I’ve been having fun using a variety of photo effects on some of my iPad drawings using the Camera Awesome app on my iPad. I thought it would be interesting to do the same with a selection of my Mongolia photos. Here’s five I did this morning to see what I could come up with. I like it. So much of what one sees in Mongolia has an iconic, storybook quality that the images really lend themselves to “special effects”.
Thanks to my Mongol friends on Facebook, I’m picking up some Mongolian here and there, like the phrase in the title. I see written Mongolian in both the Latin alphabet and Mongolian cyrillic every day and sometimes I can read all or most of a sentence now, which is fun.
There’s plenty coming up for me in 2013. I’ll be entering a number of juried shows, including a few new ones. All my entries will be of Mongolian subjects. In March, I’ll be flying down to Tucson for the opening weekend of the Sea of Cortez exhibition at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. In April I will be going to the 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention and Expo in Monterey, California and shortly thereafter flying back to the east coast for the spring board meeting of the Society of Animal Artists. I’ll also be doing an event in New York to promote the upcoming WildArt Mongolia Expedition, but the exact date hasn’t been set yet. In June there will be a WildArt Mongolia event in the San Francisco Bay Area, final date also to be determined. And, as currently planned, I will leave for my annual trip to Mongolia around the beginning of August. The Expedition is scheduled for late August/early September. I’ll have a couple of weeks at home and then it’s back to the east coast again in early October for the opening weekend of Art and the Animal at the Bennington Center for the Arts and the fall board meeting. I’ll be posting more on all of these events as the dates approach.
I visited two very different parts of Mongolia in 2010 on my two week camping trip: the Gobi and, directly to the north, the Hangai Mountains. Today I’d like to share five of my favorite photos from the mountains, which I hope very much to explore more in the future. I think you’ll see why…
And here’s the step by step process by which I created this painting:
When gorgeous summer starts,
on the gorgeous Hangai ranges,
the cuckoos sing out sweetly-
oh, how lovely this world is!
A green haze hangs in space, a delusion of mirages,
and a horse neighs, longing for home.
A rain of flowers purifies the face of the world,
and young people cram their minds with one another.
In summer, the mountains teem with fresh waters.
Mongolia takes pleasure in her three manly sports, and
children sing their horserace song through the valleys.
These swift and gleaming horses are admired by all.
Festive melodies echo across the vast steppe.
Livestock graze the countryside, and
the scent of airag fills everyone’s nostrils.
Everywhere is so lovely, such happiness everywhere!
This was the first painting I started after the long travel layoff. I wanted to keep it simple, so I chose this beautiful paint horse standing with his back to the morning sun. In my reference he was standing with a hill behind him, which wasn’t very interesting, so I “moved” him to a background that let me do a landscape, too. The setting is the Hangai Mountains of central Mongolia, a lush and scenic part of the country that isn’t anything like the vision most people have of the Land of Blue Skies.
One of the places I most want to go back to and spend a week camping, painting and sketching is this place. For me, the “Valley of the Yaks” is the whole package. Green mountains, beautiful small rivers, herders, their gers and their animals, raptors like black kites and absolutely no visitor infrastructure at all.
We drove more or less to the end of the road, which was at the top of a steep slope. There was, of course, an ovoo. Getting out and looking over the top, I noticed two things right away: A drop dead gorgeous mountain lake, one of eight in the park (“naim” means “eight” in Mongolian”) and that the road continued down, and I do mean down, the other side at about a 45 degree angle. Needless to say, almost no one is crazy enough to drive it even though it is the only road in the park that provides access by car to any of the lakes. The only other way to get to them is to walk or ride a horse. We climbed up the slope, joining quite a few Mongol day-trippers. Even though nothing in particular was going on, there was a festive feeling in the air.
I took my lake photos and also got some more good wildflower images, then it was time to drive back down the hill and find a campsite. We passed some Mongol guys who were sitting and chatting by the side of the road. As we went by, one of them, who had obviously noticed that I was a westerner, yelled out “I love you!” Almost without thinking, I yelled back “Bi mongol dortei!”, “I like Mongolia!”. For some reason, Khatnaa and Soyoloo thought this was hilarious, burst out laughing and high-fived me. Khatnaa then decided that I had to learn another Mongol sentence: “Bi argaliin udad dortei” which means “I like dung smoke.”, a reference to our stay at Orog Nuur in the Gobi. I think I ended up having to repeat it at every ger we visited after that. All in good fun, of course.
The time had now come to find a spot to camp for the night. I was looking a little longingly at a place right down next to the river, certainly a prime spot that one would gravitate to in America. But up on higher ground was a dirt ring where someone had set up a ger. That’s the spot that Khatnaa picked and when it started to rain pretty hard later on, it was obvious that he had made the right choice and my choice might have gotten us quite wet if the river level had gone up very much.
As I sat enjoying the late afternoon light, suddenly I had to grab my camera body with the long lens. A herder had come down the other side of the river and was rounding up his yaks. I reeled off about 170 images from the comfort of my camp chair.
After dinner, we all sat and chatted until suddenly the wind kicked up and then it started to rain. Bedtime.
The next morning was beautiful and I got some more long range shots of the same herder milking some of his yaks. Soyoloo and I took turns washing each other’s hair down by the river.
I hated to leave, but promised myself that I would return and have more time.
We re-traced our route back down the valley. On the way, we stopped for more yak photos. I had, not unreasonably, thought that the bigger ones with horns were the bulls. Then I saw an actual bull. He was absolutely huge and had no horns. The herders remove them because, armed with what are essentially two long, sharp spikes, a bull yak would be a very dangerous animal to have around.
The gelded yaks, like the ones above, are called “shar”, Mongolian for “yellow”. It seems to be the term applied to any gelded livestock. I don’t know why yet.
We also passed a number of herds of horses. It looked like the airag supply was good.
Back out of the valley, we passed this little riverside drama, but didn’t stay to see what happened next.
We drove past a family who was setting up housekeeping. I thought this was a good photo of a ger without the felt covering, plus, what a lovely spot to live!
We also went by this small monastery, located outside of a soum center.
Continuing on, we were soon going up in elevation and I started to see forests for the first time. We stopped for lunch on a hillside covered with wildflowers.
Next week: wildflower heaven and a famous waterfall.
We came south down out of the mountains and into a small soum center, stopping at a petrol station. There was a truckload of horses parked near us and Khatnaa spent some time chatting with the men while I snuck a few photos from inside the car.
Our next stop was in front of a fenced compound, which turned out to be the home of Khatnaa’s cousin and his family. We spent a few hours visiting them, being fed a feast of airag, buuz and other goodies. Since this was a very special social stop, I left the camera in the car. Not only did it seem inappropriate to even ask to take pictures, but I’ve found that sometimes I simply want to fully be a part of whatever is going on and using a camera creates a barrier that makes me an observer instead.
We finally went on our way, richer by a container of fresh, delicious airag.
It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time we left, going north back into the mountains. We crossed over a pass and on through a valley, finally stopping for the night on an open slope. The next morning we were visited by a young local herder, who was obviously nervous, but unwilling to pass up a chance to meet us. He did seem to have a quiet, confident way about him and I asked Khatnaa to ask him if he had been a jockey in naadam races. And the answer, as I expected, was “yes”.
There were small groups of horses and yaks around, so I got some good photos just sitting in our camp. Then a well-dressed older gentleman rode over to us and stopped for a chat. He really was the quintessential Mongol herder.
We finally got all packed up and on the road, crossing a river as we drove up a beautiful green valley. But suddenly, the green turned white. Khatnaa stopped the car immediately and I saw that the ground on either side of the car was carpeted with tiny white flowers. We got out and took in the beauty of the scene. Khatnaa spoke with Soyoloo and then said to me in English that it looked like the very first light snow in October and one didn’t see this large an area of the flowers very often. Even though it was cloudy, the fields had an airy, delicate quality which was quite magical.
Our next stop was at a small temple which stood on the outskirts of a soum center. The statue and offerings on the inside were quite extraordinary, at least to me.
Driving on, we were soon going up in elevation again, stopping for lunch at a turnout in the road that, at first, looked good simply for its lovely view. But once out of the car and walking around, I found that we were in the middle of an alpine rock garden, filled with delicate flowers, like yellow poppies, which were delightful miniatures of the kind one finds in western gardens.
Coming back down into a valley filled with gers and livestock, we passed the remains of one of the illegal “ninja gold mines” that are disfiguring the Hangai Mountains. These mines have also affected the run-off which fills lakes like Orog Nuur, causing them to be dry now, more often than not. Very sad in a country that has traditionally had such a strong land ethic. But understandable when there are not enough jobs and people have families to support.
As we continued on, we saw two young men on horses riding in our direction. We stopped and Khatnaa got out to chat with them while I took photos from the car (do you see a pattern here? :0) . I don’t know where they were going, but they were all dressed up and looking good.
We continued on into the valley and a huge freestanding rock came into view.
Driving up to it, I could see that it was festooned with khadak, the ceremonial blue scarves. We stopped for a short time, walking around it.
As it turned out, just past this local sacred landmark was what I will always think of as the “Valley of the Yaks” and which I think is one of the most beautiful places I saw on my trip.
As I wrote last week, we had decided to leave the Ganchen Lama Monastery at Erdenesogt and go on to the Shargaljuut Mineral Springs Resort. Our route took us up a beautiful valley of green hills, gers and…yaks!
Mostly they were just wandering around grazing in small groups, but we also happened upon a young boy carrying out his herding duties.
The herder’s gers were scattered along the river which wound through the valley. We were, by now, well off the usual tourist routes, traveling on what Khatnaa said were “local roads”. Indeed. We were almost the only moving vehicle I’d seen all day.
Khatnaa stopped at a number of gers as we moved up the valley, including the one below, to ask directions. The situation we’d found ourselves in was that the recent storms, which caused the flooding of the rivers down south in the Gobi, had also washed out a number of bridges in the mountains and therefore, to get to our next destination, we would have to retrace a lot of our previous route back south down the valley, then do a 70km loop to the north where the resort was located. Since one can often only travel a distance of around 100km in a day, this was a long detour. He had been told at one point, however, that there was an alternate, more direct route. We pulled up to what turned out to be one last ger and Khatnaa got out and spoke with the herders.
He got back in the car, turned to me, smiled and said something I’ll remember for as long as I have two brain cells to rub together, “Now we will go on very local roads”. He turned the car to the east and headed up a slope that looked no different than any of the others that we had passed.
We went higher and higher, leaving the river valley far below. There was definitely an earth road, more like an earth trail actually, but it sure didn’t look like it got much use. Was I having fun yet? You bet!
Up and up we went, passing interesting rock formations, until we reached Hujirt Pass which, of course, had a ovoo.
We now started going down, down, down, surrounded by wonderful scenery. There had been storm clouds to the west and north most of the day, but the weather was fine along our route. No problem, right? Well…..
We reached the river valley and I could see the road we hadn’t taken on the other side. Then I spotted something I’d never seen in Mongolia…wild iris. I asked Khatnaa to stop and jumped out to take some photos.
In less than a minute, he leaned out and told me that I must get back into the car and when I had, explained that the rain we saw in the distance could cause the river to rise very quickly and that we had to get across it. Now.
And, as it turned out, there wasn’t just one channel to cross, but three or four. I kind of lost count.
Picking his spot, Khatnaa got the Land Cruiser up onto the road and we continued on to the mineral resort as it got darker and the wind started to kick up.
Although this was a camping trip, Khatnaa decided that, for this night at least, we would see if we could stay in the ger camp. He was concerned about the storm and how high the water might get. No argument from me, that was for sure.
We were able to get two gers, one for me to stay in and one for Khatnaa and Soyoloo that also doubled as our “kitchen” and “dining room”. It was a pretty wild and rainy night, but the next morning was fine. And, to our amusement, we found that the Rimpoche we had decided not to worry about seeing at the Gachen Lama Museum was staying at the resort!
We still never got to see him since it turned out that he skipped breakfast and left early for the monastery, but I did end up having a nice chat with a Mongol man who had called out to me in perfect California English “Where are you from?” when I stepped out of my ger with a cup of coffee. It turned out that he was a famous wrestler who had retired with the rating of Garuda and was now a businessman living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Khatnaa knew who he was and, of course, we had to have our picture taken with him. He was on vacation, he said, and was volunteering as a driver for the Rimpoche and his entourage.
The next great thing that happened was that we got to take our first showers since we were at the Onglyn valley in the Gobi. We had to wait our turn in the very busy sanitarium, but it was worth it. If there were any other Westerners anywhere around, I never saw them. Just the way I like it.
Before we left, we walked across the bridge and explored the thermal area. The different springs have different mineral content and are used to treat specific ailments, some physical, some mental. One consults a doctor before beginning treatment.
Our departure from Shargaljuut was much less eventful than our arrival. A short way down the road, though, we came across evidence of how powerful the storm run-off from the mountains can be. Just to the left is the “detour” across the now dry riverbed.
Here is what it would have looked like before the flood. All but a couple of the bridges I’ve crossed in my travels have been built this way, out of logs and lumber.
Where were we going next? I had no idea, but I knew it would be worth the trip, so I simply kicked back and enjoyed the scenery.
I last sat at my easel with a brush in my hand at the end of June. So, how to get rolling again?
I decided to do some small studies, only 5″x7″, and only spend about an hour on each one. After four, I felt like starting a larger piece, which I’ll post once I’m sure it’ll be a keeper. Then I did a fifth study because I wanted to do a bird.
The purpose was to get my hand moving and my mind thinking about, well, what it needs to think about when I’m painting. I also solved a nagging problem – I have been struggling with the greens in my Mongolia subjects. I’ve had My Beloved Sap Green on the palette, along with Viridian. The first study was a struggle because I couldn’t get the green tones I wanted. So I dug into the paint drawer and pulled out tubes of Terre Verte and Chromium Green Oxide, both of which had been sitting for so long that I almost twisted a split in them opening the caps with pliers. But…Bingo!, those more muted colors were exactly what I needed. A quick repaint and Study #1, of the Gobi, worked much better.
So, without further ado, here are the quick studies:
With luck, you can see some improvement between the first one and the last in confidence and brushwork as I get warmed up.