SLIDESHOW: Mingling In Mongolia
Cameras are rather scarce in the Mongolian countryside, so when my host family in the Darkhad Valley in Khuvsgul Province found out I had one, we spent an entire afternoon posing with the horses in every combination possible.
The Mongolian ger, or yurt, is a round portable home that facilitates the nomadic lifestyle of herder families. Experienced Mongolians can erect their ger in as few as 30 minutes. Try an hour and 48 minutes for me and five other Americans in the Delgerkhaan region of Khentii province.
Most of the herder families that I've seen still guide their goats and yaks by horseback, but a rising number of young herders have taken up the motorbike. My host father in Khuvsgul province feared the loss of Mongolia's herding heritage. Riding with my host father in the Delgerkhaan region of Khentii on motorbike, we juxtaposed the two methods for an evening of horse herding.
Hulan, 10, waits with me for her father to prepare their family's motorcycle for their journey to school in Ulaan Uul, the village closest to the Darkhad region of Khuvsgul province. During the school year, countryside children typically attend boarding school in the nearest village or town, living in dormitories during the week and traveling home for the weekend.
Hulan, Tsogtbayar, Ariuntungalag, and Davaasuren starting the 40-kilometer drive to Ulaan Uul, the nearest village. During the school year, countryside children typically attend boarding school in the nearest village or town, living in dormitories during the week and traveling home for the weekend.
Borkhuu approaches the Buddha's eyes and the entrance to Shambhala land, a holy stupa complex near Sainshand in Dornogobi province. During the religious purge in the 1930s, hundreds of Mongolian monasteries were destroyed, including Khamaryn Khiid. The monastery and Shambhala land have since been reconstructed.
Bokhuu stands in front of the ovoo, or rock shrine, situated at the northern end of Shambhala land at Khamaryn Khiid Monastery in Dornogovi province. Among other rituals, after offering grains and vodka to the ovoo, one is supposed to sing Danzanravjaa's song, Ulemjiin Chanar, toward the sacred mountain on the northern horizon.
A Mongolian soldier stands guard in front of the large statue of Chinggis Khaan at the Mongolian Government House. Protests in years past motivated the government to put up a decorative façade over its front. Three large statues of Kublai, Chinggis, and Ogodei Khaan are among the new adornments to the government house.
A sulde, or spirit banner, marking the entrance to the Darkhaad Depression. The sulde is said to capture the power of the wind, the sun, and the eternal blue sky, and channel that power to the beholder. White horsehair draped around the sulde symbolizes peace while black hair symbolizes war. The revered symbol has persisted from Chinggis Khaan's time to the present as nine white suldes are symbolically displayed in the government house in Ulaanbaatar.
Ariuntogs and Bolormaa pose in their best deels (pronounced ‘dell’), the traditional clothing of Mongolia. Practical for riding horseback in cold weather and formal for wearing to weddings and ceremonies, the deel has remained the traditional dress of Mongolia, for both men and women, for centuries.
American student, Britt Van, walks around two rock monuments that signify a woman's breasts at Khamaryn Khiid Monastery in Dornogovi province. Only women are allowed to offer milk and rice or other grains to these two rock monuments.
A view just outside of Murun provincial center in Khuvsgul province. From the vast expanses of the Gobi Desert to the majestic Altai Mountains, Mongolia has myriad breathtaking landscapes and vistas.
A khereksure, or deerstone, at Uushigiin Uver site about 20 kilometers outside of Murun, the provincial center of Khuvsgul province. These stones date back to the Bronze Age (1500-800 BC) and are the most complete and most preserved site of khereksures in Mongolia. Smaller sites are scattered all over northern Mongolia and the southern Siberian steppe.
A common old and new juxtaposition in UB. The original temple was built between 1904 and 1908 in honor of Lama Lubsanhaidav. During the Soviet period, the temple was shut down, but unlike most monasteries and religious centers it withstood destruction during the religious purges. It now houses cultural and historical artifacts from the 17th, 18th and 19th century.
A view from my host family's summer home about 15 kilometers outside central Ulaanbaatar. Many families in UB own a second summer home that they use to escape from the city during the warmer months.
Our drivers find our location on a map of Khuvsgul province. Snowy conditions can make the dirt roads virtually disappear in spots. Local drivers are hired for their keen sense of direction in these types of situations.
A row of ovoos covered in prayer scarves at the entrance to the Darkhad Depression in Khuvsgul province. Ovoos are traditionally Shamanist rock cairns that are erected on mountaintops and overpasses to praise the spirits of the mountains and skies. From centuries of Buddhism and Shamanism intermingling, it's common to see Buddhist prayer flags accompanying the shrines. To ensure safe travels, circle it thrice and offer some grains, milk, vodka, or sweets.
An ovoo covered in prayer scarves at the entrance to the Darkhad Depression in Khuvsgul province.
One of the few fences found in the countryside keeps grazing animals outside of a ger camp near Murun, Khuvsgul province. Since most herding families migrate with their animals to several camps throughout the year, fences are few and far between. Those that exist can be a source of conflict.
Several men in the Delgerkhaan region of Khentii province prepare to brand one of the family’s 20 foals. Mongolian herder families pasture their animals on communal land and they often brand their horses with a family symbol to distinguish their animals from their neighbors'.
A view from the "road" from Murun to Ulaan Uul in Khuvsgul province. Most hired drivers have Russian vans that can handle the bumpiest of roads. Years of wear in the sloppiest of conditions have made the dirt roads horrifically lumpy. This particular drive was about 12 hours from Murun provincial center to the Darkad Depression of Khuvsgul province.
My host aunt and cousin, Micheel on Micheel's third birthday. Her name means the beginning of a smile in Mongolian and, says her father, can double as a Western name for when she goes to college.