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.