The late summer day
has just begun its rounds.
As I took a sip in my dreams
lightning’s crashing all around.
– Misheel Chuluun
Mongolia is a dream country for photographers. Every corner you turn you are seized by the moment, be it a child on a swing, a herd of sheep, a cloudless sky, or simply a curious or welcoming smile. Like so many other travellers-photographers, I succumb to Mongolia’s charm and am already dreaming of returning.
Ulaanbaatar is of little interest except for the sprawling “black market” and the beautiful Gandantegchinlen Monastery. From the capital city, I take a tour to the Gobi desert and Central Mongolia, passing through scenic Orkhon waterfall and Ongi ruins. Then I head up North to Hatgal to enjoy a tour of Khovsgol lake before joining a second tour to fly out West to Ulgii to hike in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park and stay with a Kazakh eagle hunter’s family in Ulaanhus. What an extraordinary month-long journey!
A desert storm had passed through the Gobi just before our arrival, shredding yurts in shreds and turning outhouses upside down. Early mornings in the Gobi are some of the most photogenic moments of the entire trip. Nomads herd their sleep; women take advantage of the sun to enjoy a rare sponge bath. Children are up and running, so intimately connected with their expansive environment.
With vast steppes, forests, waterfalls, ruins, and villages, Central Mongolia is highly photogenic. Handsome Mongolians in their traditional deels, children beaming big smiles. It’s summer time; children are off school and return to their family gers. During the long road trip, I have glimpses of children’s life that’s largely gone in my part of the world, a life unplugged from iphones, ipads, nintendos… Instead, they have what they have. Clear, sweeping sky, vast land, desert and valleys, and unrivalled sunsets. And time…
Only 200 km west of the southern end of Lake Baikal, Khovsgol lakeit is often called the young sister lake near the Russian border. With mountains, caves, hot springs, and depressions, it opens up an entirely different landscape from the Gobi desert and Central Mongolia. Gateway to the famous Tsaatan people – reindeer herders – the biggest lake in Mongolia draws horse-riders and adventurers who take 10-day or longer treks deep into reindeer herding territory. I am content with leisurely boat rides and day hikes instead, observing local life and shamanistic rituals around the lake…
Not as accessible and popular as the other sites, Western Mongolia is a real gem. Kazakh is the primary language spoken in this vast, scenic region famous for its natural beauty and eagle hunting. It’s election time in Ulgii; voters await the results with much anticipation! From the quiet capital city of Western Mongolia, we drive to Khoton Lake en route to Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. A surprise mid-July overnight snowstorm prevents an exciting ascent of the majestic Malchin Peak, standing grand at 4000m…
Bonus as a result: spending more time with the Kazakh eagle hunter’s family in Ulaanhus! Hunting season is in the Fall, so for now the eagles are grounded. Watching nomads attend to their herd from early morning till sunset has a meditative quality to it. It feels almost timeless…
Upon return to Ulaanbaatar, it’s the mega annual Nadaam festival, every photographer’s dream! Handsome Mongolians are at their Nadaam best, attending thrilling horse-riding, archery, and wrestling competitions. Joyful celebrations, colourful traditions, and the capital city in its full summer glory!
What a month in this gorgeous country! Nothing beats spending time with adorable Mongol and Kazakh children. They are a natural, pose for you, play with you. My favourite model is a Kazakh child in Ulaanhus. In a beautiful July afternoon in the middle of nowhere in Western Mongolia, he plays endlessly with his goats, tickling them, grabbing their ears, pulling their skin, putting his cap on them, and trying to ride on them… having just a grand time. It is lovely to see his intimate relationship with the animals, which is not always the case for children elsewhere!
The yellow sun above keeps moving far away…
Alas, do you seek something from me, autumn time?
All Content © 2023 by Jennifer Chan