Photographing Mongolia: Great Grasslands / Steppes

Since this is our first Photologue about Mongolia I will have to give you a little background information about travel here.

1. You travel in Russian Jeeps that are carefully tended relics from the 1970’s.
2. You will be lucky to have a hot shower once every 2 to 4 days.
3. You will spend all of your nights in round tent-like structures called Gers or Yurts
4. Beds will consist of a board with a small 1 to 2 inch pad.
5. All food will be traditional Mongolian food prepared by your tour guide.
6. You will have Zip! Nada! Zilch! in the way of internet.
7. There are few roads and, for the most part, you will be flying across dirt ruts that only your driver will understand.
8. No roads mean many bumps, so prepare yourself for a very rough ride the entire trip.
9. This will be a difficult trip, BUT, one that you will treasure for a lifetime.

There are hundreds of tour sites and people offering tours of different lengths and destinations in Mongolia. For the most part the tour company personnel have little to nothing to do with your actual tour. Once you pay them they will turn you over to a local Mongolian driver and tour guide. The guides and drivers will be your lifeline for the entire time you are in Mongolia. The people booking the tour keep the majority of the money and the rest is given to the two guides. They are on a strict schedule trying to cram too many kilometers and too few stops into each day’s journey. The better way to handle this is to contract the driver and van independently of the tour company. That way you can work with the guides/drivers as the days go by to determine what you will see and where you will go. Set your own schedule in Mongolia and you will have a far better adventure. We were lucky we had a great driver named Baisa and our tour guide was a Professor from the University of Mongolia named Ayuna. We can put you in touch with them directly if you email us. You will be able to see twice as much for half the price. Another plus is that your accommodations will be better since the guides have a much larger budget to use on the trip.

Little Rock in Mongolia

The first full day included a trip out to the Baga Gazriin Chuluu Ruins. Also known as ‘Little Rock’ in Mongolia, it is one of the more beautiful areas that began our adventure. Called Little Rock because of the 1000’s of small piles of stones located on every large rock in the valley. These are called ‘ovoos’ and are believed to be the homes of master spirits of a certain area. While Buddhism and Christianity are both practiced throughout Mongolia, many people still respect the ancient Shamanism ways of the past.

Baga Gazriin Chuluu is approximately 1,768 meters in altitude and is part of a large granite belt that carves its way across this part of Mongolia. There are many wildlife species including Ibex but the most prevalent are hawks, vultures, eagles and the small rodents they feast on. There are mineral springs on the hills that we will visit and some have certain healing properties or so the locals believe.

Located here are the ruins of a small temple that is believed to be the place where the Dalai Lama was educated as a child. A brief note on the monasteries in Mongolia: Almost all were destroyed during the Russian war. The monks were relocated to work areas in Russia and only a few monasteries have been rebuilt. Some of the larger ones in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar survived, but few of the rural ones were lucky.

After leaving the monastery ruins we began the rest of our days journey to Zorgol Khairkhan Mountain. This is a large red mountain and we will have traveled about 150 KM from Ulaanbaatar. The peak is 1,678 meters high and the mountain is a beautiful red color. There are caves and springs here as well. We found our first home-stay in the valley below the peak. It is full of wild horses who make their way up and down through the valley. We also get to have our first horse poop campfire and spent the night under the stars of Mongolia. You will realize the first day just how far you are from what you believe to be civilization. You are without doctors, internet, food sources or electricity. You are totally dependent on your driver and tour guide from this point on.

Tomorrow we will continue our trip to the White Stupas known as Tsagaan Suvarga.