Mongolia

8-21 July 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We traveled in Mongolia with an extension to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia.

 

 

 

We landed in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar and toured from there. We took three flights indicated in purple. Our bus/car travel GPS tracks are in yellow.

 

We flew to MORON from where we drove to Lake Hovsgol and visited the reindeer people.

 

We flew to the GOBI CAMP in the south of Mongolia.

 

We flew to IRKUTSK in Siberia, Russia.

 

From Ulaanbaatar we drove directly to the Hustai and

Terelj parks.

 

 

The big event in Ulaanbaatar is the annual Naadam Festival which lasts for days and starts in the main stadium.

 

 It was especially elaborate this year as it marked the 800th anniversary of Chingghis Khan’s unification of Mongolia and the 80th anniversary of Mongolia’s independence.

 

In the foreground is a symbolic Great Khan’s ger (Mongolian tent) pulled by 8 huge yaks. It is surrounded by people in traditional costumes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nine “flags” are made of white horse tails and signify the parts of Mongolia.

 

The 800 traditionally dressed singers surrounded the field.

 

 

 

 

These are but a few members of the 800 (!) member strong horse-head fiddle orchestra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those high hats were worn in old days by noble women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the foreground are three Big Heads used by Buddhist monks for special occasions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancers in colorful costumes. A dance of noble women in foreground with martial arts demonstrations behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festival participants in traditional costumes waiting for the festival to start..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We thought this guy had a particularly interesting face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the second day of the Naadam festival, archery contests and…

 

 

 

….wrestling matches were performed. The champion of these matches (400 wrestlers) will be the next year’s hero. It is more like sumo wrestling than our style.

 

Mongolia abandoned its own script under Russian domination and adopted Cyrillic characters in 1944. The advertisement in the picture is for a drink “Vitafit.” We learned the characters while there making reading strange signs interesting.

 

 

We appreciated the many opportunities we had to listen to traditional Mongolian music (note again the horse head fiddles) and the classy traditional clothes.

 

We instantly fell in love with Mongolian music the first time we heard it: we walked on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon in December 1999 in downtown Munich and encountered a group of Mongolian musicians performing traditional music including the amazing throat singing. We bought their CD and play it often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a view point outside of Ulaanbaatar, this Mongolian family was posing for their own pictures.

 

 

Mongolia adopted Tibetan tantric Buddhism some seven hundred years ago (even one of the Dalai Lamas was from the royal Mongolian family).

 

In the 1930s, under Russian domination, all monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousand of monks executed.

 

Buddhism is making a slow come back since the collapse of the Soviet Union (of which Mongolia was not part. It was a Soviet satellite state). The Gandantegchenlin monastery

 

 

 

(above) commenced full religious ceremonies in 1990 and has now 500 monks. On the left, a decidedly tantric depiction of non-duality.

The reemerging traditional Buddhist religion faces strong competition from well funded, aggressively proselytizing Christian groups.

 

Our guide told us that the easiest to recognize are the LDS missionaries going in 2s through the neighbor-hoods. Many churches start schools to lure students who only later find they are church schools set up by missionaries.

 

 

 

 

Under Soviet domination, shamanism was impossible to eradicate since there are no buildings and no readily identifiable clergy.

 

Shamanism also coexists with Buddhist traditions and is often difficult to separate the two. The blue Buddhist flags on the right are often found in purely Shamanistic settings.

 

 

 

This is the ger (Mongolian tent) camp of the Hustai National Park, where we went to see the wild horses.

 

These gers can be taken down and put up in a few hours. They are well insulated with felt (important in winter) and the sides can be pulled up for ventilation when it’s warmer.

 

 Inside, they’re quite comfortable with beds, tables and storage areas (below).

 

 

 

 

The attraction of the Hustai National Park is the one and only species of wild horses (they have a different number of chromosomes from the other horses) called Takhi in Mongolia and Przewalski horses by us.

 

They became extinct in central Asia during the last 100 years. Fortunately, they were kept in zoos and were successfully reintroduced from zoos in the Netherlands.

 

 

These horses have a characteristic (short) mane and a different head shape than domesticated horses.

In the Hustai area there are now some 18 groups (harems) consisting of one male and some dozen females. There are some singles to be found which are either young males or old ones kicked out by stronger competitors.

 

 

Our big surprise was finding edelweiss everywhere. We saw jillions of them covering the meadows in Mongolia; we found them in Siberia, and on a later trip in Tibet.

 

 It turns out that the edelweiss originated in central Asia. It’s such a rare and protected flower in the Alps (and the symbol of several alpine countries) that it takes a while to accept it as a common meadow weed. The grazing animals stay away from it.

 

 

 

 

On the left is our Mongolian guide Oyuna after offering a cup of Airag –the traditional Mongolian drink – to Yvonne. Here she is trying to figure out if she likes it or not.

 

Airag is fermented mare’s milk with the same alcohol content as beer. It tastes like buttermilk (which Yvonne doesn’t like).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We flew to Moron and took a horrible night-time ride over bumpy dirt roads and river beds to Lake Hovsgol (above). The lake is huge and deep and holds 1% of the world’s fresh water. Our ger camp is visible through the trees at the bottom left of the picture above.

 

Yvonne wanted to ride a Mongolian horse so took a ride along the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the extreme top of the hill behind our ger camp we found these active shaman places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the tents were all kinds of offerings including money.

 

 

Animal skulls play a big role at these places of worship. We were told that these are skulls of very much loved horses and the owners hope they’ll come back someday as humans.

 

There is also a walking stick at the left center of the picture. It is quite common to find walking sticks and crutches at these places as testimony to miracle healings (just as in certain western religious traditions).

 

 

 

 

 

One Dukha family of native people has moved into the national park at the lake.

 

Tourists come to see their tents, to hear about their way of life - and to sit on their reindeer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yvonne and the head woman of the reindeer people were able to communicate, with lots of humor, immediately. It was a very nice experience.

 

 

Here is Mrs. Claus…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and here is her husband.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oyuna, our Mongolian guide, told us that they call these yaks “cows with skirts.”

 

 

Our flight to the ger camp in the Gobi desert was delayed all day (see map above). It hadn’t rained for 3 years and it had been raining for 3 days. The locals were thrilled; we imagine our pilot was not.

 

The landing on the dirt strip was perfect but when the plane taxied on the wet sand his wheels (especially the nose wheel) dug in. The passengers disembarked and walked to the little terminal. After they unloaded the baggage taxiing was easy.

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of camels (even wild ones) in the area. Here they are two-humpers (Bactrian camels) and far more comfortable to ride than the one-humpers (dromedaries).

 

A saddle isn’t necessary; we used a saddle blanket with stirrups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited a camel breeding camp.

 

 

 

 

 

The soft sand dunes were fun to play in.

 

One of the young drivers could jump “down dune” a long way. Yvonne couldn’t. It was hard to run down a steep slope and then jump up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ger clothes lines for the camel breeders..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We looked for Ibex and briefly saw one at a distance at the ridge line. We did find Ibex horns. This is in a national park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Gurvan Saikhan National Park, there is a valley in with year-around glaciers. In winter, the ice is 30’ thick. The elevation here is over 7000’ and it’s said to be the only glacier in a desert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our final ger camp was in Terelj National park east of Ulaanbaatar. We had a long walk/hike and saw wonderful wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The park has magnificent scenery and spectacular flowering meadows. That formation in the valley is called Turtle Rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we found a shaman totem pole.