It seems I have been away from the other side of the world for a very long time. No newspapers or TV. How am I surviving? My body hurts all over. A photo workshop is work. You are constantly moving and getting up at weird hours and sometimes getting very little or no sleep at all. No mopping today. Could not sleep most of the night. Called Olivia at about 2 AM and she immediately said “What are you doing up so late?” I have now finished three more books and am starting my fourth. Don’t shed a tear, I am having an amazing time. We all met at 7 AM for our morning coffee and then it was off to Hustai National Park. Hustai National Park is around 50 miles from UB. The traffic in UB is crazy. People all have cars here and there are lots of double buses. No motor bikes nor tuk tuks. After about an hour and one half we finally arrived at Hustai National Park. What’s there and why go there? Have you ever heard of the Pzewalski horse? The Pzewalski horse is considered the worlds last wild horse. The Horse is the last completely wild horse species in the world. The Pzewalski horse was first described and seen by a Russian explorer by the name of N.M. Pzewalski. Now you understand the name. The horse used to roam the mountains between Mongolia and China. These horses have never been tamed and were near extinction only thirty years ago. Do to a huge effort by Mongolia, the horse is making a comeback. There are around three hundred now in the Park and they roam free. We were told that they are able to detect smell and sound from great distances so that it would be very hard to get very close. When I saw one through my long distance lens, I saw a horse that was smaller than most horses, have stocky bodies, large heads, thick necks and beautiful manes sticking up. I had previously seen similar looking horses in Iceland. The Icelandic horses are not free to roam, but are very friendly and you can get very close to them. We saw a person on a motor bike chase some of them from a distance and I started to click away hoping that I get one that will be a keeper. We were in three all terrain vehicles roaming around the Park and finally hiked over some hills to try and find some. We were also joined by a Mongolian biologist who works there preserving and monitoring the Pzewalski horse. We all had a Mongolian lunch at the Park entrance and then out was time to board our all terrains and head back to UB.
Once we arrived back in UB, Zaya, Georgi and myself stopped at the State Department Store. This all purpose store is in a huge building and was first opened in 1924. The store is run by the government and has everything for sale. From being a supermarket, to a restaurant, clothing, hats, cashmere and almost everything else is sold here. The government makes sure that everything is sold that is authentic to what is being sold. So if you want to buy a fur hat, you are safe in buying one here since it is guaranteed authentic. The three of us roamed the floors and aisles. Georgi and myself were struck by the different types of items for sale and of the beauty of most of it. Now lets digress a little. I have been to two places where Olivia has been annoyed that I went and she did not join me. The first one was Venice and the second is Mongolia. I am truly sorry that she did not come with me to Mongolia. She would love it. As part of my guilt feeling, I bought her a beautiful silk Mongolian outfit. Pure silk. Hope she loves it. Georgi was the model since she is Olivia shape and size. I want to publicly say that I would be so happy if Olivia would join me for a trip to Mongolia. This is only the second country that I have visited that I would gladly return to, New Zealand and now Mongolia. Cambodia holds a special place in my heart and I go back for different reasons.
It was now time for dinner. Don’t forget that Jay, Jenn and Georgi are leaving us and now Andy, Kevin, Zaya, Kip and myself are going to a place that I will shortly reveal. We had a great dinner. My steak was cooked to perfection. We toasted Jay, Jenn and Georgi and I of course gave a brief speech thanking them for being on this workshop.
I want to now close my last nine days in Mongolia and reflect on some of the highlights and people. The highlights will last me for a lifetime. Seeing the Monks at the Gangden Monastery being called to prayer and going through their daily activities and being able to talk to a llama and ask him any questions you wanted to.
Experiencing the small differences between the Buddhist religion in Mongolia. Flying to Bayan Olgii on a true put put and staying amongst the Kazakh people for three days and nights. Living in a Ger tent and living in the same way that the Kazakh people live. Experiencing their local native food and watch them make and cook it in the dining room Ger tent. Living without the internet and cell phone just like they do. Taking pictures of the local eagle hunters. Going to our own eagle festival. Watching the eagle hunters compete amongst each other in games and contests that are so unfamiliar to us, such as Mongolian Tug of War. Driving to Aisophan’s house. Meeting her family and sitting with them. Drinking mares milk and still not sick. Having a private shooting session with Aisophan and her father. Watching the grace and beauty of her father on horseback with the eagle. Knowing that this was a special experience that will in all likelihood be not repeated by any other photography group as Aisophan gets older and continues her schooling. Seeing Aisophan and her family and how they have not be spoiled by their publicity. Stopping at a ogoo and walking around it three times and learning why the people worship this way. Driving from Olgii to Khovd. I can go on and on. What impressed me the most was the people of Western Mongolia that I met. Their smiles, caring and beauty will stay with me. This was why I have always wanted to come to Mongolia. They will hold a special place in my heart.
So now where is this crazy guy going for the next five days? No one has accepted my challenge and tried to guess. Maybe no one is reading my blog, but here it goes. Andy, Kevin, Kip. Zaya and myself are all going to the Gobi Desert. That’s right the GOBI. Everyone has heard of the Gobi. The Gobi is the sixth largest desert in the world. Most of it lies in Mongolia and a small portion is in China. Staying in Ger tents for three nights and one night at a small guest place. Why go to the Gobi? How about White Stupa earth cliffs, Sand dunes, Flaming Cliffs, camels, camel caravans, and shooting the locals living in this remote part of the world. None of us have ever been here except for Zaya. Zaya has promised me Camel milk, the local drink. No internet and cell phone service. No one will hear from me for the next four days, but I will still be writing and posting when I get back to UB. Tomorrow we will leave at 7:30 AM and drive 600 km or about 350 miles to our destination. We will first be staying in a log house and then the other three nights in a Ger Camp. I expect 4 AM wake ups the next four mornings to go shoot the sunrise over the Gobi and later sunset. We will also be shooting all day the locals and their way of life. It is special for me to go with Andy and Kevin to a place where they have never taken pictures. They have been two of my mentors and I have learned so much from them. I want to observe how they first approach a location and shoot that they have never seen.
Hope everyone has enjoyed the last nine days in Mongolia. Onto the Gobi