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 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….
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!
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…
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!
But it was also going to be cold. We drove on as it became dark and finally arrived at the Monastery….
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.
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.
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…
Thus ended quite a day. Our mission on the morrow was to find Batsaikhan and learn about saiga conservation.
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.)
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.
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.