaganate's history.

They provide valuable insights into the early Turkic peoples' language, culture, and political organization, shaping our understanding of Central Asian history.

We hit the road pretty early because it will take about 6 hours to reach there.

Our driver (төгөлдөр/töglödör - his name means piano!) was pretty cool!

⠀⠀And no, that's not a Swastika. It has another ⠀⠀religious meaning in Mongolia apparently!

Remember what I said about Karaoke here? Here are some places that I saw before we left the city center:

The rest of the road was endless steppes/deserts with some animals hanging out freely (mostly horses, cows and, sheep):

As always, good food during lunch:

Spoiler: Food 🥪

But... we were still in the middle of nowhere:

We first decided to make a stop at Erdene Zuu Monastery since it was on our way. It is one of the significant places that helped Buddhism to spread across Mongolia.

The buildings there were pretty interesting and we actually had the chance to witness a Buddhist praying session. No recording of it due to obvious reasons.

Next stop, Kharkhorin Museum:

There we learned a ton about Kharkhorin city, such as:

Also, and most importantly, I was finally getting close to the meaning of my name, which is being the Orkhon Valley.

Very close! But it's not there yet.

Learned about Turkic origins in Mongolia as well:

Btw, do you remember the name of the plane on my arrival? Here is where it comes from:

Khubilai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, founded the Yuan Dynasty in China, expanding the Mongol Empire's influence into East Asia. He established Khanbaliq, modern-day Beijing, as his capital.

Okay, it was time to visit the most important place.

Notably, we traveled along a road with a Turkish name to reach there.

And here it is! In the middle of nowhere, not looking very mighty, but you can't imagine what's inside!

We actually had to ask the people living near the building for the keys. They helped us get in and I'm guessing we had a bargain about the ticket prices. Anyhoo, they were cool! Look at this Mongolian kid posing with his doggo, the absolute boss of the place:

One of my favorite pictures from this trip!

But eventually he got caught lol

Anyways, we are finally inside. Big moment.

Ladies and gentlemen... here they are.

The Orkhon inscriptions hold immense historical significance as they represent one of the earliest known examples of written Old Turkic language.

These inscriptions provide valuable insights into the culture, language, and political organization of the Turkic peoples during the time of the Göktürks.

They are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are pivotal in understanding the early development of Turkic scripts and the history of Central Asia.

Isn't this crazy?

They gone unnoticed for more than 1000 years and in 19th century they were discovered and deciphered. This discovery sparked significant interest and lead to a deeper understanding of Turkic history, language, and culture.

I'm glad to have this meaningful name.

Just to show what inscriptions looked like when they were found, they put a replica outside:

Very remote place, absolutely mind blowing.

After this, we went had dinner (apparently meat is another big thing here next to karaoke):

Spoiler: Food 🥪

Bonus Content
Show me the thing!

They first made it 2 meters but apparently some people got disturbed by it so they re-made it like this.

We are staying in Kharkhorin today at Secret of the Silk Road Resort, since it is not feasible to go back to Ulaanbaatar. Well, we are staying in a...

It was very cozy!

3rd Day 3️⃣

Woke up to this scenery with this Mongol doggo:

Loving this hotel... or resort, idk. It is really cool!

The breakfast was nice also. They put a lot of effort into the design of the place obviously.

Spoiler: Food 🥪

TIL sea buckthorn:

Then we left the hotel and started heading to a Buddhist monument on a mountain.

When I checked the map while we were there, I realized something:

We are too damn close! This is it. This is where Orkhon inscriptions were placed at. This is where my name comes from.

We walked down the mountain and had some amazing time in the nature, next to the Orkhon River.

The Orkhon river derives its name from the Old Turkic prefix "or" meaning "middle", and "khan" or king.

The Turkish name "Orhun" is a transliteration of the word "Orkhon" and refer to this river.

It holds significant cultural and historical importance due to its association with the inscriptions and the ancient Turkic peoples who inhabited the region.

The fresh air, animals, scenery... everything was just beautiful.

It is not certain but this place might be also called Ötüken, the sacred mountain of the ancient Turks.

In the inscriptions, Bilge Khagan advises "to not get out of the Ötüken forest", pointing out that Turks shouldn't leave this holy area (and not get tricked by the Chinese).

Here, you can see Orhun at the Orhun river:

I loved this place.

Here is me skipping stones:

Do not swim!

Here is the sign that says "Orhun river":

And the map of the river:

Hell yes! My quest is complete. Now it's time to go back.

We visited an actual desert on the way back:

Man, this guy...

Had some food and drove X hours back to Ulaanbaatar. What a day!

Spoiler: Food 🥪

4th Day 4️⃣

Today we are back in Ulaanbaatar, and decided to visit TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency) and personally thank them for their guidance and help during our trip.

Later on, we visited a Buddhist temple located near the center. It was pretty fun!

Our last historical visit was to the Genghis Khan Museum. This museum is pretty big (7 floors) and covers many things including the origins of today's Mongolia. This also includes Turkish history so it was really interesting to see the remaining objects from that era and sharpen my history knowledge.

I definitely recommend visiting this museum if you ever come to Mongolia. It would take a lot of time to cover everything I saw, so here are some cool pictures from the museum instead:

And here you can see the locations of 3 inscriptions (Tonyukuk, Bilge Khan, Kultigin) marked with red:

A shaman and some cool painting:

The rest of the day was mostly chilling in a café, having dinner and resting before the flight.

Spoiler: Food 🥪

Bonus Content

The minibar was full of minivodka in our hotel :D

The Return ✈️

The return was kind of eventless. 8 hour flight, sleeping, listening to music, doing stuff - you know.

I'm typing these words while heading back home and I still can't grasp what happened in the last 3-4 days. It was a crazy experience.

We are so back.

Did I travel 9 thousand kilometers to learn about my name and witness its history? Yes. It was definitely worth it.

I brought this twig from the Orkhon Valley and now it is a part of our garden.

And that's it.

I'm Orhun, now you know me. Nice to meet you!

Special thanks to: