My guide/driver, Khatnaa, picked me up at the hotel at 9am and off to the countryside we went. I’m just going to hit the highlights here due to time constraints. I’ll cover each location more in separate posts after I get home.
We were about 40 minutes out of UB when we came upon a Kazakh man on a bicycle with his two year old golden eagle perched on the top of stack of parcels. What a way to start the trip!
We arrived at the Gun-Galuut (pronounced “goon-galote”) after a pleasant two-hour drive. Lovely tourist ger camp overlooking the valley of the Kherlen River. Here’s my ger-
We got settled in. I walked down to the river and sat by it for awhile, caught up on the Journal and got organized for the upcoming fieldwork.
The next four days took on a basic pattern of getting up at 6am, out the door by 6:30, game drive until about 9, back for breakfast, do what needed doing, back out after early dinner by 6:30, drive until light gone between 8:30 and 9. Fall over. Repeat.
The first morning, while Khatnaa was scanning the hills, I took a look along the river and, halfway through the first sweep from left to right spotted four young argali rams on the other side of the river. We were off to a good start. Here’s a selection of other images. I’m saving all the best stuff for the paintings, but these will give you an idea of what I saw.
Domestic bactrian camels
After four fabulous days at Gun-Galuut, we drove back through UB, where I picked up a copy of a bird guide and we ran a couple of other errands. Then it was south to Baga Gazriin Chuluu, with a one night stay at Arburd Sands. It was windy and there were dark clouds around. We stopped for lunch and could hear thunder in the distance. Then it got interesting.
We found ourselves out in the open on the steppe in a violent rain and then hail storm. It was so bad that Khatnaa turned the car so that the back was to the wind to protect the windshield. The sound of the hail hitting the top of the car was really loud and left dents. All we could do was sit tight and wait it out.
All the dirt track, or as Khatnaa called them, earth roads had become rushing rivers of water. Amazingly, he was able to pick our way across this safely and without getting stuck in his Mitsubishi Pajaro diesel SUV.
Finally, the hail stopped and we were able to go on. Khatnaa had only been to Arburd Sands once a number of years ago and when he became unsure of the route, he stopped a couple of times and asked for directions. These kids put on a wrestling demo for me while I waited in the car. They were really showing off their moves.
We started to see raptors by the side of the road once we got out past the storm front.
We also passed a number of ovoo. If it was a major one, we stopped, got out and circled it, adding a stone or small tugrik bills. Khatnaa honked at smaller ones as we went by them. More on ovoos in a future post.
We arrived at Arburd Sands and found out that the storm we had sat through had hit UB, causing the worst flooding in many years. At least 21 people died. If we had not gotten out of UB when we did, we might not have made it out of town at all.
Arburd Sands ger camp is a seasonable sustainable operation which is planned so that it leaves as little a mark on the land as possible. They use solar and wind for power.
There was an amazing display of thunder and lightning that evening, stretching from east to west. But it only rained during the night. No hail. The next morning we continued on to Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve. But, as I am coming to realize is routine when one travels in Mongolia, there were interesting things along the way. Like when Khatnaa stopped at this well and, following the ancient Mongol tradition, drew a couple of buckets of cool water for the animals.
Meanwhile, the goats were seizing another, albeit temporary, opportunity to take advantage of the shade under the car.
We traveled across the rolling steppe, passing an enormous and impressive mountain, a small lake and many country people and their flocks of animals. Finally, in the distance, we could see our destination, Baga Gazriin Chuluu.
We arrived at the ger camp and went through the usual routine of settling in. Here’s my view through the door of my small, but comfortable ger.
Khatnaa, as the guides usually do, started to chat up the camp staff. He found that one man, Onroo, had lived full-time at the reserve for three years and had a pretty good idea of where the animals were to be found. He went with us both mornings and proved to be indispensable.
Some of the fantastic rock formations.
Sometimes the going got interesting as we worked our way around the reserve.
The main species of interest here are argali, ibex and the cinereous vultures.
These animals were so tolerant of our presence that we were able to get out of the car and take pictures of each other with the sheep in the (somewhat distant, about 800 meters) background.
They’re at the base of the rocky hill to my right on a line with my cap.
I ended up having a couple of wonderful cultural experiences also, which included a ger visit where I got to watch soup made with boortz, dried meat, and where we were served that and cream, aruul, yogurt and milk tea and also getting to attend a “mountain washing” ceremony that included chanting Buddhist monks, a horse race, wrestling and anklebone shooting.
8 thoughts on “Images from the Field; Gun-Galuut and Baga Gazriin Chuluu”
What an incredible story your photos tell, thank you!
Just curious but did you ever feel awkward taking photos of the locals while you were there? How did you approach them when you wanted to?
I’m so shy when it comes to photographing strangers. Obviously if one isn’t, you can end up with great photos like yours. Keep it up!
It’s been hard for me, too. But I try to be unobtrusive and, if it’s not a public event like Nadaam where there were lots of cameras around, and I want a specific picture of someone, I ask first, with at least a gesture of the camera. I also have a 28-300 lens on one body and can get very good photos from quite a distance without the person ever knowing it, like the herders on horses I see from the car. I follow my gut about what’s appropriate and haven’t had anyone go off on me yet. Frankly, in Mongolia, the most likely result will be a request to send them a copy. Photos have pride of place in Mongol homes and I always do my best to get the picture to them.
Hmmm, so I guess I need a good lens and more confidence! The Mongols sound like such good people.
Wonderful blog that makes me nostalgic for Mongolia!
I think you’ll find that those are not Rock doves but the very similar Hill pigeon (Columba rupestris). They have a prominent white band at the base of their tails, visible in your photos. I only saw (feral) Rock pigeons in UB, where they mingle with rupestris, but saw lots of hill pigeons across the country.
Just checked the photo against the Mongolian bird guide I was able to get in UB and, yup, you’re right. Noted and corrected.
I plan to be in western Mongolia at the end of Sep for the Golden Eagle Festival. I’ll have a few free days in the UB area before and/or after the festival; sufficient time for me to hire a driver to visit Gun-Galuunt Nature preserve and/or Hustai national Park. Would you recommend your guide/driver, Khatnaa ? If yes, how do I contact him?
Thanks a lot,
Yes, I would recommend him highly. He works through Nomadic Journeys. http://www.nomadicjourneys.com. I would contact them, say that you heard about them from me and tell them what you have in mind. They will know if Khatnaa is available at that time, I would think. If not, I have found all their guides to be good, reliable people.
I was born and grew up in one of western mongolian provinces called Khovd.
I would recommend this province highly to everyone who is planning to go western mongolia. Because this is the only province where you can see almost all different ethnic groups who live in mongolia. The best time to travel there starts from the end of August, September and October.
If you want to have more information, i am ready to hep you.
I am currently living in San Francisco to improve my language.
Here is my email address: