I’m starting a new ongoing series of posts about my personal favorite artists and why they are. Art goes back a very long way. The current oldest known work of art is 40,000 year old cave paintings of wild cattle in Borneo. Animal art! You can read more about that here.
I’ve not personally visited any of the caves with wall paintings, but I have seen a number of sites in Mongolia with pictographs on outdoor rocks. My best photos of, and favorite, rock art is at Hogno Han Nature Reserve which is about five hours west of Ulaanbaatar. It’s on the west side of a small valley so it faces east. It’s easy to walk right up to it from the road. But sometimes there’s “local traffic” to get past first.
I love that long before “civilization” began people expressed themselves through art and in a way that has survived for us to see it today. The creative drive has clearly been with us for a very, very long time. We all have that capacity. It’s just a matter of finding out the best way for us to express our own creativity, whether it’s painting, crochet, cooking, singing, sketching, sewing, whatever appeals to you. It’s about the joy of doing it, not the result. How do you express your creativity? Let me know in the comments!
The weather on this last trip often wasn’t conducive to sitting and painting since a watercolor can easily take an hour or more. We had snow, rain and wind on the Expedition. It was hot at Ikh Nart and rainy at Delger Camp. I mostly drew in my journal and I’ll share those with you next week. But I did get some watercolor time in and here’s the result…
Last weekI shared photos of buying my ger at the Narantuul Market in Ulaanbaatar. This week you’ll see it put up for the first time.
A few hours after all the shopping was done I caught the evening train down to Dalanjargalan Soum, where the Ikh Nart reserve headquarters is located. The reserve Director, Dr. Amgalanbaatar, was kind enough to let me stay overnight in the “dorm” room used for visitors. The next day he and I and Anand, a member of his staff, drove out to the set-up location in the reserve’s grey Russian fergon van. Shavka arrived with his truck and the unloading and set-up began.
I had been given a choice of three locations, all in the vicinity of local herders in case I needed assistance. I was in the reserve itself, but not in the Core Area where, other than the research camp that has been there since 2001, no camping is allowed. I liked this location the best.
Note: You can find a number of sites and videos about putting up a ger. Mine’s a little different, I believe, since it shows one being put up for the first time, so there are first time steps that you normally wouldn’t see.
So how did it go, my week of living in my own ger for the first time? Really well. There was one very strong storm with heavy wind and rain that pulled part of the cover almost halfway off, but Choi and his wife fixed that the next morning. Wind blew a lot of dust in on the bottom on one side one afternoon, but putting up a section of the interior curtain (which hadn’t been done since there was no cord to string it up with, but I found a way to fake it) so that it fell onto the floor solved that problem. I used my cooktop for heating water for coffee in the morning and tea for visitors. I also had bansh (small meat dumplings used for soups) for dinner a couple of nights. I did a little laundry using the steel basins I’d bought and also managed a standing bath and hair wash.
Food storage became an issue and I lost some items, like a loaf of bread that turned moldy, due to lack of refrigeration. A small solar powered refrigerator with battery storage is on the list for next year. One often sees them in herder gers these days. I was happy with candlelight at night, so not really feeling the need for an “electric” light. My toilet was the great outdoors, which I’m used to, but it was a bit much for a week in one place. My current thought is to have a small vertical wall maikhan (the cloth summer tent) made with a divider down the middle. On one side would be a pit toilet with a seat and on the other a place to take a shower using a sun shower bag.
I slept well (I always do in a ger anyway) and found that I had, in fact, understood what was needed to do this to be happy and comfortable for a week or more. In the evenings I took one of the stools outside and put it close enough to the ger wall that I could sit with back support and watch the sun go down. A nice nip of Chinggis Gold vodka and some Ukrainian chocolate nougat candy (from Roshan, my favorite) and life was just about perfect.
On June 15, exactly one month ago, I got to spend some of the most fun hours I’ve had in eleven years of traveling to Mongolia, buying a ger at the Narantuul Market inUlaanbaatar. Not to bring home, but to use at one of my favorite places in the world, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Dornogobi Aimag, which I went to on an Earthwatch project (still going strong) on my first trip to Mongolia in 2005.
Before I left home, calls were made for me to get price estimates so I would know approximately how much things would cost. As it turns out, it’s impossible to get traveler’s checks anymore and foreigners are limited on how much money they can take out of an ATM per day. So I carried $1500 in cash with me, which was converted into tugrik, the Mongolian currency, before we went to the market.
I didn’t do this on my own, but had the expertise and assistance of two Mongols. One, Dr. Amgalanbaatar Sukhiin (Amgaa), is the Director of the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve Park Administration who I’ve known for eleven years. He granted my request to be able to set up a ger in the reserve, designated some choices for the location and helped with the shopping (talking to the sellers, carrying the money and paying for things) and the set-up. The second is Batbold (generally known by his nickname “Shavka”), a herder who lives with his family near the reserve, in a ger, of course. He was kind enough to drive his truck to Ulaanbaatar, help with all the purchases, transport everything back to Ikh Nart and help with the set-up. This dream come true would not have happened without them, along with other helpers you’ll meet next week.
“Ger” means simply “home” in Mongolian, but it’s generally associated with the round “felt tents” that the Mongols have lived in for over a thousand years. It’s a structure that is perfectly adapted to conditions in the Mongolian countryside. I thought of buying and living in one for a week to ten days a year as a kind of final exam to see how much I’d learned over the years staying at the Ikh Nart research camp, tourist ger camps and visiting many herder families.
So, how did I do on the budget? The ger cost 1.5 million tugrik…$750 USD. We were moving fast so I didn’t write down what everything else cost. All of it together came to $1200, pretty much what I’d estimated. I also paid Shavka’s gas and road fees and something for his helper and that took care of the rest.
Next week: Putting up my ger at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve.
I’m still in Mongolia with adventures to come, but wanted to share some favorite images from the Expedition. Once I’m home I’ll be doing my usual multi-part series covering all aspects of the trip. As far as weather, we had some of everything….snow, rain, wind, heat and cold, typical Mongolia. As far as sights, also typical, there was something worth having seen every day.
We did not see any Gobi bear, which was not surprising considering their rarity, but we did see tracks and scat. Just as special, we saw a herd of a dozen wild bactrian camels (see above photo), of which there are estimated to be around 900. They crossed the road in front of us some hundreds of yards away (the image above is cropped). Unlike the domestic version, they can really RUN.
I am truly honored and excited to announce that the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project will now be a featured conservation organization for this year’s WildArt Mongolia Expedition! Accompanying the announcement are photos I’ve taken of bankhar over the years.
To quote from their mission statement: “The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to help slow down and reverse the desertification of the Mongolian Grassland Steppes, and to preserve and protect traditional Mongolian culture. We strive toward these goals by resuscitating the traditional use of the livestock guardian dog known as the ‘Bankhar dog’.”
“Lethal predator control (shooting, trapping, poison) and retribution killings of predators are major threats to predator populations in Mongolia. The use of the Livestock Protection Dog has been shown to reduce predation on domestic livestock by 80-100%, eliminating the need for lethal predator control and allowing predators to target natural prey species instead of domestic ones.”
The predators in question are snow leopards and wolves. Desertification means the the herders must move their animals to higher elevations, into snow leopard territory, with the risk that entails. Wolves have always preyed on domestic animals, but environmental degradation has contributed to decreasing populations of wild prey species such as the gazelles, which has in turn increased their predation on livestock. Add climate change, which is resulting in unstable and more severe weather, and the struggle for herder families to survive, much less thrive, has become increasingly difficult. Yet the Mongols have always felt themselves to be a part of nature and believe that wildlife, including predators, has as much right to live as they do, a dramatic contrast with attitudes one often encounters in the US.
The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project addresses all these issues, but of particular interest to me is how the program reduces the killing of the endangered snow leopard and also wolves, who seem to be holding their own and who play an important role in Mongol culture since the Mongols believe that they are descended from a blue wolf and a doe.
The herders have always had general-purpose guardian dogs. The difference is that, as is done in a number of other countries, the program’s puppies are bonded with the livestock from the earliest age and, once placed, stay with the sheep and goats 24/7. Even though the project is still relatively new, it has already been proven to work. The herders don’t lose animals and the predators, a critical part of a healthy ecosystem, survive.
Our last stop on the Expedition will be near Hustai National Park (one of the three takhi/Przewalski’s horse reintroduction sites in the country), where local herder families have “adopted” puppies bred by the project. We will meet with them, learn about their lives, experiences and the place of wolves in Mongol culture, reporting back what they have to say. We’ll also meet with project staff and learn first-hand about what I believe to be a very important conservation initiative, one that I’ve had the pleasure of being in contact with from the beginning.
You can learn more about the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project here.