The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 2: Location Painting And A Special Naadam At Arburd Sands, Bayan-Onjuul Soum

Perfect start to a great day!
Perfect start to a great day!

You can read Part 1 here. The Expedition schedule was planned to coincide with the naadam (festival) that is held at Arburd Sands ger camp every year to celebrate the camp’s anniversary. Since we were going out to a part of Mongolia, the far western Gobi, where there were very few herders I knew this was the perfect opportunity for the participants to get a taste of Mongol culture and just have a fun time, which we certainly did!

We set up camp the afternoon before, having driven about five hours from Ulaanbaatar.

Camp Central at Arburd Sands, cook tent on the right, dining tent on the left
Camp Central at Arburd Sands, cook tent on the right, dining tent on the left
Was this a great campsite or what?
Was this a great campsite or what?

We had time the next morning to get in some painting and sketching…

View from the dunes
View from the dunes
Magvandorj working on a landscape
Magvandorj working on a landscape
Tugs-oyun added the camels to her piece
Tugs-oyun added the camels to her piece
Sharon Schafer worked on recording the various plants in her sketchbook
Sharon Schafer worked on recording the various plants in her sketchbook
Time to go to the naadam!
Time to go to the naadam!
Our drivers had been helping with the set-up, including putting up a ger
Some of us helped with the set-up, including putting up a ger
We took a few minutes to get a group shot
We took a few minutes to get a group shot
The local people had started to arrive, many on their horse. Here's an example of Mongol leatherwork.
The local people had started to arrive, many on their horses. Here’s an example of Mongol leatherwork.
Magvandorj and I sketched the horses
Magvandorj and I sketched the horses
Our drivers, Batmaa and Sendag, helped with the real Mongolian BBQ....khorhog (mutton or goat cooked in the metal containers)
Our drivers, Batmaa and Sendag, helped with the real Mongolian BBQ….khorhog (mutton or goat cooked with extremely hot rocks in the metal containers)
The tails of the horses who will be racing are wrapped part way down.
The tails of the horses who will be racing are wrapped part way down.
The centerpiece of the naadam site....a big maikhan (summer tent)
The centerpiece of the naadam site….a big maikhan (summer tent)
The opening festivities included a performance by a morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) player and a long singer, who had a wonderful voice
The opening festivities included a performance by a morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) player and a long singer who had a wonderful voice; and their brocade del were spectacular
I'm presenting a painting I did of our host's father some years ago; I had brought it back to Mongolia for my exhibition at the National Museum of Mongolia and decided that it needed to stay in the country and with the family
I’m presenting a painting I did of our host’s father some years ago. I had brought it to Mongolia for my exhibition at the National Museum of Mongolia and decided that it needed to stay in the country and with the family, which has shown me great kindness and hospitality over the years
The procession that starts the horse race
The procession that starts the horse race. The jockeys are all singing a song to their horses that tells them that soon they will get to run and run and run.
Three of the jockeys were young girls
Three of the jockeys were young girls
Heading out to the starting point
Heading out to the starting point
In the meantime, the anklebone shooting competition had gotten under way
In the meantime, the anklebone shooting competition had gotten under way
The target...stacked sheep's anklebones; if hit they fall off the back into the box
The target…stacked sheep’s anklebones; if hit they fall off the back into the box
The competitors holding the piece of wood from which they launch an anklebone. You do not want to get hit by one
The competitors holding the piece of wood from which they launch an anklebone. You do not want to get hit by one if it goes off-line
At last the horses and riders come back into view
At last the horses and riders came back into view
Racing to the finish line
Racing to the finish line
The youngest riders were accompanied by at least one adult the whole way
The youngest riders were accompanied by at least one adult the whole way
One of the girl jockeys. She exuded determination and seriousness
One of the girl jockeys. She exuded determination and seriousness
The after race feast...khorhog, salads and various dairy products like aruul (dried curds)
The after-race feast…khorhog, salads and various dairy products like cheese, aruul (dried curds) and…
The legendary mare's milk of Mongolia....airag
The legendary mare’s milk of Mongolia….airag
Then it was time for the wrestling, Mongol bokh. He's doing the traditional Eagle Dance before a bout.
Then it was time for the wrestling, Mongol bokh. He’s doing the traditional Eagle Dance before a bout.
And this youngster did a great job doing his own version.
And this youngster did a great job with his own version.
The wrestlers in the traditional garb are more experienced and have probably earned rankings in the soum or aimag. Any local guy can enter and see what he can do.
The wrestlers in the traditional garb are more experienced and have probably earned rankings in the soum or aimag. Any local guy can enter and see what he can do, but the highest ranked wrestlers get to pick their opponent, so the odds aren’t good. There is no weight division. It’s everyone against everyone. The rules are very simple. First part of the body to touch the ground other than the feet means you lose. Within that simplicity is an infinite complexity of tactics and mind games. I’ve really become a fan.
I had to make a really tough choice. I wanted to watch the wrestling, but a demonstration of catching and riding young horses had begun. The horses won out because I really needed more reference of riders using the urga (the long catchpole)
I found myself making a tough choice. I wanted to watch the wrestling, but a demonstration of catching and riding young horses had begun. The horses won out because I really needed more reference of riders using the urga (the long catchpole)
We saw how 2 year olds are caught and ridden for the first time. It was a rodeo. This horse is feeling a bridle for the first time
We saw how 2 year olds are caught and ridden for the first time. It was a rodeo. This good-looking sturdy horse is feeling a bridle for the first time and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t like it
He really would rather not
He really would rather not
The punctuation point
The punctuation point and a moment later the bridle fell off, but all to no avail
Protesting in vain. As you can see, we could get as close to the action as we wanted
Protesting in vain. As you can see, we could get as close to the action as we wanted. Some were a little too close, but no one was hurt
Maybe not so bad after all
Maybe not so bad after all
Just love this photo of a young Mongol girl
Just love this photo of a young Mongol girl, totally at home on her horse and in her “nutag”, the land where she was born
One of my favorite catch photos. The horsemanship we saw that afternoon was jaw-dropping, but nothing special for people put on a horse at age three
One of my favorite catch photos. The horsemanship we saw that afternoon was jaw-dropping, but nothing special for people put on a horse at age three. They ride like we walk.
The winner of the horse race
The winner of the horse race

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 1: Departure and Our First Camp

Expedition members and staff, from left to right: Oidoviin Magvandorj (Mongol artist), Sendag (driver), Odna Idevkhen (Mongol photographer), Tugsoyun Sodnom (Mongol artist), Susan Fox (American artist), Batmaa (driver), Tseegii (guide), Sharon K. Schafer (American artist); photo by Soyoloo our great cook
Expedition members and staff, from left to right: Oidoviin Magvandorj (Mongol artist), Sendag (driver), Odna (Mongol photographer), Tugsoyun Sodnom (Mongol artist), Susan Fox (American artist), Batmaa (driver), Tseegii (guide), Sharon K. Schafer (American artist); photo by Soyoloo our great cook

Two years of planning all came together on August 23, 2013 when the first WildArt Mongolia Expedition departed from Ulaanbaatar in two Russian fergon vans, heading south and then west for a nineteen day adventure that combined art, endangered wildlife, Mongol culture and spectacular scenery.

We began in this:

View looking south from my 12th floor room at the Bayangol Hotel
View looking south to Bogd Khan Uul from my 12th floor room at the Bayangol Hotel

And within a few hours, found ourselves traveling through this:

Heading south into the steppe-Gobi transition zone
Heading south into the steppe-Gobi transition zone
Just one of those things you encounter on the road in Mongolia, local livestock
Just one of those things you encounter on the road in Mongolia, local livestock

I had in mind a very special place for our first camp…But first we needed to fill our water barrel from a local well. We also got lots of great horse photos.

Getting water
Getting water with assistance from local herders and a generator

Then it was on to our campsite…near my favorite sacred mountain, Zorgul Hairhan Uul.

Zorgol Hairhan Uul
Zorgol Hairhan Uul

Once camp was set up, we relaxed and had afternoon tea in the maikhan (Mongol summer tent).

Chatting in the maikhan
Chatting in the maikhan; from left to right: Guide Tseegii, artist Tugsoyun, artist Magvandorj, artist Sharon Schafer, photographer Odna

The next morning we were up in time to catch the first light on the mountain.

First Light
First Light

Magvandorj set up his easel and went to work.

Magvandorj painting on location
Magvandorj painting on location

There was a small lake at the foot of the mountain, which we explored that morning.

Morning light on the small lake
Morning light on the small lake

Odna, Sharon and I took lots of photos.

Odna and Sharon taking photos
Odna and Sharon

There was a white stupa at the base of the mountain.

The white stupa
The white stupa backed by a great rock formation

And a sacred spring on the backside, set about with prayer wheels and trees festooned with colorful khadag (offering scarves).

Khadag and prayer wheels
Khadag and prayer wheels

This is what our camps looked like during the Expedition.

The view  from camp looking away from the mountain
The view from camp looking away from the mountain

By late morning we were packed up and on our way to our next stop, Arburd Sands ger camp and a very special event.

Arburd Sands ger camp
Arburd Sands ger camp