Our stay in Binder was at an end and I got one last shot of the lake as we drove away. We were now heading northeast towards Dadal and, after that, south to Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve. But since the journey always is the destination in Mongolia, there was plenty to see and experience in between…
My lead driver, Erdenebat, who seems to have been everywhere in Mongolia during his 14 years as a professional driver, brought us to this recently built memorial to the Queens of Mongolia. I gather that the local people are hoping it will draw visitors. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the name of the Soum where it’s located, but will update this post when I do. It may have been Bayan-Adarga. As you’ll see, if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a stop!
Memorial to the Queens of Mongolia
Entry gate with the hat-shaped memorial building within the enclosure.
Each queen is represented by a portrait.
The extensions on their hats were intended to bring them close to Tenger, the Eternal Blue Sky. The higher your rank, the higher the extension you were allowed.
In the center were traditional white horsetail standards. White ones stand for peace, black ones for war.
Decoration on the back of a throne.
The main altar.
Close-up of the offerings.
En route through the Han Hentii Mountains.
Scenery. The white-trunked trees are birches.
Golden eagle. The bird was right by the road and barely able to fly, with what looked like an injury to one wing. Erdenebat got this great photo.
Our car had gotten quite a bit ahead and Erdenebat realized that we couldn’t see the others, so we back-tracked and found that Puugii’s car had a problem with the brake on one side, which involved a fluid leak. We were a LONG way from any town and there is no “roadside assistance” service. But the drivers are also, by necessity, excellent mechanics and they know their cars inside and out. In less than an hour the problem was fixed and we were on our way.
We finally reached our goal for the day…the legendary Onon Gol, the center of the Mongol heartland.
We camped on the river, using dung fires in the evening to hold the mosquitoes at bay. We stayed here for three nights, two full days. One morning a few horses came down to the river, adding a picturesque touch.
We took a day trip into Dadal, well-known for the nearby sites connected with Chinggis Khan. Perhaps less known is the local museum. Don’t be fooled by the modest exterior. Wait till you see what’s inside.
But first, one of the statues of animals nearby.
Before they had enclosed stoves, this is how a ger was heated and food prepared.
As a contrast….this old mechanical adding machine.
There was also a small natural history section with taxidermy-mounted animals.
It was hard to get back far enough to get everything in, but here is one of the display cases with everyday utensils. There was art all around the room, too.
Traditional archery equipment mounted on a bearskin rug. The museum staff is trying to raise money to renovate the building and I was happy to contribute.
Our next two stops form part of the standard tour route in this area of the country. I generally avoid these places, but wasn’t going to miss anything connected with Chinggis Khan.
Posing in front of the Chinggis Khan monument.
Inscription on the monument in Mongol vertical script, the UIgher alphabet that Chinggis Khan chose when the Mongols had acquired an empire that now had to be administered. It is taught in the schools today and has also become an important calligraphic art form. (I don’t know what it says, so would welcome a translation)
The Expedition drivers: Erdenebat, Ogii and Puugii. And our guide, Tseegii. A great crew! They are standing in front of the ovoo that marks the area where Chinggis Khan was born.
Chinggis Khan’s nutag (the place where he was born).
We returned to camp and found that a violent storm had come through while we were gone.
After breaking camp the next morning we went into the soum center to go to the store. I stayed in the car and got some great photos of this local horseman.
We stopped to visit this family on our way south. It started to seriously rain and they were kind enough to invite us into their summer cabin to have our lunch. The woman on the left is Khalkh Mongol. The woman on the right is Buryat Mongol. The man is the son of one of them.
Gratuitous photo of Mongol horses. At this point we were coming down out of the mountains onto the steppe.
We stopped at this ovoo and I learned that we had arrived in Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve, the largest steppe grassland reserve in the country.
The steppe and Mongolian gazelles next week!
Dr. George Archibold. Founder of the International Crane Foundation (holding the photograph), was honored at the opening ceremony. On the far right is Nyambayar Batbayar, the Mongol researcher in charge of the crane study. (If anyone reading this can identify any of the other people in the photo, please do so in the comments and I’ll add them)
On June 13, as planned, we attended the first International Crane Festival, which was held in the soum center of Binder, Han Hentii Aimag. It was a wonderful day and great to be able to, by our attendance, support the local community and the researchers. The first thing I noticed was a very large display of art created by local children. Since the main mission of the WildArt Mongolia Expeditions is to find ways to use art to support conservation, I could not have been happier to see this. I tried to photograph every piece and I’ve posted all those images, plus the opening ceremony and other activities. You may notice that the traditional clothes look different than what you usually see in my posts and that is because we were in Buryat Mongol country, which extends from northeastern Mongolia north into southern Siberia. Buryat dels have a distinctive front design and their boots and hats are different than the Khalkh Mongol versions. The feeling of being welcomed, however, was the same as everywhere else I’ve been in Mongolia.
Dr. Archibald doing a filmed interview
The art display area
Activity table for local kids. They’re making paper cranes.
I thought this was a great idea.
Then it was time for the opening ceremony!
Buryat Mongol dancers
Solo performer. She really rocked it!
Young singer in Buryat clothes. I liked the contrast with the girl in the photo above.
She did a dance about fetching water that I’d like to learn more about.
The festival had all the usual events..horse race, wrestling, anklebone shooting and more…
The anklebone shooting competition.
The finish of the horse race.
Cooling down her mount. The race horses always have the binding on the tail, so easy to tell which ones they are.
Mongol bukh (wrestling).
I got some great action shots!
During the break between rounds, these kids came out into the arena and picked flowers.
The five winners of the horse race riding in formation. They did a couple of full-circle wheels in unison. I was quite impressed since, as far as I know, the horses are not trained for this kind of thing at all.
We went to the shop in town and came upon this group who gave a concert that evening. A colorful ending to a great day!
Ovoo with prayer wheels
We left Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve after breakfast and drove northeast into the Han Hentii Mountains. It was good to get off the tarmac and onto earth roads again.
We stopped for lunch at Khokh Nuur, a VERY important historical site since it’s where Temujin called the khural (council or meeting) that declared him Chinggis Khan, leader of all the Mongols.
Sometimes the roads were more water than earth. Summer is the rainy season in Mongolia and it had been raining a lot just about everywhere in the country, so a great year for the herders and their animals since it meant lots of good grass.
It was a glorious drive deep into the Mongolian countryside on a perfect summer day.
Since it had been raining a lot there were streams to ford.
We camped by this lovely lake the driver of my Land Cruiser, Erdenebat, knew about.
All set up and relaxing in camp.
The next day at one small crossing, which was more mud than water, a man and woman on a motorbike came along right after us. They were kind of stuck because she could have gotten very dirty or injured if the motorbike fell over in the mud and it was too wide to safely step across.
One of our drivers, Puugii, solved the problem.
A helping hand and she made it across just fine.
More scenery. I’d never been to the Han Hentii Mountains before and now I understood why they are such a popular destination for the Mongols. So beautiful.
One of the drivers got a little to close to this yak and had to run for it. The other drivers loved it.
We stopped for lunch and almost immediately spotted this pair of demoiselle cranes!
Local dogs often show up out of apparently nowhere when one stops to eat. They wait patiently until you leave, most of the time. They often seem friendly, but have not been vaccinated against rabies and are not used to being petted or touched, so it’s best to keep one’s distance.
As we drove on, we saw this large flock of demoiselle cranes.
We were heading towards the site of a major new crane study. My driver, Erdenebat, had directions, but couldn’t follow them because the valley floor was too wet from the rains. So he picked his way along the mountain slopes, using a compass to keep our heading correct. It was quite a feat of navigation that I didn’t appreciate until he explained to me what he had been doing and why.
Along the way we saw this pair of endangered white-napped cranes.
The crane research station is new, so there is only one ger so far. From this vantage point they can scan the surrounding countryside for miles for up to six species of cranes.
The research project is a collaboration between Mongol, Russian and Chinese scientists. The Mongol scientist in charge is Nyambayar Batbayar who took the time to give us a great briefing and answer all our questions. He is also the Director of his own NGO, the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia.
We left the research station and headed towards our next destination, Binder, crossing this old-fashioned timber bridge.
It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush to drive out onto these bridges if you’re not used to them.
Binder Nuur (Binder Lake), which was a short distance from the soum center town of Binder. We camped on the lakeshore.
We immediately saw many white shapes, which proved to be over 60 whooper swans.
Full moon sunset over Binder Nuur.
We came to Binder for the first-ever International Crane Festival. And that will be the subject of my next post.
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.
On our way from Gun-Galuut we passed this typical herder encampment, complete with car, motorbike, solar panel and satellite dish
Another not-uncommon scene when one is on the road in Mongolia...a truckload of the ever-patient Mongol horses
We passed through a small soum center, the last town we saw on this leg of the trip
Then it was back out into the glorious countryside on the earth roads, heading north
Pokey had become very interested in the cashmere goats as possible sculpture subjects, so we stopped any time there were some near the road. The markings on this one were definitely a bonus!
The afternoon light was really beautiful.
This family had stopped to get water from the spring, which is enclosed with a fence to keep livestock out. I've rarely seen a western style livestock or horse trailer in my travels. The animals ride in the back of trucks, sometimes with very simple barriers to keep them onboard.
Did I say we wanted to see goats? We came up over a rise and....
As we went higher up into the mountains, we found ourselves in forested areas and came across this herd of really stunning horses.
Ovoo up on the pass.
Traveling along one side of a valley, we saw these two boys herding a couple of yak/cattle hybrids.
We were happily taking photos when one of them abruptly turned and started towards the car. His "minder" suddenly wasn't smiling and it got a little tense as we wondered if we needed to get ready to brace for impact.
But within a few yards, the boy got him turned and we all exhaled.
Our last view of them riding off into the early evening light.
We finally had mountains on either side of us and saw a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees.
A local herder family setting up their ger
At last we arrived at the ger camp, which was situated on a bluff above the Tuul Gol.
Next week: boating and hiking and back to Ulaanbaatar