I’ve been having fun painting Mongol horses. This and the previous one, which you can see here, were started before my latest trip to Mongolia.
The reference photo was shot at the beginning of my 2011 trip with fellow artist Pokey Park. We had spent a few days in Hustai National Park photographing and observing takhi. Now we were on our way south. We had left the park and were driving to the only bridge for many miles that crosses the Tuul Gol, traveling along an upland area that overlooked the river valley.
The rocks on the right are part of a complex of Turkic graves, which are quite interesting. But not nearly as interesting to me as the herd of horses that were behind me when I took the above photo.
It was August and there were a lot of flies. The horses were constantly circling, trying to get their heads as far into the middle of the group as possible. But they knew I was there and every once and awhile some would stop and look at me, which is when I got the reference photo I used for the painting.
I liked the contrast of color and head position of these two, so I cut out everyone else. The twisted blue khadag around the neck of the brown horse was a nice extra.
We were driving on an upland areaoverlooking the Tuul Gol one morning in 2011 and saw a herd of horses right by the road. Photo time. They were circling and circling, all trying to get their heads into the middle of the group to keep the flies off, but sometimes for a very short time some would stop and see what I was doing. That’s when I snapped this photo. I simplified it by removing some parts of other horses so that the center of interest would that line of heads. I really liked the pattern and rhythm of their overlapping forms. And then there was the foal as a bonus.
Pokey Park and I and our guide/driver were exploring the wetland area of Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, when we saw a local herder coming past us. One of the impressive things about Mongol riders is that, even at a very young age, they can ride a horse going pretty much at any gait or speed standing up and utterly still.
He rode on past us and we continued birdwatching and picture taking. Not too much later though, back he came, catching up with a brown horse, saddled and bridled, which had clearly gotten loose. In the meantime, a good-sized group of horses were heading for some open water. The brown horse dodged behind them with the rider right after him. Up came his urga (the long pole with a loop that is used instead of a rope lasso) and in short order the brown horse was captured.
For the painting, I wanted to show Mongol horsemanship, which most people haven’t seen. The bonus, of course, was the great morning light and the setting. And…you may have noticed that the rider in the photo is wearing backwards baseball cap, but not in the painting. I’m interested in painting the Mongolia of today, but the baseball caps just don’t do it for me, however practical they are for the wearers, so I leave them off. But everything else is as I saw it that beautiful morning in August 2011.
I’m very proud to announce that my latest takhi painting “Enchanted Evening”, has been accepted into the Society of Animal Artists’ 52nd Annual Exhibition of “Art and the Animal”. This is the fourth year in a row that I have had work in the show and they have all been Mongolia subjects, which pleases me a lot.
The exhibition will be held at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, which is located in Oradell, New Jersey, and officially opens on the weekend of October 5-7. I plan to be there for all the festivities. More details later on as the opening approaches, but consider yourself invited!
The story behind the painting: Last August, nationally-known sculptor Pokey Park and I were on a two-week tour of the best wildlife watching locations. We were leaving Hustai National Park, one of the three places in Mongolia where takhi have been reintroduced, after a last horse-watching drive, which had already been very successful. Then, less than 50 feet from the road we spotted this small group of takhi coming down to a pool of water. We stopped and got our cameras ready. Would they come or not…
And here’s a short video that I shot on my Flip HD. Unfortunately we ended up with a lot of cars stacked up behind us, just like a bear or bison jam in Yellowstone. One woman came up next to me out in plain view (I was behind the open door of the car, using it for kind of a blind) and spooked them, but at least they’d all been able to drink. Enjoy!
I’m going to start a short series for the holidays of “albums” with images I’ve shot of various types of animals and species that I’ve seen on my travels to Mongolia.
First up are the birds I saw on this latest trip in August 2011. If you see a mis-identified bird, please let me know. The field guide situation for Mongolian birds is still not what it needs to be.
Finally, we didn’t go hunting for any of these birds. They are what I saw as we drove around or walked in the reserves and parks. Mongolia is an extraordinary birding destination that deserves to be better known.
I’d heard about this large monastery to the north west of Ulaanbaatar and decided that I wanted to see it, along with the northern mountains. It is one of the three most important khiids in Mongolia, along with Gandan in Ulaanbaatar and Erdene Zuu, which is adjacent to the site of the old Mongol imperial capital Kharkhorin and built partly with stones from it. I’d already visited them.
Nomadic Journeys put together a one week camping trip for me on short notice and Amarbayasgalant Khiid (“khiid” means “monastery” in Mongolian) was the first stop. And was it ever worth the drive, even though there’s a somewhat tacky ger camp very close to the complex that needs to be moved.
The monastery was built between 1727 and 1737 by a Manchu emperor, so the architectural style is Manchu. It survived the destruction of most of the monasteries in Mongolia in 1937, but now there are around 60 monks in residence instead of over 2000.
Unfortunately, there are no guide books, or at least I haven’t been able to find anything, so I can’t offer a lot of information on what is in the photos. But I hope you’ll enjoy a look at a very special place.
Unfortunately, my guide’s English was only ok and I didn’t have a way to take notes, so I don’t know who these statues are of and what they symbolize.
And now we come to the last leg of a wonderful two-week tour and a look at one last ecosytem, the mountain forest, which is the southermost extension of the boreal forest that circles the northern part of the Earth.
The Jalman Meadows ger camp, run on a seasonal basis by Nomadic Journeys, was set up high on a bluff overlooking the Tuul Gol.
While there is wildlife around, it’s the activities one can do here that are the main attraction and we took advantage of all of them!
We didn’t have long on tarmac road before we turned north into the Han Hentii Mountains, most of which is included in one of Mongolia’s Strictly Protected Areas.
This would be my first visit to Nomadic Journeys’ “signature camp”, Jalman Meadows. I hadn’t gone there before because, while there is plenty of interesting wildlife in the mountains, it’s not easy to see. The good news is that it would be an opportunity for both me and Pokey to see the southernmost point of the vast taiga, or boreal forest, that encircles the earth.
Next week: boating and hiking and back to Ulaanbaatar
We arrived at the Steppe Nomads ger camp at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve with a broken rear spring on the Land Cruiser, not sure what this meant for the remainder of the trip. While Pokey and I settled in, Khatnaa got on his mobile phone and called the Nomadic Journeys’ office to sort things out. We got laundry done and took welcome hot showers.
That night, at dinner, Khatnaa explained the situation. He would need to take the car out to the tarmac road (13km on earth road each way to get to and from the reserve) the next afternoon to meet up with someone from UB who would bring the new spring out. Then it would have to be installed. How long? Half a day. Did we want the office to also send out a new guide and driver to finish the trip or would we wait for the repair? That decision took about two seconds….we’d wait and finish the trip together. In any case, Pokey and I weren’t sorry to have a break to simply hang around camp and relax.
Khatnaa then said that the car was drivable, with care, and we would go out the next morning at 6am, which is exactly what we did. I was impressed by what he considered staying on “easy” roads. We parked and took a good, long hike down to where he thought we might see argali, which we spotted off in the distance almost as soon as we stopped to glass the mountain.
We also got great photos of a big herd of Mongol horses and cranes, but really had to dodge the mosquitos. Back at the ger camp around 1pm, Khatnaa grabbed a quick lunch and took off. To our surprise and pleasure he was back at 5:15, after having to replace BOTH back springs because the replacement was longer than the original one. Dinner was quite festive with beers all around.
We only had one day at Gun-Galuut, but it was a full one, packed with great scenery and animals.
That evening Khatnaa told us that the next day’s drive wouldn’t be a long one, so we would go out into the reserve in the morning and leave after lunch. We went around the “backside” of the mountain, the side away from the river, parked in a draw, got out and almost immediately spotted four big rams running over a ridge to our right. I only was able to get a couple of butt shots before they were gone. But, within minutes, we spotted an argali ewe and lamb to our left. And then a large group moving up the draw directly in front of us, but a pretty long ways off. It’s estimated that there are less than 100 argali in Gun-Galuut, so we saw a fairly good percentage of the population in two tries.
We drove to the next draw over where we hoped the argali rams had gone, but saw no one. Pokey wanted to do some sketching, so she stayed with the car while Khatnaa and I hiked up onto the mountain again. Coming around a ridge, the view opened up to the entire river valley. We found a couple of rocks to sit on and simply enjoyed the scenery for a half hour. It was so quiet, except for the occasional animal. No cars, no planes, no radios, no voices. Just. Quiet. One of the things I treasure about being in the Mongolian countryside.
Next week: Onward to Jalman Meadows in the Hentii Mountains