Hope all is well. Have not read a paper in two weeks nor watched television at all. Olivia would say that is amazing. So last night, after the singing, many of us went to our rooms at the beautiful “Eagles Nest”. I stayed in the dining area and was the last one to leave, but I did not leave until 1 AM. So what was I doing until then? Zaya showed up and I invited her and one of the hotel helpers who did not speak English and showed them my pictures from Cambodia and other parts of the world I have visited. Both of them were awestruck. Both have never been outside of Mongolia and they were so struck by the similarity between themselves and the Cambodians and very interested in the different ways that the Cambodians practice Buddhism. I love to do this and had a great time explaining them things and the power of photography. Finally all three of us were so tired that we called it a night.
Dragged myself out of bed at around 7:30 AM. Western Mongolia is 11 hours in front of NYC and one hour behind Ulan Bator (UB). My body is so tired and drained that I feel like that I am sometimes dreaming through the day. It was now time to load all our luggage and gear into three all terrain vehicles for the trip from Olgii to Khovd. We left at 9 AM. The drive takes around 6 to 7 hours over mostly unpaved dirt and rocky roads and thats without stopping. How can I describe the landscape at the start of the journey? It was like a landscape you see in the movie “Star Wars”. Lot’s of barren land, high ranges and mountains. Nothing grows. Sort of like a high desert. Very close to the Russian border. Our first stop was at a lake and river area. We walked around and noticed wild horses grazing. Got up close and took some great pictures. I then took out my 18mm f/2.8 prime for you photographers. My favorite and always goes with me wherever I travel. I kept it on one of my two camera bodies and took some great wide angle landscapes throughout the journey. Our next stop was to eat lunch. There is no way I can describe where we ate lunch. Imagine an old one story house with lots of back doors and built out of stone. There was a corral made of stone and the residents were drying their clothing on the high stone fence. The door had a Mongolian style carpet on it and when you walked in there were tables, benches and four beds for people who arrive late and need to spend the night. We had brought our own lunch and just used the facilities to sit and eat. The locals had a dog. Imagine a living shaggy rug walking and wagging its tail.The dog was a sight to behold. One of the women had to use the toilet, hurt herself and almost fell in what you never want to fall into. My pictures may do the place and dog better justice than my writing. We then went further up into the mountains and it started to snow and the mountains and dirt road were covered with snow. How beautiful this was. The temperature dropped to freezing within ten minutes. We were driving through a mountain pass. We stopped along the way to take some great pictures. Once we drove out of the pass, the snow stopped and the temperature rose to being very comfortable and almost quite warm. We were now in a huge valley and the area also looked like a high desert with no vegetation and again reminded me of a “Star Wars” sort of landscape. We stopped three times to take pictures of the mountains and feral horses that were grazing in the valley. I felt so fortunate to see this sort of area of the earth that few people see or experience.
It was then onto Khovd. Outside the city, on a high mountain, we stopped in front of a large ogoo. Reread my previous days blog to see what that is. This ogoo was much bigger than the previous one and had lots of rocks and colorful cloth draping it. The cloth looked like prayer flags that the people of the Himalayas have and use.
It was now time to enter Khovd. Khovd is the largest city in Western Mongolia and has a population of about 35,000. Khovd is at the foot of the Mongolia Altai Mountains and sits in the valley. As I have previously said quite often, now that we know where it is, maybe you can explain it to me and I am there. Zaya told me that sixteen different ethnic groups live in Khovd. Some of their names are Khalkh, Zakhchin, Torgood, Oeld, Durved, Myangad, Uriankhai and of course Kazakh. Each ethnic group has its own language and dialect, but they all speak Mongolian. Have not seen much of Khovd yet since we arrived at around 5 PM and checked in and then went to dinner. The hotel is much more modern than the “Eagles Nest”, but had trouble hooking up to the internet. Dinner was enjoyable. I had a beef steak with an egg on top of it and was very tasty. I did have a local drink called “Corn Tea”. This is hot tea served in a tall glass with milk and corn kernels mixed in. Very tasty. You can try that at home.
I now need to rest my weary bones and mind. Breakfast is at 7 AM and the next day starts in this magical and different country.