New Painting of Takhi/Przwalski’s Horses!

“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Takhi Family Group) oil 18×36” price on request

I recently pulled out about a dozen paintings that for one reason or another I’d never gotten to “work” and can now see what I need to do. As I finish them I’ll be posting them here on my blog and also in my Fox Studio Facebook group.

“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Takhi Family Group)” was one of them. Spent my work day yesterday fixing it, which turned out to be an almost total repaint except for the horses, who just needed some tweaking, and the mountains in the background. In takhi/Przewalski’s horse family groups, as with American feral horses, the group (once called “harems”) they are led by the senior mare. She decides when and where they move to. The stallion brings up the rear which means he can keep a watchful eye on everyone, ready to defend them from predators like wolves, which are common in Mongolia.

I saw this family group of takhi at Takhiin Tal which is located at the upper eastern corner of the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, not far from where the last wild takhi was seen at a waterhole in 1969. I had permission to get out of the car and approach them, which I did slowly in a zig-zag pattern. They kept an eye on me while I took photos and finally moved off, giving me this great example of wild equid behavior.

“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Family Group)” oil 18×36″ price on request

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 15: And Back To Ulaanbaatar

On our way back south to Bayanhongor from Ganchen Lama Khiid, we saw lots of yaks.
On our way back south to Bayanhongor from Ganchen Lama Khiid, we saw lots of yaks.

The last day of the 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition had finally arrived. One more night in the countryside and then back to Ulaanbaatar. The day took an unexpected turn that led to a perfect final evening….

We stopped at one last herder's ger and, along with a very nice Land Cruiser, there was also this equally nice Mongol horse, ready to ride.
We stopped at one last herder’s ger and, along with a very nice Land Cruiser, there was also this equally nice Mongol horse, ready to ride.

The big sightseeing stop for the day...what can only be called a temple dedicated to the Mongol race horses.
The big sightseeing stop for the day…what can only be called a temple dedicated to the Mongol race horses, located near the Aimag center of Arvakheer. As we drove up to it I realized that we had camped a few hundred yards behind it on our outward bound trip, not knowing what it was. I had assumed it was some kind of Buddhist installation and, in fact, that was one facet if this amazing site.

The main structure is this semi-circle
The main structure is this semi-circle, surrounded by stupas and flanked by statues of what I assume are famous race horses. I really want to go back here for at least a half-day sometime just to hang around, sketch and do some watercolors.

Not exactly what I expected to see...
Not exactly what I expected to see at a place dedicated to horses.

Statues of famous race horses.
Beautifully sculpted statues of famous race horses.

In one corner was this pole with khadag suspended from it.
In one corner was this pole with khadag suspended from it.

In the front to one side was this pole with khadag
The center pole.

Behind the "temple" was this extraordinary sight- a fence utterly covered with khadag and, on the ground, hundreds of horses skulls. On the plain in the background is where we had camped.
Behind the “temple” was this extraordinary sight- a fence completely covered with khadag and, on the ground, hundreds of horses skulls. On the plain in the background is where we had camped.

A large and very colorful wedding party showed up while we were there. Here are two of men...lookin' good.
A large and very colorful wedding party showed up while we were there. Here are two of men…lookin’ good.

We traveled on north and came upon an extensive wetland complex in fabulous light, complete with yaks, horses and endangered whooper swans.
We traveled on north and came upon an extensive wetland complex in fabulous light, complete with yaks, horses and endangered whooper swans.

Concerned about
Concerned about it being very cold this last night out, the drivers told us that they had called the Nomadic Journeys ger camp in the area, Delger, and had arranged for us to stay there in gers instead of camping in our tents. As the light faded to night, we made a long run through sandy areas with no directional signs, arriving at the camp after dark but to a warm welcome.

The next morning
The next morning we could see the lovely spot the camp was in. It turned out that this was the day the camp would be packed away for the year. Whew. The previous evening we had all gathered in the cozy, warm kitchen ger along with our host, camp manager Ariunbold, eating noodles, drinking vodka and having a great final dinner together.

One of the camp dogs. I was told they are there to keep wolves away.
One of the camp dogs. I was told they are there to keep wolves away.

We said our good-byes and began the final leg of the Expedition, passing this attractive row of shops.
We said our good-byes and began the final leg of the Expedition, passing this attractive row of shops.

A last photo op...horses crossing a river!
A last photo op…horses crossing a river!

And the final stop, now not far from Ulaanbaatar, to see this statue of a shaman, facing south and festooned with khadag.
And the final stop, now not far from Ulaanbaatar, to see this statue of a shaman, facing south and festooned with khadag.

Ulaanbaatar ahead
Ulaanbaatar ahead in the sunshine. I liked coming into town behind this truckload of horses. The countryside and the city.

And so ended the 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition. We met every goal that I had set for both habitats and endangered species. We are the only western artists now to have gone to Takhiin Tal, the first takhi release site, where we saw both takhi and khulan, and Sharga/Darvi  where we saw over thirty saiga antelope. We met the scientists working to conserve these  species and saw snow leopard habitat, complete with ibex. We forded flooded rivers, camped under Gobi skies, visited and hiked an important sacred mountain, attended a local naadam, stumbled upon an ambler horse race, explored a very special monastery, and painted and sketched as we went.

Now there will be a special group exhibition of paintings from the Expedition, featuring myself, Tugsoyun Sodnom and Oidoviin Magvandorj. It will be at the Union of Mongolian Artists Gallery in Ulaanbaatar from June 27 to July 8. There will be an opening reception on the 27th.

I want to say a very special “Thank You!” to Nomadic Journeys and their staff, who made the Expedition possible and contributed greatly to its success. bayarlalaa

———

I head back to Mongolia on May 28 for eight weeks. There will be another WildArt Mongolia Expedition, this time to the northeastern mountains and the famous steppe grasslands to try to see and photograph six species of cranes, three of them endangered and also Mongolian gazelles. So stay tuned!

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 14: The Incomparable Gachen Lama Khiid

The old temple
The old temple.

I had first come to Gachan Lama Khiid on my two-week camping trip in 2010. I had never heard of it and was completely enchanted. So when the idea was floated about taking a different route back for at least part of the return to Ulaanbaatar, I thought of coming back and sharing this place. No one knows about it, really, not even many Mongols. If you google it, my previous post from 2010 is pretty much what comes up.

I think the old temple, the only structure besides the main gate which was left after the destruction of the monasteries in the late 1930s, is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. This time we were able to talk to the lamas and a staff person who live and work and worship there and learn more about it. A new temple has been built and we were allowed to enter and take photos in it and also the old temple.

The old temple is badly in need of restoration. One side is so unstable that it is propped up with timbers. There are a large number of exquisite works of art on the walls, most of them in need of attention. One can see areas of wood rot in parts of the structure. The monks came up with a restoration plan and sent it to the appropriate government ministry two years ago, but have not yet gotten a response. I promised them that I would see what I could do. This post is partly to keep that promise, but I will also be following up once I’m back in Mongolia this June (there was no time left last year and the monks are almost impossible to contact due to poor mobile phone reception). I documented as much of the damage as I could and have posted some of those images here as reference and to show some of what needs to be done. Honestly, this place should be on the list of World Heritage Sites.

A final note: The monastery is not set up for visitors. I’m not sure what facilities are available in the soum center nearby. If you go, plan to have everything you need and be respectful. Namaste.

We arrived after dark and it was very cold. And going to get colder as we were up in the Hangai Mountains almost due north of Bayanhongor. People were found and we were not only given permission to camp right on the monastery grounds, but allowed the use of one of the outbuildings for cooking and eating. The next morning we emerged to morning light that cast a magical glow on the temples…

The old temple
The old temple.

The surviving gate
The surviving gate; a new enclosure is being built around the complex.

Stupas
Stupas with the river in the background.

Stupa
Stupa.

The "kitchen"
The “kitchen”. Soyoloo, our cook, and Tseegii, our guide, making breakfast for everyone.

Entrance to the "kitchen"
Entrance to the “kitchen”.

Corner detail
Corner detail showing the delicate fretwork.

Blue elephant
Blue elephant.

Blue guardian
Blue guardian.

Carved and painted lotus
Carved and painted lotus.

Doorframe carving
Doorframe carving.

Corner animal and bell
Corner animal and bell.

Schematic of monastery before most of it was destroyed.
Schematic of monastery before most of it was destroyed.

Sign over door in three languages: Tibetan, Mongol bichig script, Chinese
Sign over door in three languages: Tibetan, Mongol vertical script, Chinese.

Buddhist symbol set of deer and wheel over door
Buddhist symbol set of deer and wheel over door. It is said that the first creatures to come to the Buddha when he sat under the Bodhi Tree to teach were two deer.

Timbers supporting one corner of the old Temple
Timbers supporting one corner of the old Temple.

Wall painting.
Wall painting.

Wall paintings.
Wall paintings.

Old temple interior.
Old temple interior.

Main altar in the old temple.
Main altar in the old temple.

Wall paintings.
Wall paintings.

Lama throne.
Lama throne.

Altar figurines.
Altar figurines.

Thanka.
Thanka.

Wall paintings.
Wall paintings.

Wall painting of the monastery in the winter. This one was everyone's favorite, including me.
Wall painting of the monastery in the winter. This one was everyone’s favorite, including me.

Door panel painting at the interior entrance to the old temple. Also a favorite.
Door panel painting at the interior entrance to the old temple. Also a favorite.

Altar in the new temple.
Lama throne in the new temple.

Ritual objects.
Ritual objects.

Temple bowl
Temple incense offering bowl.

The main altar in the new temple.
The main altar in the new temple.

Another view of the altar.
The right side of the altar.

A very old lock and keys.
A very old lock and keys.

Monk showing us a ceremonial staff.
Monk showing us a ceremonial staff.

Old table with stunning lacquer work.
Old table with stunning raised lacquer work.

Old door latch.
Old door latch.

The old temple.
The old temple. Unfortunately, we had to leave before the sun got to the front. But at the link above there’s a photo of it in full light.

The new temple.
The new temple.

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 13: An Ambling Horse Race In Bayahongor

What are they watching?
What are they watching?

We finally came full circle, in a way, and arrived back to Bayanhongor, from where we had turned south towards the Gobi over two weeks earlier. As we came into town we saw a big crowd and…horses. What was going on? We drove over to the parking area, stopped and jumped out with our cameras. It was a horse race, but not like any I’d seen. For one thing it was on an oval dirt course instead of across the countryside. For another the horses sure didn’t seem to be going very fast. It turned out to be a race for a very special gaited Mongol horse called an ambler. Some horses are born with the ability to pace, which means both legs on one side move together. They are highly prized because they give a smoother ride than the regular Mongol horses who have a shortened gait which is an adaptation to minimize the danger of breaking leg if the horse steps in something like a marmot hole. What a wonderful and unexpected photo opp and experience this was almost at the end of the Expedition!

It's a horse race!
It’s a horse race!

This time most of the riders were adult men.
This time most of the riders were adult men.

I'd never seen Mongol horses move like this before.
I’d never seen Mongol horses move like this before.

And I loved how some of the riders were wearing very fancy del.
And I loved how some of the riders were wearing very fancy del.

At the finish line.
At the finish line.

Best. Dressed. Man.
Best. Dressed. Man.

One of the winners, apparently.
One of the winners, apparently.

Everyone seemed to having a seriously good time.
Everyone seemed to having a seriously good time.

Mugging for the camera.
Smiling for the camera. Love the peace sign.

On our way north
On our way north we passed….a dinosaur park. The light was going and we had a ways to drive to no time to stop. Just grabbed some shots from the van.

I want this for our backyard.
I want this for our backyard.

Back out into the countryside,
Back out into the countryside, going north into the Hangai Mountains to a monastery that I visited and fell in love with in 2010, Ganchen Lama Khiid. You can read about that first visit here.

It was July and green
It was July and green the first time I went up this road. Now it was September and the land was golden in the setting sun.

It truly was a beautiful fall evening.
It truly was a beautiful fall evening.

But it was also going to be cold. We drove on as it became dark and finally arrived at the Monastery….

 

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 12: A “Salty” Surprise

Ovoo
Ovoo enroute to Altay. Notice the smooth, level earth road in the background…

The next morning we drove on to Altay, the capital of Gobi Altai Aimag. It’s a small city with all the services one might need, including an airport with regular flights to and from Ulaanbaatar.

We were treated to lunch at the home of an artist friend of Tugsoyun’s. More than lunch, really, a multi-course feast. Two hours later, we made our goodbyes and, after a short stop at a local temple, were on our way east again.

Typical street scene in Altay.
Typical street scene in Altay.

Temple in Altay.
Temple in Altay.

Stupas and khadag near the temple.
Stupas and khadag near the temple.

The last camels we saw on the Expedition.
The last camels we saw on the Expedition.

The road was great
The road was great going east from Altay until we reached the aimag border. It’s the main east/west route on the south side of the Hangai Mountains. I was shocked when not long after I took this photo it turned into some of the nastiest, most miserable road I’ve traveled on in eight trips to Mongolia. There is no way solid economic progress can be made in Mongolia or the people be able to make a good living , build up a company and send goods to bigger markets like Ulaanbaatar as long as the roads are so bad. Fortunately, every year there is more tarmac laid and the situation improves. But I’d pay not to have travel that stretch again and I love the earth roads.

As we
As we bumped along and hung on, we came upon a car that had broken down out in the middle of nowhere. And in Mongolia, that’s saying something. We stopped, of course, and our drivers spoke to the people, a young couple with an older woman. It wasn’t a good situation because we had no room to take anyone with us, weren’t going near a town and it was clearly going to get cold that night. So we promised to stop at the first ger we came to and tell them where to find the car and people. We drove for quite a bit and came over a rise to see this lake and…two gers! One van drove off to the gers and ours headed to this well. In a very short time we saw a truck from the gers head back up the road towards the stranded car. So we knew they’d be ok. We looked around and decided that we’d come upon a perfect spot to camp. But first we filled our water container.

As is usually the case,
As is usually the case, someone spotted us and came riding over on this very nice-looking horse with a traditional saddle, so out came the cameras. Another man came within minutes on the motorbike.

The horse's owner and rider.
The horse’s owner and rider.

After
After a short visit, he went on his way.

The other man
The other man, it turned out, owned these two little gers near the lake. He was staying in one, but offered us the use of the other for our kitchen and dining room. It looks pretty tacky and was too tiny to get any interior photos, but it was comfy and cozy inside when the wind came up and the temperature dropped.

The view
The view, with oncoming horses.

What could have been more perfect?
What could have been more perfect? Settled down for the evening, beautiful late light and this lovely herd of horses coming for water and to graze.

The Boss.
The Boss.

Members of the herd.
Members of the herd.

Sunset
Sunset

Packing
Packing up camp. The man in the white hat was the owner of the gers. A conversation with him the night before revealed that we were camped near quite a large salt deposit and that he was a salt miner. He offered to give us a tour in the morning.

After dinner,
After breakfast, Tseegii and Soyoloo made our lunch for the day, khuushuur (fried meat turnovers). One of my personal favorites that I never get tired of.

Fresh and hot, right out of the pan.
Fresh and hot, right out of the pan. Soyoloo, our cook, turned out three course dinners, including soups from scratch, using this single burner gas cooker.

sgaj
The man with his hands behind his back turned out to be the local official who supervised the salt extraction, issuing and checking permits and keeping an eye on things.

The salt deposit, with harvested salt ready to be bagged up.
The salt deposit, with harvested salt ready to be bagged up.

The "miners" would fill a bag like this and carry it out to be sold. If I recall correctly, they would get $15 for a 50 kilo bag. Hard work, very hard, but pretty good money at this point.
The “miners” would fill a bag like this and carry it out to be sold. If I recall correctly, they would get $15 for a 50 kilo bag. Hard work, very hard, but pretty good money at this point.

We were shown the two versions of the salt. The white at the bottom has been washed. The brown at the top is unwashed.
We were shown the two versions of the salt. The white at the bottom has been washed. The brown at the top is unwashed.

Our host led us all the way out into the middle of the deposit.
Our host led us all the way out into the middle of the deposit. We really had to watch where we stepped. And three of us had expensive camera equipment to think about. But we wouldn’t have missed this for anything!

a;flj
One of the miners with sacks ready to carry back to the pick-up point.

I felt a little like
I felt a little like I was in Yellowstone National Park, looking down into these colorful mineral pools.

Small salt formation.
Small salt formation.

Our hosts.
Our hosts. The miner, on the left, is doing this work to earn money to pay for his daughter to go to the university in Ulaanbaatar. It’s very hard work, but because it pays pretty well he said it was worth it. On the right is the salt mine supervisor/manager from the local government office. I think they liked how interested we were and enjoyed sharing information about what they do. We really appreciated this unexpected look at one piece of life in Mongolia.

Finally,
Finally, the miner demonstrated to us how the salt is washed. This simple homemade tool does the job.

He has
He has scooped salt out of the pond.

Then he rinses it
Then he rinses it with vigorous shaking.

The clean salt.
The clean salt.

Salt
Salt has been valuable as the only means of preserving food for thousands of years, really until quite recently. It is still used for that, of course, and as a flavoring. It’s fun to imagine that salt from this place could have traveled the Silk Road to Europe and ended up on the table of a king. And it’s possible.

Finally,
Finally it was time to get back to the vans and on our way. The sun was now behind us, backlighting the tall grasses.

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 11: Darvi Soum And More Saiga Antelope

Sunrise at Ihes Nuur
Sunrise at Ihes Nuur with our excellent cook, Soyoloo.

We had a lovely evening by the lake, Ihes Nuur. Mosquitos weren’t a problem since it was now September. The next morning the light was wonderful. Off in the distance we could hear drumming. One of the Mongols remarked that they thought it was a shaman who was at one of the gers we could see from where we were camped.

The goal this morning was to find Batsaikhan, the coordinator of the Saiga Ranger Network. But first we had time to walk around the lakeshore and sketch, paint and take photos.

A herd of yaks grazed near our camp
A herd of yaks grazed near our camp.

Magvandorj paints on location
Magvandorj paints on location.

Tugsoyun sketching
Tugsoyun sketching.

Soyoloo and Tseegii packing up the kitchen and food.
Soyoloo and Tseegii packing up the kitchen and food.

On our way into town, we passed a hillside with a lot of black kites
On our way into town, we passed a hillside with a lot of black kites.

Myself and Batsaikhan Baljiinnayam, the Saiga Ranger Network coordinator
Myself and Batsaikhan Baljiinnayam, the Saiga Ranger Network coordinator. He gave us an excellent briefing on the history and current status of saiga antelope conservation and offered to take us out to look for them.

To get an overview of the area, Batsaikhan took us up to this high point which had a large ovoo.
To get an overview of the area, Batsaikhan took us up to this high point which had a large ovoo.

The soum center of Darvi.
The soum center of Darvi.

Batsaikhan briefs the group on saiga conservation.
Batsaikhan briefs the group on the local area and saiga conservation.

Back into town for a short stop where I got a photo of a local woman fetching water.
Back into town for a short stop where I got a photo of a local woman fetching water. Almost no one in the soum centers has running water in their home, so they must fetch water using metal or plastic barrels carried by these small carts. Needless to say, water conservation is a way of life.

A statue of a famous race horse. The Darvi and Sharga areas of Mongolia are famous for their horses.
Statue of a famous race horse, named Darvi. The town and soum are named after him. The Darvi and Sharga areas of Mongolia are well-known throughout Mongolia for their horses.

Batsaikan led us on a "game drive" and we again saw a lot of saiga. They were always a long way off, which is why this cropped-in close-up is a little blurry.
Batsaikan led us on a “game drive” and we again saw a lot of saiga. They were always a long way off, which is why this cropped-in close-up of a male saiga is a little blurry.

Spectacular landscape.
Saiga live here….

Getting information for the next leg of our journey.
Getting information for the next leg of our journey from one of the rangers. We would now begin the long trip back to the east and Ulaanbaatar.

Picnic lunch with a view.
Picnic lunch with a view.

A group of four saiga.
A group of four saiga.

Impressive landscape.
Impressive landscape.

The largest number we saw at one time was this group of five.
The largest number we saw at one time was this group of five. They didn’t seem to notice the presence of the herders and their livestock at all.

Time to say goodbye and get a group shot.
Time to say goodbye and get a group shot. From left to right: Susan Fox, Tugsoyun Sodnom, Oidoviin Magvandorj, Batsaikhan Baljinnayam, Sharon Schafer, Soyoloo, I. Odna, local ranger, driver, Sendag, driver Batmaa. Photo by guide Tseegii.

On the road again...
On the road again…

We came to a sand dune area and got out to poke around and take a break. Here's our faithful Russian vans.
We came to a sand dune area and got out to poke around and take a break. Here’s our faithful Russian vans.

Camp all set up.
Camp all set up in Sharga Soum.

 

 

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 10: From Takhiin Tal To Darvi Soum And….Saiga Antelope!

On the road again
On the (earth) road again. Taken through the windshield of the van.

We were sorry to have to leave Takhiin Tal so soon, but ahead of us, with luck,  would be sightings of the world’s most endangered antelope, the saiga. At one time there were millions. Poaching reduced their numbers in Mongolia to a low of 760 at one point. Biologists had calculated that below 600 the species would no longer viable. A turnaround came when the World Wildlife Federation helped set up the Saiga Ranger Network, based in Darvi Soum. That was our next stop, where we hoped to be able find and speak with the Network coordinator Batsaikhan Baljiinnyam. But we had quite a drive ahead of us…

Local herder
Local herder

Ger
Ger in a protected spot. One of the Mongols told us that gers serve as a compass in the countryside. Since they always face south, once you spot one you know which way is which.

Trees?
Oncoming traffic for the day. One motorbike.

Unexpected
Unexpected trees.

Gers
Gers in a really lovely spot that I’d love to go back to and have time to paint.

The road and the stream became one for quite a distance.
The road and the stream became one for quite a distance.

Bugat.
The soum center of Bugat. Typical size and setting.

Leaving Bugat I suddenly saw a lammergeier/bearded vulture right by the road!
Leaving Bugat I suddenly saw a lammergeier/bearded vulture right by the road!

He took off and I got some nice aerial shots.
He took off and I got some nice aerial shots.

Where better to stop for lunch but near a herd of camels?
Where better to stop for lunch than near a herd of camels?

We wen up into another rugged pass.
We went up into another rugged pass. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were, but knew that the driver of our van was heading towards the Sharga area, as I had requested, since that was where we had a chance to see the antelope.

We came out of the pass onto this upland area and within a few minutes, oh my gosh, there was a male saiga antelope!
We came out of the pass onto this upland area and within a few minutes, oh my gosh, there was a male saiga antelope!

Female saiga
We started to see them almost everywhere it seemed, including this female.

We spotted a number of vultures circling and it turned out to be two species, a smaller griffon vulture and the much larger eurasian black/cinereous vulture.
We spotted a number of vultures circling and it turned out to be two species, a smaller griffon vulture and the much larger eurasian black/cinereous vulture.

That is a patch of snow on that mountain. In early September.
That is a patch of snow on that mountain. In early September. Camels and earth roads, a combination I never, ever get tired of.

By the time we got to the soum center, we calculated that we had seen at least twenty saiga, far, far more than my wildest dreams. And did they put on a show. I've seen a lot of wild hoofed animals, but never a species that runs like these do.
By the time we got to the soum center of Darvi, we calculated that we had seen at least twenty saiga, far, far more than my wildest dreams. And did they put on a show. I’ve seen a lot of wild hoofed animals, but never a species that runs like these do.

We drove into Darvi to get petrol and water. Notice the solar panel on the left.
We drove into Darvi to get petrol and water. Notice the solar panel on the left.

The second van didn't show up where expected at the petrol station, so we went looking for them and found that they'd been stopped by a flat tire. Hundreds of miles on earth roads through the deep Gobi and we get a flat in town.
The second van didn’t show up where expected at the petrol station, so we went looking for them and found that they’d been stopped by a flat tire. Hundreds of miles on earth roads through the deep Gobi and we get a flat in town. Sendag, the driver of that van, took care of it that evening, to my surprise. He found someone at 8:00 at night who repaired the tire for about $8.

We had seen the lake Ikhes Nuur when we drove into town and decided to see if it would be a good place to camp. It was.
We had seen the lake Ikhes Nuur when we drove into town and decided to see if it would be a good place to camp. It was.

Gers with a view of the lake.
Gers with a view of the lake.

Our camp.
Our camp.

Thus ended quite a day. Our mission on the morrow was to find Batsaikhan and learn about saiga conservation.

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 9: Takhiin Tal, In The Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area

Takhiin Tal
Takhiin Tal. On the left is a wild-born takhi stallion. On the right are four mares who had been flown in from the Prague Zoo two months earlier in July, so were still being kept in a big acclimation enclosure. The reintroduction people had learned early on that if the transhipped horses were simply released into the reserve upon arrival they would mostly not survive the winters (temperatures as low as -50C) or the wolves. Rangers keep an eye on all of them, but ultimately nature is allowed to take its course.

We had finally reached the main goal of the Expedition, Takhiin Tal, the second location where takhi/Przewalski’s horses were reintroduced to Mongolia in 1992. I had wanted to go here for years, having already been to the other two release sites: Hustai National Park (at least six times) and Khomiin Tal (in 2006, my second trip), which is in Zavkhan Aimag.

My friend, Anne-Camille Souris, a khulan/Mongolian wild ass researcher, had given me an introduction to the Director of Takhiin Tal, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, He proved to be a most wonderfully gracious host, taking time out during a very busy part of the year when he and the staff were preparing for winter to give us a detailed briefing on the project and making one of his rangers available to us as a guide.

Everyone at Takhiin Tal went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We stayed in the guest gers and had the use of another for our kitchen and dining room. There were shower stalls in which we could use our pump sprayer to get clean for the first time in days. The camp managers took care of any problems, other members of the staff aided our drivers in doing badly needed repairs to our Russian fergon vans, which had just gone over some very rough terrain on the way. One repair required welding equipment, which was generously loaned to us as needed. To top it off, there was a party our final evening with khorhog (real Mongolian BBQ, a sheep roasted in a metal can over hot coals), side dishes from our wonderful cook. Soyoloo, and good Mongol vodka. I got coaxed into singing a Mongol song. I held everyone off for as long as I could, not knowing any that didn’t require having the lyrics in front of me, but finally remembered that I could probably get through “Zoolon, Zoolon Zambuulin” with help and that’s what I did. Magvandorj presided over the evening and led the toasts, of which there were, well, quite a few.

And….we saw the horses!

(Note: I was totally focused on seeing and photographing the takhi and other wildlife in the too short time we had there, so I didn’t get the names of the individual horses, the mountains or plants in the photos below. I hope to do so and will add them when I do.)

Four takhi mares
The four takhi mares from Prague Zoo, plus “their” stallion (darker horse on the left).

Wild harem
We went on a morning “game drive” and had a great encounter with this purely wild family group.

Wild harem
Stallions don’t lead the family group, the dominant mare does. The stallion keeps them in front of him, ready to defend them from predators like wolves. Domestic Mongol horses do the same.

Wild harem
I worked my way slowly towards them, always going at a diagonal and stopping if it looked like they were tensing up. They were definitely more cautious and ready to run than the takhi at Hustai who are far more used to seeing humans walking around.

Gazelles
We saw this one group of goitered gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa) from a long distance. I think of these as my “I saw them.” shots.

Khulan
There are two wild equids in Takhiin Tal, the takhi and also khulan/Mongolian wild ass (equus hemionus). They are extremely skittish and we never got closer than this.

Khulan crossing river
The ranger with us hoped that we could do a closer approach by going to the river while the khulan were there to drink. But they must have heard the vans. The line of splashes are khulan dashing across the river.

Large herd of khulan grazing in the evening
We went back in the evening, trying a different approach direction, but once again by the time we were able to see them they had moved away, maintaining this distance. It was a huge herd of various family groups that had come together for water and grazing. I took a lot of photos and found when I reviewed them that I had recorded a variety of interesting interactions that will make good paintings. But I’ll have to use other reference to get their appearance correct.

Takhiin Tal scenery
So many….and no way to get closer.

Takhiin Tal scenery
Takhiin Tal scenery showing the wide variety of vegetation found in the Gobi. It’s not all sand, as so many people think.

Takhiin Tal scenery
Takhiin Tal. I would really like to go back again, not only to see the wildlife, but to paint the spectacular scenery.

Grasses
Grasses in the evening light.

On the way back
On the way back to the reserve headquarters, we got one last treat…a small group of takhi right by the road. It was totally dark, no tripod and no time, but I got a few shots through the windshield of the van. Still, I think this has an interesting, perhaps a little mysterious feeling with these horses who came very close to extinction.

Plants that are fodder for the takhi
Plants that are fodder for the takhi.

Mountain
Sorry to say that I didn’t get the name of this distinctive pink mountain. A hike was planned and I I started it, but realized that my legs just weren’t going to do it. I stayed down below with our drivers and guide and got in some good sketching time. We were told that snow leopards have been seen here, so this is the second habitat of theirs we observed.

Approach to mountain on road through steppe grassses
We passed through this stretch of lush grasses on our way to the trailhead.

Close-up of the mountain
A close-up of the mountain.

Juniper, a sacred plant to the Mongols, grew in profusion on the hillside
Juniper, a sacred plant to the Mongols, grew in profusion on the hillside; it’s considered an endangered plant since in many places it has disappeared due to harvesting for use in Buddhist ceremonies. I enjoyed having time to sit and do a study of it.

My journal sketch
My journal sketch

Location watercolor
Location watercolor of juniper spilling over a rock in a picturesque pattern

We had been told that there were Lammergeier/bearded vulture on the mountain and, sure enough, while we were sitting around, this one appeared over our heads.
We had been told that there were Lammergeier/bearded vulture on the mountain and, sure enough, while we were sitting around, this one appeared over our heads.

Group shot
Finally, it was time to depart. But not before the “traditional” group shot, this one taken in Ganbaatar’s office. From left to right: In back- Tugsoyun Sodnom, I.Odna, Oidoviin Magvandorj, Chinbat (ranger/guide), camp manager. Middle: Sharon Schafer, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, reserve director, myself/Susan Fox. In front, our drivers Sendag and Batmaa

Group shot
Group shot from left to right: camp manager, I. Odna, Chinbat, unknown man, Tugsoyun Sodnom, Sharon Schafer, camp manager, Soyoloo (cook), Sendag, me, Batmaa

You can find out more about Takhiin Tal, which is supported by the Switzerland-based International Takhi Group, here.

Next stop: Sharga and Darvi soums for saiga antelope, we hoped.

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 8: En Route to Takhiin Tal

Grove of trees west of Eej Hairhan Uul
Grove of trees west of Eej Hairhan Uul.

We loaded up our watermelons from the garden and started the day’s journey west. Now we were in the deep Gobi, where there were no herders or their gers to be seen. We camped for the night in or near Alag Hairhan Uul Nature Reserve. There were no boundary signs, so I couldn’t tell for sure.

We made a short stop for this unusual rock formation.
We made a short stop for this unusual rock formation.

Between two lanes at a high points was this ovoo.
At a split in the road at a high point was this ovoo.

I was struck by the presence of this delicate cup among the rough rocks out in the middle of the desert.
I was struck by the presence of this delicate little cup among the rough rocks of the ovoo out in the middle of the desert.

Once past the ovoo, this view stretched before us.
Once past the ovoo, this view stretched before us. The sky is dark in this and some of the other photos because I was shooting through the front windshield of the van.

We came down into a valley with a stream running through it and sometimes right in the road. Got this photo of a yellow wagtail.
We came down into a valley with a stream running through it and sometimes right in the road. Got this photo of a yellow wagtail.

Met and passed this family.
Met and passed this family, the only “traffic” we saw for most of the day.

Flowers blooming in the Gobi.
Flowers blooming in the Gobi.

We came upon this road construction project.
We came upon this road construction project. We were able to get water and found out that this road was being privately built to serve a mine. There were already large ore trucks moving on it. We used it for awhile and made good time.

Checking out the roadbed.
Checking out the roadbed.

There was also a Mongol dog, which are called bankhar, hanging around.
There was also a Mongol dog, which are called bankhar, hanging around.

Entering a narrow valley we passed a herd of horses.
Entering a narrow valley we passed a herd of horses.

Wherever there is water, and it's not far below the surface, large plants like these trees can grow.
Wherever there is water, and it’s not far below the surface, large plants like these trees can grow. This was a really lovely place, right in the middle of the Gobi.

Up another hill, on a typical earth road.
Up another hill, on a typical earth road.

The ovoo at the top.
The ovoo at the top.

The view on the other side. A boundary sign told us that we were entering the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. So there it was ahead of me, a place I'd been wanting to see for years.
The view on the other side. A boundary sign told us that we were entering the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. So there it was ahead of me, a place I’d been wanting to see for years.

Continuing on.
Continuing on. I never get tired of seeing an earth road stretched out before me as far as I can see.

We came to this ger in a sheltered area, after stopping at a very small settlement where the drivers had asked directions. Apparently they were told that this was THE place to stop because we could get very good "tsagaan idee"/white food, meaning the summer dairy products. They were right.
We came to this ger in a sheltered area, after stopping at a very small settlement where the drivers had asked directions. Apparently they were told that this was THE place to stop because we could get very good “tsagaan idee”/white food, meaning the summer dairy products. They were right.

She is heating fresh milk so it will separate the cream.
She is heating fresh milk so it will separate the cream. Behind her on the left is her kitchen.

One of my most favorite things in Mongolia...urum, otherwise known as clotted cream.
One of my most favorite things in Mongolia…urum, otherwise known as clotted cream.

The interior of the ger.
The interior of the ger.

All the gers I've seen or stayed in have been, I think, factory-made.  This one was handmade in an older traditional way.
All the gers I’ve seen or stayed in have been, I think, factory-made. This one was handmade in an older traditional way.

Outside I found these lovely bits of rope tied to a picket line.
Outside I found these lovely bits of handcrafted rope tied to a picket line.

Something you see all over the Mongolian countryside in the summer....aruul/dried curds or yogurt drying on the roof of the ger.
Something you see all over the Mongolian countryside in the summer….aruul/dried curds or yogurt drying on the roof of the ger.

Onward we went through this beautiful scenery.
Onward we went through this beautiful scenery.

Takhiin Tal, the main goal of the Expedition and our farthest point west.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the headquarters of the takhi release project at Takhiin Tal, the main goal of the Expedition and our farthest point west. The project Director, Ganbaatar, graciously let us stay in the gers and an old converted railway car, plus use another ger as our kitchen and dining room. There were also squat toilets and a shower building where we could use our pump sprayer filled with hot water. Our first showers in days were wonderful!

Next time: Two days in Takhiin Tal.