The 2015 WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 8: Dorgon Nuur (Again), Jargalant Hairkhan Uul And Back To Hovd

 

Cropped-in photo
Cropped-in photo

We finished our shopping in Chandmani, had lunch and headed east back to Dorgon Nuur. On the way, the “saiga show” started again, with at least three groups crossing our path as they headed north. As always they were too far away for good photos but some of this group of twelve are reasonably ok. Here’s the uncropped version.

More saiga...
More saiga…

The driver drove along the lake edge for a bit and finally stopped on a bluff.

Campsite overlooking lake with whooper swans
Campsite overlooking lake with whooper swans
View to the south
View to the south
I found a nice spot for my tent
I found a nice spot for my tent. My guide is resting a bit before setting up the kitchen tent

Once set up I got out my watercolors and sketchbooks and started to work. It was breezy, but not cold. Also no mosquitos. The late light started to get really interesting.

Reedbeds
Reedbeds
Early evening light
Early evening light
View from my tent looking north
View from my tent looking north

As the sun set, the wind died down and…the mosquitos arrived. Since we were the only living things of interest in the area. apparently every single one within a hundred miles showed up. I didn’t leave my tent unless it was absolutely necessary and turned in early. At some point, probably near dawn, I was awakened by a very odd sound. I couldn’t tell if it was natural or man-made and had never heard anything remotely like it before. But I wasn’t about to poke my head out in the dark, so I rolled over and went back to sleep, probably for an hour or so. When I woke up again it was just barely getting light and that sound was still going on. It was really mystifying. I finally had to look. I zipped open the vestibule just enough to see out and there, at standing head height, just in front of and above the tent was a ball of mosquitos close to the size of a soccer ball. And that was the source of the weird sound. I ducked back into the tent and quickly zipped the vestibule closed. No way was I going out that end. I seriously needed to pee and I wanted coffee so I slathered on the repellent and crawled out of the other end of the tent into a cloud of them that was only “better” ‘compared the packed mass a few feet away . Everything was covered with them…the tents, the Land Cruiser, the cooler. I did what I needed to do and retreated back my sanctuary.

Just another spectacular sunset
Sunrise. I’m amazed that it can be seen through the cloud of mosquitos in front of the lens.

My guide and driver got up a little later and, I think, were equally appalled by the situation. So in a rerun of our last stay on the shores of Dorgon Nuur, we ate, packed up and left. We made a short stop in Chandmani and then drove south around the end of Jargalant Hairkhan Uul.

Chandmani
Chandmani with Jargalant Hairkhan Uul in the background.
On the way out of town we passed this monument
On the way out of town we passed this monument with an argali and ibex

It took a couple of hours to get to the end of the mountain. It was very arid and overgrazed land. The highlight was a “camel jam”.

Bactrian camels
Bactrian camels

We dropped down to the plain and could see the reedbeds of Khar Us Nuur in the distance. Finally we turned northwest and paralleled the mountain. The two sides are very different. The mountain creates its own weather. Rain falls on the southwest face. A rain shadow keeps much, if any, rain from falling on the northeast side. No one lives or grazes their animals on the mountain, even though Chandmani and quite a few herder families live at the base. The entire mountain is contained in Khar Us Nuur National Park’s boundary, but there are herders on the side we were now driving along.

There were sights of interest along our route, including this communications tower. What got my attention was the contrast between this modern high tech installation and the ger at its base.

Tower and ger
Tower and ger

We drove for awhile along a small river and then through a lush green area with a variety of wildflowers.

Green grass and wildflowers
Green grass and wildflowers
Jargalant Hairkhan Uul
Jargalant Hairkhan Uul

I’d been wanting to go to the mountain, which is really a freestanding range with many peaks, since I saw it from a distance in 2006. Between the previous trip a week or so earlier, which you can read about here, and this one, I will have almost completely circumnavigated it. This side was so much more interesting. I was awed by the colors and patterns of some of the slopes we drove past.

Jargalant Hairkhan Uul
Jargalant Hairkhan Uul
Jargalant Hairkhan Uul
Jargalant Hairkhan Uul

As we headed onto the upland slopes to the valley where we would camp for two nights, we passed this ovoo.

Ovoo
Ovoo

The ground became rockier the farther up we went and I grabbed a shot of this local herder’s winter livestock shelter.

Winter shelter
Winter shelter

We entered the valley and I could tell that I was going to like this place a lot.

Valley entrance
Valley entrance

We were finally driving on the barest hint of a “road” over rocks that covered the whole valley floor, some pretty big. There were groves of aspen trees, more than I’d seen anyplace else.

Aspen trees
Aspen trees

We finally came to the end of the road and stopped at a ger. We were fed boortz soup and aaruul and our driver got the latest news from them, which included being told that a snow leopard had killed a another herders’s goat two days earlier not too far from where we were. So now I was in the middle of snow leopard territory, also home to ibex and argali!

The herder's dogs. They were very aggressive. I took this photo from the car.
The herder’s dogs. They were very aggressive. I took this photo from the car.

We drove back down the valley and set up camp at this spot, right next to a stunning, fast-flowing stream. Idyllic doesn’t begin to describe it.

Our campsite
Our campsite

The next afternoon my guide took me on a hike up the valley into a part that was separated from the main one. We clambered over rocks, moving steadily higher in elevation until the trail narrowed and continued as a track that led deep into the mountain.

At the end point of our hike with snow leopard habitat behind me
At the end point of our hike with snow leopard habitat behind me

We hiked back down to camp, where I spent the rest of the day drawing the rocks and flowing water of the stream.

Rocks and stream- Derwent drawing pencil on paper
Rocks and stream- Derwent drawing pencil on paper

The next day I worked until lunch, doing a double study of two of the aspen trees.

Aspen trees, Jargalant Hairkhan Uul, Khar Us Nuur National Park
Aspen trees, Jargalant Hairkhan Uul, Khar Us Nuur National Park- pencil and watercolor on paper

While I was drawing, two camels showed up! They crossed the stream not far from where I was sitting. For a minute or two I wasn’t sure how close they’d get, but it turned out all they wanted was to get past our camp so they could move on down the valley.

Bactrian camels
Bactrian camels

There weren’t a lot of insects and even the mosquitos weren’t too bad, especially compared to the lake. I did manage to get a good photo of this flashy dragonfly.

Dragonfly
Dragonfly

My guide took some pics of me working.

On location
On location

Finally, it was time to leave. This was the last stop on this year’s WildArt Mongolia Expedition and it was one of the best. I thought the trip was over when we got back to Hovd, but my guide and driver weren’t done yet. The next day was my flight back to Ulaanbaatar, but it wasn’t until late afternoon. So they picked me up in the morning and took me on a tour that included the local cultural center, which has gers, artifacts, objects and clothing from all the ethnic Mongol groups who live in Hovd, plus the Kazakhs.

The cultural center
The cultural center

It really is a must see.

Imperial ger
The kind of ger and wheeled platform that a wealthy aristocratic Mongol might have had.

The final stop in town was a monastery that had just started to be re-built five years earlier. The original was one of the hundreds destroyed by the communist government in the late 1930s. I was told that the whole community came together to raise the money.

Temple in new monastery complex in Hovd
Temple in new monastery complex in Hovd

They took me back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours and then it was off to the airport. The flight was delayed, so we looked at some of the photos and video I’d shot. Finally, it was time to do in to the boarding area, onto the plane and back to Ulaanbaatar. I was in town for a couple of days, then went “on vacation” to Delger Camp for four relaxing days, just hanging out, doing watercolors and hiking down to the dunes and back. A few more days in UB and I was homeward bound, my tenth journey to Mongolia at an end.

 

 

 

The 2015 WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 7: A Lovely Camping Place And…We Go Shopping!

Our beautiful campsite
Our beautiful campsite

I loved our hidden campsite in the birch grove. I did as many sketches and watercolors as I could since I have no idea if I’ll ever be at that place again. Here’s a two-page set of drawings from my journal.

Birch trees at campsite near Chandmani
Birch trees at campsite near Chandmani

And here’s one of the watercolors I did.

Birch trees at campsite near Chandmani
Birch trees at campsite near Chandmani

We weren’t, however, alone. The grove seems to be headquarters for a large number of black-eared kites, a very common bird that one doesn’t pay much attention to after awhile while traveling around. Well, you sure couldn’t ignore this crowd, which carried on enthusiastic “conversations” until nightfall.

The "kite tree"
The “kite tree”
Just a fraction of the number that were in the air at this point
Just a fraction of the number that were in the air at this point
Getting checked out
Getting checked out

They also nest here.

Black kite nest
Black-eared kite nest

It was such a lovely spot.

Birch tree grove
Birch tree grove

And it wasn’t easy to leave.

Stream
Stream

But we needed to get food and supplies for the last leg of the Expedition, so we packed up by late morning and drove the short distance into Chandmani, the soum center. There is also a Chandmani in Gobi Altai Aimag, which we drove through on the first Expedition in 2013, so now I’ve been to both of them. The guide had to get some money, which gave me a little time to wander around and find quite a few things of interest.

Stupa
A Stupa

Heroes from socialist times, along with WWII, are honored with statues in various towns. This one says “Khodolmoriin Baatar R. Chadrabal”.

Memorial statue
Memorial statue

I thought this next one was awesome. So perfectly an expression of its time and a good work of art. The plaque says, I think, “Bimaulsin Baatar/Bayaibalin Tegshee”.

Memorial statue
Memorial statue

And, providing a contrast nearby, was this very cute playground.

Playground
Playground

On the ground near the red hero statue was a wonderful sculpture of oversized anklebones (shagai). The real ones are used for an apparently endless number of games, many of them involving alcohol consumption. Each of the four sides represents a specific domestic animal: horse, sheep, goat or camel.

Shagai
Shagai

I was not surprised, this being Mongolia, that there would be a statue of a horse.

Horse statue
Horse statue

I was, however, quite surprised to see a statue of an argali.

Argali statue
Argali statue

It seemed a sleepy town, like most soum centers I’ve been to, not many people out and about.

Chandmani scene with horses and Jargalant Hairhan Uul in the background
Chandmani scene with horses and Jargalant Hairhan Uul in the background

The town’s setting, with the northeast side of Jargalant Hairkhan Uul as a backdrop, was very nice. We went into the town center and, wow, it was hopping! The local naadam festival had just ended and people had come into town to do their shopping.

The main shopping street in Chandmani
The main shopping street in Chandmani
Local people who have come to town
Local people who have come to town

This was one of the few soum centers I’ve been in (not a huge number) that really had a main shopping street. Our first stop was this shop. I was dazzled by the riot of color and the variety of goods. I’m posting a lot of photos of it for two reasons. One is that I just want to share the experience, which is not one that visitors often get. I had the best time poking around and taking photos with my phone camera. The second is that I am so tired of uninformed, to put it diplomatically, Americans seeing the herder’s gers and how country people live, and going on and on about “those poor people” living in poverty as if it was some kind of degraded life that they need to be rescued from by the noble westerners. It’s true that most herders don’t have a lot of cash money. They also don’t accumulate a lot of stuff because everything they have is going to have to be packed up and moved at least a couple of times a year. But they have what they need and if they want something they have access to shops like these.

Behind the counter
Behind the counter
Candy is dandy
Candy is dandy and every shop I’ve ever been in has an excellent selection
Vegetables
Vegetables and sundry other things like Russian nesting dolls and heavy electrical cords.
Children's shoes
Children’s shoes
Children's clothing
Children’s clothing

As you have probably guessed by now, the Mongols are not a people who are afraid of color. Westerners have commented on that for as long as any have made the journey to the Land of Blue Skies.

Fabric temptations, but I managed to resist
Fabric temptations, but I managed to resist
Cookies and biscuits
Cookies and biscuits
the stationary and school supply department
the stationary and school supply department, plus some Buddhist offering cups and such on the top shelf
Nails
Nails
The toy department
The toy department
Paint, tape, locks...hardware stuff
Paint, tape, locks…hardware stuff
Pots and pans
Pots and pans
Nuts and bolts and washers
Nuts and bolts and washers
Mobile phones
Mobile phones
Flashlights and other things one might need around the ger
Flashlights and other things one might need around the ger
The auto/motorbike parts department
The auto/motorbike parts department
Beverages, including fruit juices and beer
Beverages, including fruit juices and beer; breads are on the left; oh, look, more candy on the right at the bottom

We were almost ready to leave when a woman came in wearing a del the same color as one I have. Our eyes met and I got up the courage to have my guide ask if she’d have her picture taken with me. I got a smile and a nod. Mongols almost never smile for photos, having been taught to keep a serious face since childhood. I’ve learned to keep a neutral friendly expression for these photo opps.

Love this photo; one of my favorites from the trip
Love this photo; one of my favorites from the trip

We left the first shop and went to have lunch, which turned out two of my favorites! Buuz and khuushuur. I have yet to get tired of either.

Buuz, which are steamed mutton dumplings
Buuz, which are steamed mutton dumplings
Khuushuur, which are fried mutton turnovers
Khuushuur, which are fried mutton turnovers

We needed to go to one more shop to get meat.

The restaurant
The second shop

There was a huge poster attached to the wall. It was information about snow leopards. It says that there are 37 living on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul. The photo shows camera trap images of two leopards who have lost a paw in a trap, so other information on the poster is about not setting traps.

Snow leopard information poster
Snow leopard information poster

But we go into the shop and I see this. I was not able to find out the whole story behind either the poster or the traps. When I do I’ll be writing a post about it.

Traps
Traps

It turned out that there was no meat on site. The proprietor made a phone call and about 20 minutes later a local herder came in with a small bag of fresh mutton. In the meantime I took some more photos, including this stack of ger felts.

Felt ger coverings
Felt ger coverings

We went back to the car and got in. In the meantime, some of the local goats started to put on a show.

Goats finding a raised vantage point on a building
Goats finding a raised vantage point on a building

As we were leaving I spotted this horse tied to a fence and had to get some photos.

Good-looking grey horse with very nice saddle
Good-looking grey horse with very nice saddle

Now we really did need to get going. Our destination? Back east to Dorgon Nuur to camp in a different location than before. Will there be mosquitos? Find out next week.

On the road again for an hour or two
On the road again for an hour or two

 

 

 

 

 

The 3rd WildArt Mongolia Expedition/Explorers Club Flag Expedition Has Returned!

At Khomyn Tal with Flag 179 and takhi/Przewalski's horses in the background.
At Khomyn Tal with Flag 179 and takhi/Przewalski’s horses in the background

I’m back in Ulaanbaatar, tired after three weeks in the field (resting today at a comfortable hotel, the Bayangol) but very, very pleased with the Expedition and its results. There will be a series of posts on all aspects of the 3rd WildArt Mongolia Expedition once I’m home, but for now I’ll share some favorite images with you. Consider these the appetizer…

In chronological order:

Hokh Serkiin Nuruu and Kazakh horsemen
Hokh Serkiin Nuruu Nature Reserve and some of the Kazakh horsemen who were hired to find and drive the argali
Hokh Serkiin Nuruu Nature Reserve; argali capture site with nets
Hokh Serkiin Nuruu Nature Reserve; argali capture site with nets ready to unroll and set up
Countryside scene enroute from Hokh Serkhiin Nuruu to Hovd
Countryside scene enroute from Hokh Serkhiin Nuruu to Hovd
Khar Us Nuur reedbeds; we stopped here for lunch
Khar Us Nuur reedbeds; we stopped here for lunch
Turuu wading at the "beach" on the east shore of Khar Us Nuur; he's a student I met last year who is quite a good artist and he came along on the first two weeks of the Expedition at my invitation
Turuu wading at the “beach” on the east shore of Khar Us Nuur; he’s a student I met last year who is quite a good artist and he came along on the first two weeks of the Expedition at my invitation
Maikhan Nature Reserve campsite with aspens
Maikhan Nature Reserve campsite with aspens
Jargalant Hairhan Uul in Khar Us Nuur National Park campsite in valley; ovoo is across from a sacred spring
Jargalant Hairhan Uul (in Khar Us Nuur National Park) campsite in valley; ovoo is across from a sacred spring
Khomyn Tal and takhi
Khomyn Tal and takhi
Khomyn Tal takhi
Khomyn Tal takhi; I saw all 53 horses over three days
Khar Nuur campsite
Khar Nuur campsite
Khur Nuur moonrise over Jargalant Hairhan Uul
Khar Nuur moonrise over Jargalant Hairhan Uul
Dorgon Nuur at sunset
Dorgon Nuur at sunset
Viewpoint in Khar Us Nuur National Park from which one can see three sacred mountains, including Hokh Serkiin Nuruu
Viewpoint in Khar Us Nuur National Park from which one can see three sacred mountains, including Hokh Serkiin Nuruu
Chandmani street scene; we went into the soum center to buy groceries and other supplies
Chandmani street scene; we went into the soum center to buy groceries and other supplies
Statue in Chandmani dating from socialist times
Statue in Chandmani dating from socialist times
A woman named Tsendayush who I met in one of the shops
A woman named Tsendayush who I met in one of the shops (photo by Narankhuu Sukhbat)
The second valley on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul that we camped in; the mountain is snow leopard habitat with currently 37 cats
The second valley on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul that we camped in; the mountain, which has many peaks, is snow leopard habitat with a currently estimated population of 37 cats; this image was taken of the slopes above a winter livestock shelter
Two camels came past our camp on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul while I was sketching
Two camels came past our camp on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul while I was sketching
Drawing the rock falls in the stream that runs through the second valley
Drawing the rock falls in the stream that runs through the second valley (photo by Narankhuu Sukhbat)

And to give credit where credit is due…no one does a trip like this alone. Those of us who travel deep into the countryside of Mongolia have to rely on our guides and drivers to get us there and back again. To mine, show below, a heartfelt “bayarlalaa”.

My guide and driver who made the Expedition possible: Narankhuu Sukhbat and Damdin Birvaa
My guide and driver: Narankhuu Sukhbat and Damdin Birvaa (photo by Turuu)

Thank you also to Jan Wigsten and the staff at Nomadic Journeys, who have provided all my travel resources and logistics since 2006.