Mongolia Monday- Jalman Meadows And Back To Ulaanbaatar

And now we come to the last leg of a wonderful two-week tour and a look at one last ecosytem, the mountain forest, which is the southermost extension of the boreal forest that circles the northern part of the Earth.

The Jalman Meadows ger camp, run on a seasonal basis by Nomadic Journeys, was set up high on a bluff overlooking the Tuul Gol.

While there is wildlife around, it’s the activities one can do here that are the main attraction and we took advantage of all of them!

As I came out of our ger after getting settled in, this memorable scene met my eye.
Jalman Meadows ger camp with the Tuul Gol in the background.
A local herder with his ox-drawn cart fetched water for the camp every day from the river.
He also provided the means by which the inflatable boat on which we would take a river trip was transported. We walked about six kilometers to the launch site.
This time our "helper" was a yak/cattle hybrid called a hainag.
Inflating the boat.
And then we were floating down this beautful river.
The scenery wasn't flashy, but had a calm peacefulness.
We saw a number of birds, including this grey wagtail.
There were quite a few riffles to paddle through, which added a little excitement.
Finally, the ger camp came into view and our half-day river trip was over.
In the afternoon, it was time to go riding.
There is nothing like riding through the Mongolian countryside on a Mongol horse.
The next morning there was time for a hike up onto one of the hills near the camp. We walked up through the larch trees until we got to this view.
The mountain wildflowers were still blooming. The white flowers are edelweiss.
And the bees were still busy.
We were packing to leave after lunch when Khatnaa stuck his head inside our ger and told us to come quickly, there was an eagle close by. We got some great photos of this big steppe eagle.
He finally took off and circled once over our heads.
It had started to rain on and off and we needed to get down out of the mountains, but when we saw this big herd of billy goats and rams, it was photo op time.
They were all sizes, shapes, colors and horn designs. The young herder walked them back and forth past the car a couple of times, so we got lots of great pictures.
Another herder we saw, tending his animals, rain or shine. It was raining.
At last we approached the tarmac road, passing the spectacular statue of Chinggis Khan, facing east towards the Mongol homeland.
One more wildlife sighting...golden eagles belonging to local a local Kazakh. They go up into the mountains and capture the young birds, using them to hunt with for a couple years and then releasing them.
And then it was back into the wilds of Ulaanbaatar, now a city with over a million people. The noise was a shock after the quiet of the countryside.

Mongolia Monday- The Journey Is The Destination, Part 3: Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve To Jalman Meadows Ger Camp

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

Mongolia Monday- It’s My 400th Post! 10 Of My Favorite Mongolia-related Websites

Hard to believe it, but I have reached 400 posts. I started my blog on December 10, 2007. It doesn’t seem like it has been that long. It’s become part of my weekly routine and a fun way to share my art and my travels.

I also really appreciate the support and comments that I get from my readers. Thank you!

Now, on to Mongolia Monday! Today I’m going to post links to 10 of my favorite sites, ones that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning about Mongolia or who is planning to go there.

Procession of the horse tail standards, Naadam, 2009

1.– has consistently been the best place I’ve found for keeping up with what is going on in Mongolia. There is also the UB Post, which is better known, but the load time on the site is glacial.

Peace Avenue, Ulaanbaatar, September 2009

2. Asian Gypsy:– He doesn’t post nearly enough, but this is definitely my favorite blog written by a Mongol. I get the email feed so that I don’t miss a post.

3. Weather Underground:– Want to know what the weather is like in Ulaanbaatar? Here it is.

Lightning storm at Arburd Sands ger camp, July 2009

4. Altan Urag:– One of the best known groups to come out of Mongolia, Altan Urag (which means “Golden Lineage”, a reference to the family and descendents of Chinggis Khan), describes themselves as a “folk rock band”, which means an amazing synthesis of modern western and traditional Mongolian music, including morin khuur and khoomii (horsehead fiddle and throat singing). Their music can also be heard in movies like “Khadak” and “Mongol”. And their website is waaay cool.

Morin khuur, Union of Mongolian Artists gallery, Ulaanbaatar

5. Ganbold:– Ganbold, who currently lives in the USA, is a graphic designer and artist with a very impressive client list. I had clicked on a banner ad he had placed on a Mongol site and really liked what I saw. Then, sometime later, a “Ganbold” left a comment on this blog. I clicked the url in the commenter info. and. low and behold, it was the same person! We’ve stayed in touch on and off since then. The home page of his website is, literally, a work of art. Click “Enter”. Highly recommended for bird lovers.

6. Budbayar Boldbaatar:– I absolutely adore his work, but Budbayar is also standing in for the many, many excellent artists that Mongolia produces and who deserve to be known to the world.

Palace of Culture, Ulaanbaatar; home to the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery

7. Circle of Tengerism-– One thing that many westerners do know about Mongolia is what we call “shamanism” and the Mongols call “Tengerism”. “Tenger” is Mongolian for “sky”, also known as The Eternal Blue Sky or Eternal Heaven. This ancient belief system has survived centuries of persecution and suppression and today is an active part of the culture of the country.

Shaman's drum- Mongolian Modern Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar

8. Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve-– My entry point into Mongolia in 2005, Ikh Nart is where I’ve been able to become actively involved in conservation and working with local herders. The reserve is home to the world’s only argali research project.

Argali ram- Ikh Nartiin Chuluu

9. Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve-– Very different habitat from Ikh Nart, but also home to a population of argali sheep. This reserve was set up by the local government and is administered by a community association. Visitors can ride a horse or in a yak cart, try Mongol archery, take a boat out on the river and hike the surrounding area.

Camel ride?- Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

10. Nomadic Journeys-– Finally, a tip of the hat to the tour company that I have relied on to get me around Mongolia since 2006. The website not only describes their trip offerings, but is a wealth of information about Mongolia, the country, land, people and wildlife.

Tahilgat Hairhan (a sacred mountain), Tsenkher Tenger (blue sky) and Gazar Zam (earth road); Minii Mongol (my Mongolia)

Mongolia Monday- 6 Great Places To See Wildlife

The travel season is almost upon us. I’ve got my plane tickets for my July departure to Mongolia. For anyone else thinking about or planning to go there, I thought I’d offer one list a week for six weeks, of six “themes” for things to see, with six suggestions.  I’ll start with the one that’s probably nearest and dearest to my heart – wildlife viewing destinations. I’ve been to all of them at least once.

Takhi grazing, Hustai National Park

1. For horse-lovers, Hustai National Park is a must if you are going to Mongolia. It is one of three places where tahki (Przewalski’s horse) have been reintroduced and is only about two hours west of Ulaanbaatar, mostly on tarmac road. You may also see marel (a species of elk), Mongolian gazelle, marmots and a variety of birds, such as demoiselle cranes, golden eagles, saker falcon, and black storks. There is a permanent ger camp that is open year around. The main building has a pleasant dining hall. There are three large concrete “gers”. One houses a gift shop, one has displays about the park and another is where presentations about the park are given by staff scientists. You can explore the park by vehicle, on foot or horseback. When I was last there in the fall of 2008, there were 15 harems of over 200 horses.

Reedbeds, Khar Us Nuur National Park

2. Bird-watchers should consider traveling out to western Mongolia to go to Khar Us Nuur (Black Water Lake) National Park. Khar Us Nuur is the second largest freshwater lake (15,800 sq km) in Mongolia . The Khovd river flows into it, creating a large marsh/wetland that is home to the largest remaining reed beds in Central Asia. The lake provides habitat for wild ducks, cormorants, egrets, geese, wood grouse, partridges, the rare relict gull and also the herring gull.  May and late August are the best birding times.  Another freshwater lake, Khar Nuur (Black Lake), which is connected to Khar Us Nuur via a short river called Chono Kharaikh, hosts the migratory and globally threatened dalamatian pelican. Direct access to the lakeshore is limited due to the reedbeds, but there is open shoreline near the soum center (county seat) on the north shore and an observation tower on the east side. As far as lodging, I can’t make any recommendations since I was rough camping when I was there, but I’m sure there’s something in or near Hovd, the main town. From Ulaanbaatar, flying to Hovd is the only practical way to get there since it’s about a thousand miles west of the capital.

Siberian ibex, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park

3. The legendary Gobi is home to Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, created partly as a refuge for an endangered population of wild bactrian camels. They are in a remote and inaccessible (except for researchers) part of the park, however. There are also snow leopards and argali, which visitors should not expect to spot. What there is a good chance of seeing are Siberian ibex, pika, two species of gazelle, steppe eagles, golden eagles, lammergier or bearded vultures, black vultures and a variety of smaller birds. I stayed at Nomadic Journeys’ Dungenee eco-ger camp, which is taken down at the end of each season, leaving almost no trace. The kitchen and dining “room” are in connected gers. The setting is terrific, on an upland that has the park’s mountains in one direction and the Gobi stretching out in the other. To get there from Ulaanbaatar one either drives south on the main road, which is an earth road and takes, I think, two days, or flies into Dalanzadgad, which takes about two hours.

View of Steppe Nomads Ger Camp overlooking Kherlen River; the wetland is off to the right with the base of Mt. Baits behind it, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

4. A relatively new park, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve is only a couple of hours east of Ulaanbaatar, mostly on tarmac road. There are two main wildlife attractions here: around 100 argali mountain sheep, which live on Mt. Baits and a wetland area with endangered white-napped cranes, along with a variety of other birds like cinereous vultures, demoiselle cranes, black storks, whooper swans, ducks and terns. The permanent ger camp has a lodge which houses a dining hall and bathroom facilities. There are many activities to choose from besides wildlife watching, including boating, archery, yak cart and horse riding, hiking and homestays with herder families, all of which provide employment for local people. This was the first stop on my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition in July of 2009.

View from my ger, with passing summer rain storm, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve

5. I knew nothing about Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve when I arranged to go there as part of my July 2009 Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition other than it had argali. I was only there for two days, but they were two of the most memorable days I’ve had in four trips to Mongolia. The reserve is home to about 60 argali, which are more tolerant of people and vehicles than the ones I’ve seen elsewhere, along with Siberian ibex, cinereous vultures, columbia rock doves and other birds.  The rocky uplands cover a smaller area than Ikh Nart (no.6 below), and are easy to get around in on foot or by vehicle. There is a ger camp tucked up against one of the rock formations with an amazing view down the valley. A concrete “ger” serves as the dining hall and has a covered patio area. There is a toilet/shower block, for which the water is heated by solar power. Baga Gazriin Chuluu is about a six hour drive on an earth road southwest of Ulaanbaatar.

Argali ewe with two lambs; one with radio collar, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve

6. And last, but certainly not least, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, my destination when I first went to Mongolia on an Earthwatch project in spring of 2005. Ikh Nart may be the best all-around place to see wildlife in the country. There are argali mountain sheep, Siberian ibex, corsac fox, red fox, tolai hare, cinereous vultures, golden eagles, black kites, kestrels and many other birds. Nomadic Journeys also has an eco-ger camp here, Red Rocks, and offers guided and unguided trips. It is a great place to hike. There are fabulous rock formations, some of which have Tibetan inscriptions carved on them. You will need a GPS since, while there are some dirt tracks, there are no marked trails. This was the third stop on my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition in July of 2009. Ikh Nart is a seven hour train ride or a five to six hour drive south and slightly east, mostly on tarmac, from Ulaanbaatar.

There are more photos in other posts on this blog. Look under “Mongolia” on the blog roll at the right or do a name search.

Mongolia Monday- Favorite Ger Photos

Two of the things I like best about traveling to Mongolia are staying in a ger and visiting people in their gers (“ger” means “home” in Mongolian).

Actress Julia Roberts was hosted by a family of horse trainers during the filming of an episode of the PBS series “Nature” called “The Wild Horses of Mongolia” (which isn’t what it was about, although there was a little takhi footage from Hustai National Park included). At the end, she’s sitting in a ger filled with Mongolians, looking into the camera with this big grin, saying something to the effect of “I’m sitting here in this ger and I don’t understand a word of what these people are saying, but I’m as happy and content as I’ve ever been in my life.”

Yup, she nailed it. I feel the same way. There’s something about the quality of space created by a ger that is very special. I’ve been in clean ones, dirty ones, sat on stools, beds and the floor, seen beautifully furnished ones and ones with next to nothing in them and I get the same content feeling in all of them. Hand me a bowl of suutei tsai (milk tea) or airag (fermented mare’s milk) and some aruul (dried yogurt) or tsotsgii (cream) and I’m a happy camper (and a cheap date too, I guess, although my husband would probably beg to differ). Anyway, here are some of my favorite images of gers from my four trips to Mongolia.

First, ger camps:

My ger at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve (AFC Flag Expedition), July 2009
Dungenee Ger Camp (Nomadic Journeys), Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Sept. 2006
Dungenee ger interior; notice large rock to help hold it down in high winds, Sept. 2006
Dinosaur Ger Camp, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, May 2005 (haven't stayed here; yet)
Arburd Sands Ger Camp (Nomadic Journeys) with lightening storm, July 2009
Red Rocks Ger Camp (Nomadic Journeys) with oncoming storm, July 2009; two hours of heavy rain soon followed
Dining ger door, Red Rocks Ger Camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Sept. 2008

In 2005, I got to visit a ger factory and see how they are made:

Ger factory, Ulaanbaatar, May 2005

Then we went to the Black Market where you can buy anything ger; from individual parts to the whole thing.

Everything ger at the Black (or Narantuul) Market

The research camp at Khomiin Tal (takhi reintroduction site) in western Mongolia is spectacularly sited in a river valley:

The research camp at Khomiin Tal, western Mongolia, Sept. 2006
Ger interior with goat meat, Khomiin Tal, western Mongolia, Sept. 2006

My first experience of staying in a ger was during my first trip to Mongolia on an Earthwatch project “Mongolian Argali” (now called “Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe”; highly recommended) in the spring of 2005. The camp is much bigger now; seven gers, two containers and a volleyball court:

The research camp at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Earthwatch project, April 2005
Typical spring dust storm, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve research camp, April 2005; photo taken out the door of the ger; circles are the flash bouncing off dust particles; the wind was howling, too

And, private homes:

Small ger with aruul drying on the roof; en route from Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve to Ulaanbaatar, July 2009; my guide helped me buy some aruul from the family
Prosperous establishment in the Gobi, Sept. 2006; they breed racing camels
Dung fuel with traditional gathering basket, western Mongolia, Sept. 2006; the owner manages a nearby salt deposit
Ger in western Mongolia, Sept. 2006; we bought fresh cow's milk from her
Gers above the Tuul River, near Hustai National Park, Sept. 2006; they have great view!
Ger visit, near Hustai National Park, May 2005; my first encounter with Mongolian hospitality, but not the last!

Out and About in Ulaanbaatar

Back in the room after dinner and wanted to post a few images from today. This is the first time that I have taken my laptop on one of these “adventure” trips and, with David to sort out the technical issues, I’m able to blog, check email and follow the news for the first time. Tomorrow afternoon we go out to Hustai National Park, about two hours from UB. Then we’ll have three days to watch the takhi (Przewalski’s Horse) and tour around the area. Although there will be electricity available in the gers, there is no internet connection. In fact, the park has no phone, but uses a radio to communicate.

We walked up to the Nomadic Journeys office this morning and got some trip details sorted out, then went to Le Bistro Francais for lunch. Chicken in white sauce and Mongol beer for two. Afterwards, we walked over to the Zanabazar Art Museum, which had been closed my last trip. Zanabazar was a Buddhist monk who created extremely fine bronze sculptures of Buddhist manifestations like White Tara and Manjushri. He is a national hero to the Mongolians. Unfortunately, the sculptures are under glass and I couldn’t get decent photos, but there are some on the museum website

I did get some images of one of the incredible cloth applique thankas. I’ve done various kinds of embroidery for years and have never seen anything like this. The streak is a light reflection in the glass.

Applique thanka
Applique thanka

And a closeup of the figure in the lower left hand corner.

Applique closeup
Applique closeup

Downstairs at the museum is the Red Ger Art Gallery, where one can find contemporary Mongolian art for sale. We bought a couple of pieces of original calligraphy, including one that says “Chinggis Khan”. And then there were “the horse shoes”…..around $300 for the set. I did say that the Mongolians are a horse culture, didn’t I?

"Horse Shoes" from the Red Ger Gallery

Finally, some of you may have heard of “Engrish”, which is the term given for writing that closely resembles but doesn’t exactly cut it as standard English. Product directions are notorious in that regard. Then there is this notice in the elevator at the Bayangol-

Bayangol elevator sign
Bayangol elevator sign

So, before I commit an improper purpose I’ll sign off and hope to come back with tales of Hustai takhi.

Sain Bain Uu from Ulaanbaatar!

We made it! Our flight from Seoul was rescheduled to the following day due to high winds in UB. (Luggage drama story to come). So, instead of arriving Monday, we arrived Tuesday. Yesterday, Wednesday, was spent sorting out the intinerary with Jan at Nomadic Journeys for a variety of reasons I’ll go into later since I’m on battery power at the tour office right now since the internet connection was down at the hotel. We did get out in the afternoon and walked to Sukhbaatar Square and saw the new improved Government Building that now has an incredible Mongol facade with a huge statue of Chinggis Khan. I’ll post photos later if I can.

UB is looking noticeably spiffier since I was here two years ago. More prosperous, too. We are staying at a hotel called the Bishrelt Plaza. Very friendly staff, good food in the restaurant, room big, a little tatty around the edges but perfectly useable and there were renovations going on while we were there.

It is now 10:15am on Thursday, August 28. At noon, we leave for Ikn Nartiin Chuluu. Back to UB on the 2nd.

Weather yesterday was sunny and warm. Today cloudy and warm.

It’s great to be back and less than two hours from the trip really getting under way.

In front of the Chinggis Khan memorial, Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar
In front of the Chinggis Khan memorial, Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar