Red Star Over Shambhala: Soviet, British and American Intelligence
Red Star Over Shambhala: Soviet, British and American Intelligence & the Search for Lost Civilisation in Central Asia
BY DR. RICHARD SPENCE
On his way across the wastes of Mongolia in 1921, Polish writer and refugee Ferdinand Ossendowski witnessed some strange behaviour on the part of his Mongol guides. Stopping their camels in the middle of nowhere, they began to pray in great earnestness while a strange hush fell over the animals and everything around. The Mongols later explained that this ritual happened whenever “the King of the World in his subterranean palace prays and searches out the destiny of all people on Earth.”1
From assorted lamas, Ossendowski learned that this King of the World was ruler of a mysterious, but supposedly very real, kingdom, “Agharti.” In Agharti, he was told, “the learned Panditas [masters of Buddhist arts and sciences] write on tablets of stone all the science of our planet and of the other worlds.”2 Whoever gained access to the underground realm would have access to incredible knowledge – and power.
Ossendowski was not exactly a casual listener. As noted in a previous article [The “Bloody” Baron von Ungern-Sternberg: Madman or Mystic?, New Dawn No. 108 (May-June 2008)], during 1921 he would become a key adviser to “Mad Baron” Roman von Ungern-Sternberg who established a short-lived regime in the Outer Mongolian capital of Urga.3 A self-proclaimed warrior Buddhist who dreamed of leading a holy war in Asia, the Baron allegedly tried to contact the “King of the World” in hopes of furthering his scheme.
Ossendowski’s credibility later was assailed by the likes of Swedish explorer Sven Hedin.4 Among other things, Hedin accused the Pole of plagiarising the story of Agarthi from an earlier work by French esotericist Joseph Alexandre St.-Yves d’Alveydre.5 To one extent or another, that probably was true, but Hedin, a veteran seeker after lost cities, did not dismiss the possibility of a hidden Kingdom; indeed, he likely harboured the aim of finding it himself.
In any event, Ossendowski did not invent the story of a fabulous land secreted somewhere in – or under – the vastness of Central Asia, be it called Agharti, Agarttha, Shangri-la, or, most commonly, Shambhala.6 Some believed it to be a physical, subterranean realm inhabited by an ancient, advanced race, while to others it was a spiritual dimension accessible only to the enlightened. The Shambhala legend is firmly grounded in Buddhist tradition which vaguely puts the Kingdom somewhere to the north of India. The legend also proclaimed that a time would come when the King of Shambhala and his mighty hosts would come forth to vanquish evil and usher in a golden age guided by pure Dharma. As noted, Baron von Ungern-Sternberg envisioned himself as the initiator of this “Shambhala War.” So would others.
The tantalising possibility of a hidden trove of advanced knowledge and technical know-how did not just pique the curiosity of explorers and occultists. The practical advantages to be gained by accessing and exploiting such knowledge was not lost on certain politicians and intelligence officers, above all in Soviet Russia. But whatever attracted the attention of the Bolsheviks was bound to draw British curiosity as well, and where both those powers were concerned, the Americans, Germans and Japanese were unlikely to be far behind.
This article focuses on the activities of three men, two Russians and one American: Aleksandr Vasil’evich Barchenko, the so-called “Bolshevik professor of the occult,” the artist-mystic-explorer Nicholas Roerich, and the man often cited as the real-life model for Indiana Jones, Roy Chapman Andrews. While, so far as can be told, none of the trio ever met, all were involved with expeditions roaming the deserts of Mongolia and the high valleys of the Himalayas in search of lost civilisation and ancient man. In the case of Barchenko and Roerich, the specific object was Shambhala. As we will see, these explorations were only the tip of a clandestine iceberg of intrigue and hidden agendas which included secret societies and a host of spies. Just who was doing what for whom – and why – remains uncertain.
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