Mongolia Monday- “Summer”, A Poem By D. Natsagdorj

Herder and yaks, Hangai Mountains, July 2010

When gorgeous summer starts,

on the gorgeous Hangai ranges,

the cuckoos sing out sweetly-

oh, how lovely this world is!

A green haze hangs in space, a delusion of mirages,

and a horse neighs, longing for home.

A rain of flowers purifies the face of the world,

and young people cram their minds with one another.

Jockeys ready for the race, July 2010

In summer, the mountains teem with fresh waters.

Mongolia takes pleasure in her three manly sports, and

children sing their horserace song through the valleys.

These swift and gleaming horses are admired by all.

Festive melodies echo across the vast steppe.

Livestock graze the countryside, and

the scent of airag fills everyone’s nostrils.

Everywhere is so lovely, such happiness everywhere!

Airag, Arburd Sands, September 2008

Mongolia Monday- “Mongolian Horse”- A Poem

This poem is from a book that I found in the Art Shop at the Museum of the Chojin Lama. It is called “Modern Mongolian Poetry (1921-1986)” and was published in 1989, just before the non-violent revolution in which Mongolia made the transition from communism to democracy. It was my first introduction to Mongol poetry.

Poets and other creative people who objected to the communist government had to be very careful in what they said, wrote and painted. There are many poems in the book extolling the wonderfulness of the socialist system, heroic workers and battle victories. But, carefully couched in metaphor, are other points of view. I’ll be posting some of both in the future, but today’s poem is about a subject that I suspect all Mongols of the time could agree on…HORSES!

Mongol horses, Baga Gazriin Chuluu, July 2010


Crowning our glorious motherland
With victory after victory.
Raising the victorious banner,
We always went on horseback.

As a Mongolian’s courage
Is measureless,
So the Mongolian horse’s strength
Is boundless.

When the good Mongolian people
With their history of victory
Did their good deeds
Their good horses played their part.

As a Mongolian’s courage
Is measureless,
So the Mongolian horse’s strength
Is boundless.

In doing work
For our happiness
Our spirited Mongolian horses
Will work with us ceaselessly.

As a Mongolian’s courage
Is measureless
So the Mongolian horse’s strength
Is boundless.

Dalantain Tarvaa

Mongolia Monday- A Mongol Poem

It’s been too long since I’ve presented any Mongol poetry. It’s another aspect of their culture that is almost unknown to westerners, even though examples survive from over 800 years ago.

If you would like to learn about and read more poetry, visit previous posts here and here and here.

This one has  a subject dear to the heart of pretty much every Mongol…horses:

The stories of my people soar with horses,
With wings they reach the golden sun.
The wind riffs through their untrimmed manes,
And, down the skyroad of Khormast,
They return to the lake like migrating birds,
According to the customs of the golden earth.
The poems of the elders soar with horses,
With wings they reach the vibrant stars.
From the herds of letters formed within the month,
We have taken these migrating steeds.
And, from the hitching posts of our poets’ horses,
We have taken off for distant roads.
My horse, fly high, oh my horse,
Fly high, into the worlds of my desire.
From our wise elders’ heights of brilliance,
I offer my song to the spacious earth.
My horse, fly high, oh my horse,
Fly high, into the worlds of my desire.

By Ochirkhuu (1943-2001), translated by Simon Wickham-Smith

Mongolia Monday- 6 Cool Souvenirs To Bring Back From Mongolia

Mongolia is probably terra incognita for what comes from there that would be of interest to western visitors. The Lonely Planet guide has a section on souvenirs, but until you’ve walked through the 5th floor of the State Department Store in Ulaanbaatar, you can’t appreciate the possibilities or the variety. Plus, in general, the good stuff is still inexpensive and eminently packable. Here’s my list of six favorite momentos of Mongolia.

1. Cashmere

The good news- the world’s finest cashmere comes from the cashmere goats of Mongolia. The bad news- goats are really hard on the land because they pull plants out by the roots when they graze, unlike sheep, cattle and horses. But…cashmere is currently the best source of income for many, if not most, of the herder families. (Land sustainability issues in Mongolia is a subject for a future post.) Unfortunately, most of the cashmere they, or rather their goats, produce, goes to China which is where it is turned into finished products.

However, you can get cashmere products that are produced in Mongolia. There are a number of factories, Gobi Cashmere being the best known. The point is to make sure that you are buying Mongolian-made cashmere. Our Earthwatch team got to visit the factory store of Gobi Cashmere in 2005. At the time, a lot of the clothing had kind of a dated look and the colors were, let’s just say bright and cheerful. That’s all changed and the downtown stores stock very stylish fashions. I came home with a long scarf (see above) woven in three natural colors. It’s fabulous.

2. Clothes

Not everyone is into ethnic clothing, but I’ve loved the look since the 1960s. Mongolia is a dream come true for me. There are vests (see above) and jackets to choose from in different colors, both in wool and cotton. What I’ve really fallen in love with are del, the national garment. I wear one in the morning as a robe and always have one with me when I travel. They’re perfect for staying in ger camps when you need to get to and from the toilet and the shower. They’re practical and packable. I wear my vests all the time; out to dinner and to art openings. A cotton jacket is perfect for wearing into town.

3. Felt

There’s been an explosion in the production of felt products, especially, it seems, slippers. The trick here is to learn the difference between the items that are factory-made with machine-made felt and the ones that are hand-crafted out of hand-made felt. As you can imagine, cost is one giveaway, plus the former are almost too perfect and lack that quality of being made by a human hand. These are hand-made. Not sure what was used for the color. It turns out that footwear with upturned toes originates in the traditional Mongol land ethic, which is to not damage the land that supports you, even if it’s just scuffing it with the front of a regular boot.  As regular readers of this blog know, I’m involved in supporting a women’s felt crafts cooperative “Ikh Nart Is Our Future”. More felt craft pics here.

4. Art

For me, one of the greatest discoveries about Mongolia has been how artistic the culture is. Bali gets a lot, if not most, of the attention, but Mongolia deserves a spot in the sun, too. A BIG spot.

The lively art scene is still unknown to most of the world. On any nice day at Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar, one is likely to encounter art students carrying around portfolios of their work for sale. And, in one case, I bought two pieces from a woman who was selling work by her husband. When I go to Mongolia now, I try to find one new artist per trip. That hasn’t been hard as I usually find at least two. The above small painting is from my last trip. It’s a 3×6″ original watercolor and it cost all of about $3.00 USD. I try to find two or three by the same person so I can hang them as a group. It is very typical of what you find in the souvenir stores; charming little “slice of life” scenes with all the traditional elements. One of the others by this artist had camels, too.

The second painting is watercolor on canvas and is one of six my husband and I bought when we were in Mongolia in 2008. It’s 13.5×18″ and was about $35 USD. I don’t know who he is (Can anyone translate the signature, which is in the old Mongol classical script?), but he’s phenomenal!

Both of these pieces came from the State Department Store, which has, by far, the best selection of art for sale.

5. Music

Besides art, another aspect of Mongol culture that deserves to be better known is the contemporary music scene. If you went by what was on Amazon, you’d think that Mongols still only do traditional forms like khoomii (throat singing), long song and play the morin khuur, but you would be wrong. Once again, regular readers know how much I like current Mongol music. The CDs are impossible to buy over here, but there are a lot of videos on YouTube. I posted some of my favorites here, here and here. The Hi-Fi shop on Seoul St. in Ulaanbaatar has a good selection and is where I’ve gotten the ones I’ve brought home.

6. Poetry Books

Finally, the literature of Mongolia is also not well-known in the West. Only recently has any amount of it been translated into English. I came across an old book of poetry at the Chojin Lama Museum, then found the one above and some others in the gift shop at the Bayangol Hotel. The translator, Simon Wickham-Smith, is working with the Mongolian Ministry of Poetry and Culture (Wouldn’t it be nice if the USA valued those things enough to have a government agency devoted to them?) to bring Mongol poetry and literature to the world. Simon was nice enough to contribute two guests posts to this blog here and here.

I’ve come to believe that a non-Mongol really needs to read some of the poetry to start to understand the Mongol’s relationship with the land, the seasons and, of course, their horses.