Posts Tagged With: Landscape

Summer Travel in Central Mongolia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter leaving this beautiful camp, our base during Naadam, we headed southwest for six days along the “Heartland Circuit.”
10557045_10152622390980746_8288162626551885544_oOne of our first stops was near the Khogno Khaan Natural Reserve, where we hiked up a sacred mountain, respectfully, and saw ruins of the Uvgun Monastery. Mongolia’s monasteries were violently destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930s and many have not been fully restored.
IMG_1390Some parts of Uvgun have been rebuilt, however, and the granddaughter (celibacy was not fully implemented, apparently) now tends the site.
IMG_1401There was time before dinner to get in a quick camel ride, which was great because now I can check that off my list and not do it again.
IMG_1411But we were on the edge of the Gobi desert as the sun was going down, so the light was amazing.
Our next camp was in the Orkhon Valley, next to the river.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe river is lovely, but kayaking in the river was magical, because: horses.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKayaking with me has been likened to “Driving Miss Daisy,” but I was too excited to paddle much — we were often closer than these pictures show, because by the time the very patient husband had the camera set, they’d moved away from us. Summer is a great time for the horses and other livestock as they roam free for months, getting fat and glossy from the grass and fresh air.
We travelled in this very sturdy Soviet-era van, a UAZ, which are still plentiful in Mongolia and beloved for their ease of repair. Drivers work freelance for tour companies (we went with the fabulous Goyo Travel) and own their vehicles; the UAZ is completely mechanical, meaning it has no internal computer systems, so the driver can fix it with basic tools out in the middle of nowhere. They have high clearance and can go anywhere.
1907862_10152622394385746_1176235303637523967_oI mention this because on the next leg we came to a very dodgy looking bridge with a small but persuasive warning sign advising caution.
IMG_1421My feeling about these situations is that we all make our own decisions: we four travellers and the guide made the decision to get out of the van and walk, while the driver made the decision to drive over. We all held our breath, but it was fine and on we went, arriving at the trailhead for a hike to Tovkhon Monastery.
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IMG_1434On the way back we got to see a herder family milking their horses to make airag, the alcoholic drink made from fermented horse milk. (An acquired taste, I think.)
IMG_1436Since we’d crossed in the morning, that bridge had been closed to vehicles. We walked, and the driver went downstream to drive across a shallow bit.
IMG_1459Our next stop was the Erdene Zuu Monastery, which is on the site of the ancient capital of Karakorum.
IMG_1472While Buddhist temples and monasteries have, obviously, much in common wherever they are, the wide-open emptiness of Mongolia makes these particularly stunning. Favorite race horses are honored after they die by becoming part of an ovoo cairn.
IMG_1478We ended our trip with a night at Ogii Lake. The weather had turned cold and cloudy, but we saw plenty of hardy Mongolians swimming. I was happy to get close to the lake just by having fish for dinner.
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(Note: The photos of the camels crossing the road and the UAZ van were taken by our friend with the good camera.)

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Sunday Hike at Bogd Khaan, Ulaanbaatar

IMG_1216 Sunday morning at 8:00 seemed awfully early, especially after the lightest-latest night of the Summer Solstice and especially for a person such as myself who hikes only under ideal conditions. But off we went with a group of the husband’s coworkers, right outside Ulaanbaatar. One of the great things about the Mongolian landscape is the beauty so close to the city.IMG_1218 Stunning rock slides, formed by long-ago glaciers, and a spring, with water you can drink. IMG_1220 We reached the ridge after about an hour and half, and it was time to eat! IMG_1222 We were in a flat, open area, with other groups around us. For some reason, Mongolians like to climb up a hill, eat a bunch of food, then do group calisthenics before continuing on. Apparently, it’s a soviet thing.
IMG_1225We continued along the ridge, through woods filled with wildflowers.
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IMG_1234Then the woods opened up to some serious drama.
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IMG_1244On the way down, everyone took photos of each other.
IMG_1247Except me — I collected a big bunch of wild dandelion greens for cooking this week.

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Getting to Ride Mongolian Horses

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I say “getting to ride,” as in “fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ride” Mongolian horses. Less than an hour outside the city, and the countryside feels empty and wild. The terrain was grassy, rocky and bare, but with wildflowers underfoot. Yesterday:
IMG_1182The same area in late March:
IMG_1038I am not one to say that the only way to experience the real soul of a country is through its traditional activities and rural areas. All countries change over time, and contemporary urban life is just as “real” as village or nomadic life. We outsiders like to see how people live differently than we do, but let’s not expect the old ways to be preserved for our tourist eyes.

That said, horses are a deeply cherished part of Mongolian history and culture. Besides contributing to Chinggis Khaan’s conquests, horses are part of nomadic life, used for herding, milk, and meat. Songs and poems are written in cadences to match the rhythm of galloping. Horse racing is one of Mongolia’s three traditional sports, along with archery and wrestling. These horses are small and tough, they can run for hours without stopping and are used to travelling for days.

For a lazy urbanite like me, riding is a way to engage with the part of Mongolia and its history that take place outside the city, and I’m very glad to have opportunities to ride. There are places where you can go out for a few hours with guides and have lunch — it’s a fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. This young woman helped us get ready back in March and was one of our guides yesterday.

You can see how small the horses are.

IMG_1033The saddles and bridles are very basic, and the horses are guided with the reins rather than the legs, more like western/cowboy style. There’s some trotting, but it’s mostly walking or galloping, unless the horses are cantering to catch up with their friends. I learned to ride hunt-seat on an English saddle, so I prefer my stirrups shorter than is common here. Yesterday the man helping us used his pocket knife to make new holes in the straps for me, which will be appreciated the next time some ten year-old uses that saddle.

Here we are taking a short break:
IMG_1184Here’s one of the guides with the horse I was riding:
IMG_1187And thank god for those guides, because once you’re over the first hill it’s easy to get lost in that vast open space. Though, of course, the horses know their way back, and if you head that direction, they’ll gallop all the way.

For a much wilder equestrian story, check out the comments below:

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Mongolian Ger Camp: Fauna

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This being Mongolia, the summer weather didn’t stay long, and we woke up COLD our second morning at the ger camp. Overnight temperatures had dropped down almost to 6C/43F with clouds and a strong wind. We’d hoped to go riding, but the horses for camp guests to ride had been moved, along with their racing brethren and sistren, to richer grazing areas where they can gain weight after the winter. Disappointing for us, but we also hadn’t brought warm jackets for that wind, even though it warmed up a bit as the day went on.

Instead, we took our urban selves down from the camp to the neighboring farm, where we saw foals and mares:

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Sheep that we stayed away from because the herder had just — what’s the word here, wrangled? anyway — gotten on a horse and ridden around the flock to bring them closer together:
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Cows:
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A very friendly donkey, who almost came home with me:
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And camels, because, of course — it’s Mongolia:

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Here’s the inside of our very comfortable ger:
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Gers are heated by these stoves, which make the interior very warm when the fire is going, but less warm — a lot less warm — when the fire goes out in the middle of the night.
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Sunset (around 8:30) at beautiful Mongolian Secret History Ger Camp:
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Mongolian Ger Camp: Flora

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Summer came to Mongolia last week, conveniently timed with a long weekend. By Friday it was HOT, up to 30C/88F, so we were ready for our first visit to a Mongolian ger camp. (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a ger, not a yurt here.) We went to the beautiful Mongolian Secret History Camp and stayed in the ger above.

After lunch, we took our pasty, urban selves off for a hike. Most of the landscape we’ve seen so far has been wide-open hills, so it was definitely a novelty to walk in the woods. Aspen were everywhere, punctuated by pine trees.

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And wildflowers:

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Forget-me-nots

Umm?

Umm?

Wild Iris?

Wild Iris?

Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry

Amazing views, plus lots of hawks, at the top of the ridge.

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The Batmunkh Witch Project?

We made it down — the steep way: “Just traverse, Honey” — and found the families around us playing and preparing their dinner. IMG_1155
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