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!
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.
Next week: boating and hiking and back to Ulaanbaatar
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.
1. News.mn: http://english.news.mn/home.shtml– News.mn 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.
2. Asian Gypsy: http://asiangypsy.blogspot.com/– 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.
4. Altan Urag: http://www.altanurag.mn/en.html– 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.
5. Ganbold: http://www.ganbold.com/– 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: http://www.budartist.com/– 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.
7. Circle of Tengerism- http://www.tengerism.org/– 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.
8. Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve- http://www.ikhnart.com/home.html– 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.
9. Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve- http://www.argalipark.com/– 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.
10. Nomadic Journeys- http://nomadicjourneys.com/– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
In 2005, I got to visit a ger factory and see how they are made:
Then we went to the Black Market where you can buy anything ger; from individual parts to the whole thing.
The research camp at Khomiin Tal (takhi reintroduction site) in western Mongolia is spectacularly sited in a river valley:
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:
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 http://www.zanabazarmuseum.org/.
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.
And a closeup of the figure in the lower left hand corner.
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?
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-
So, before I commit an improper purpose I’ll sign off and hope to come back with tales of Hustai takhi.
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.