Tales From The Field: “The Yak”


1-yakHappy New Year! I’m going to change things up on the blog for the coming year, my tenth as a blogger. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling over the years to a variety of destinations. And do I have stories? I certainly do. So the first Friday of each month will be “Tales from the Field”, which will include Mongolia, of course, but also Kenya, Canada, Europe and the US. Then I plan to do a post on whatever I’ve got cooking in the studio or on location, followed the next week with one of useful tips and information on painting and drawing. The fourth Friday will be a “gallimauphry” post, a great medieval term for “this and that”… announcements, special offers, whatever has caught my fancy. There may be posts in between for news that just can’t wait.

To start off Tales from the Field, here’s the story of my encounter with a yak in the northern mountains of Mongolia….

I was on my way to Jalman Meadows, a Nomadic Journeys ger camp located in the Han Hentii Strictly Protected Area at the northern reaches of the Tuul Gol (River), which wends its way down through Ulaanbaatar and on west.

We had left the pavement behind and were traveling on earth roads through the beautiful late summer countryside, passing local herders and their livestock, along with their white gers, the quintessential Mongolian landscape. Driving along a slope overlooking a valley we came upon (top photo) these two young men and a couple of yaks, both of which appeared to be gelded yak/cow crosses, which are stronger for work than pure yaks. The intact bulls have their horns removed because otherwise they would be too dangerous to handle.


They were keeping a careful eye on their charges.


But clearly experienced in moving these big beasts along. The horses were as phlegmatic about it as they always are.


We stopped while they crossed the road in front of us. I was sitting in the front seat of the Land Cruiser on the left side, the car being right-hand drive, and shooting photos through the windshield, but was able to have the window down next to me.


The boys and their charges moved off down towards the valley floor and we drove on.


There was a summer rain storm coming in and the light was spectacular at times. While we were stopped the riders and yaks caught up with us.


Got more photos of them passing us, although this one was a little blurry, it was the best composed. Then things changed in a hurry…


The bigger of the two yaks suddenly turned towards the car.


And started to charge towards it, aimed right at the passenger door. The boy had been smiling, but became quite serious. I wasn’t going anywhere.


Now he needed to really get his horse moving to catch up. I remember thinking that there was going to be collision with the car door and I would be looking right at those horns from a very, very short distance.


But he got the yak turning away and started to grin again. At this point he was about 15′ from the car. I and the driver exhaled. There had been no time for him to start the engine and no place to drive to anyway. Best to just stay put, stay quiet and not move. So I just kept, rather fatalistically, I suppose, taking pictures out the open window.


The yak was now turned away from the car and going in the right direction.


And the rider herded him towards the other boy and his charge.


Our yak encounter over, the herders moved their charges on down the valley with a pretty good story to tell when they got home.


And we drove on to our destination, Jalman Meadows, set high on a bluff overlooking the river and the mountains. You can see photos of my stay there on a previous blog post here.

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