The glorious greens & golds of Mongolian mornings; pre-breakfast exploration in the Land of Blue Sky. . . . . .
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Photo taken en route to the 3,600m or 11,811ft standing high ridge on Türgen mountain. With a dramatic 1000m increase in elevation to this very high altitude location I, to my surprise, acclimatized quite well on the lead up to this trek, camping overnight at several high altitude locations on the nights prior to this climb. . I took special care as I trekked up precarious loose rock, taking snapshots of the stunning views of Kharkhiraa across the valley en route, but this proved an easy task compared to the slippery scree slope I faced on the descent. Falls from there could have very well proven to be fatal. I slipped several times, each time sliding several metres before being able to dig my trekking poles firmly into the scree to prevent falling further. One fall, in particular, left me with a behind so bruised that sitting was a painful task for the majority of the days left on my trip from that point. . . Nothing, however, could dim the freedom found in the ascent &, as I have said before & repeat again, the beauty of open spaces & remote locations touches the human spirit in a way that cannot be found in the rush of city & suburban living. Even now, as I sit at my work desk with the light of my dual computer screens a painfully unavoidable sight before me, the thought of just being out in the mountains once again. How eagerly I await my return back there! . . "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity". . John Muir, The Father of National Parks. . . . . .
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Where two worlds collide: snapshots of Ölgii, Khovd & Ulaanbaatar. . Only 30 - 40% of the Mongolian population remain nomadic as the the majority have gone on to maintain a more settled way of life. Though Ölgii held some charm in the variety & availability of traditional handiwork & Khovd being home to a boarding school in which the nomad families of Kharkhiraa could send their kids to in order to receive an education, Ulaanbaatar (UB) was something different altogether. . The initial landing in UB after hopping from Adelaide to Sydney, from there to Beijing & so forth, was marred with a feeling of sadness despite the inner rejoicing that I had made it. I realised that UB symbolised something that had not been a part of my decade long Mongolian dreaming; a place where boundaries still existed, barriers came between strangers, consumerism & modernisation taking over from traditionalism. . I have never felt completely at home in the city either &, with the attraction in Mongolia being the wide open, unadulterated spaces of the landscape & the simplicity of nomadic life. UB was the opposite to my decade long dreaming of Mongolia. Glittering skyscrapers mingled with old Soviet style buildings & half-built apartments could not be connected in any way to the white canvas of one-room gers. Though polite, the welcome received as I checked into a prestigious 5 star hotel on my first day was incomparable to the unassuming welcome of a nomad family. The stark contrast between the remote corners of Western Mongolia, with its' wide open spaces & fresh mountain air, and the bustling, busy nature of UB could not be hidden. It was as if two worlds existed in the same country. In the smaller towns & cities outside UB, the two worlds seem to overlap as pictured in the first photo; cars & nomads on horseback sharing the same street. . Returning from the steppe, a place where nomads thrived, to Ulaanbaatar at the conclusion of my adventure, could not have been more of a shock to the system. I was treated to a more intense feeling of this same nature when I decided to solo travel Japan, before flying back home, & landed in the rush called Tokyo. . . . .
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I had the chance to experience my first brush with snow enroute to the high ridge on Türgen mountain; the ridge itself standing at 3,600m or 11,811ft. . For a girl who had never seen snow, this was a glorious dream come true & counted amongst several other "firsts" experienced whilst in Mongolia - namely horse riding, various foods eaten, the ticking off a major bucket list item &, whilst standing on the ridge on Türgen, was my first time at what is classed to be very high altitude & therefore the highest point I've ever hiked up to. . Though I was walking through & play with snow at various stages of the ascent, I only saw snow in the process of falling for a brief time as I climbed. . This was particularly magical as snowflakes are completely carefree in the way they chose to fall & I felt this as I watched. I always long for that sort of feeling of freedom with a strange, intoxicating thirst, craving it with my whole being & guarding it closely when I am able to experience it. The snow filled this craving in the same way that the roaring crash of ocean waves, the blissful power of thunder & the mighty glow of thunder, & the relentless battering of the winds do.These examples of the untamed, wild & raw aspects of creation are some of the only real free things on earth & among my list favourite things. Not that I was in the midst of a raging snowstorm or had the wind wuthering around me, but the gentle caress of pure snow contained that same power in each tiny snowflake as does the smell of forest trees, the lungs filling withunadulterated air, the warmth of the sun on the back & open spaces filled with grass, wildflowers & calm waters. Nature has its' mood & each beautiful in its' own way. . In that first, satisfying step into pristine, unmarked snow I became the adventurer leaving his first mark on virgin land. In that first snow encounter I was filled with wonder at the beauty of nature, touched by the freedom it fed to my soul & inspired by the joy found in small things. . To say that nature has the ability to touch the soul, in both its' wild & tranquil ways, is an understatement for it can transport you into new worlds that will forever change you. . . .
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Disconnect from technology & the geographic separation from towns & cities were not the only reminders I had of the remote nature of my journey. . You may have imagined that the valley between the mountains of Kharkhiraa & Türgen was as lush with gers as it was greenery, but this is incorrect. Sometimes all you could see ahead was an endless blanket of fresh green grass, icy blue rivers & rugged mountain peaks with no little white dwelling within sight. . At times the only sign of nomads in the vicinity were herds of livestock in the distance, some supervised by a lone horseman, & other times we would not see animals at all. It was not uncommon for there to be distances of several kilometres between individual gers. In some areas you could see 3 or 4 scattered across the grasslands ahead but rarely more than this. . This separation from housing, even nomadic dwellings, was one that constantly reminded me that what I had with me was ALL I had. In the western world, where societies revolve largely around a culture that repeatedly tells you that when you want or crave something you can instantly gratify that desire by heading to the nearby store & purchasing it, remote Mongolia was a sharp contrast to this as nothing was just an arms distance away. . Imagine then of how my mind reacted when, drawing close to the end of my time in the valley & in closer proximity to Khovd Village, we came across a place where gers scattered in numbers previously unseen, 20 or more in same area.This particular group known to migrate together with each season. . Along with the abundance of felt tents was a crowd of nomad families & their horses. From these emerged a group of adolescence boys on horseback laughing, smoking & trying to appear tough between their curious smiles. I couldn't help thinking how the scene was like the nomad equivalent of youths in Australia hanging out at a skate park with bikes & boards, smoking cigarettes with their mates. This thought was furthered by the families gathering at sundown to watch a horse being broken in, these boys riding & whooping as they followed the proceedings in a wild fashion. . . We dubbed this place "The Valley of the Horses". . . .
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Beauty in the ordinary, mundane & everyday... . . Amongst the hundreds of images taken from my phone & camera whilst in Mongolia, this one happens to be one of my favourites. . It took countless hours of poring over this photo before I knew exactly why I liked it so much. It is no lie in saying that there is nothing particulary special or noticeably appealing about the image pictured. For here, tucked in the very back of the ger, there were none of the "easy to photograph" images that made up a large part of my journey - no snowy mountain peaks in the background so flawless & eternal, no endless expanses of grass in shades of green that seemed almost artificial, nor was there the smiling face of a nomad man, woman or child from which pure joy emanated (at not least not from the perspective this photo is taken from, all subjects facing elsewhere). . Landscapes & the smiles of friendly, hospitable people are easy to capture as they are beautiful in their natural state. Everything is perfectly set as smiling comes naturally to the nomads & the vast steppe & towering mountains are unmoving subjects that do not need filters or need to "strike a pose" in order to showcase their magnificence. . But sometimes beauty isn't as obvious as these things, like instead under layers of normality & this is reason I love the scene pictured so much. The ger can be a dirty, dark & claustrophobic space for some or a place of joy, welcome for others. Either way they are still a home & there is a certain joy found there with the hum of life & activity happening inside. This photo is about "doing live" & the simple pleasures of company, food & shelter. For what is better than the embrace of a loved one, the comfort of a home cooked meal or the feeling of security found in having a roof over your head? . In this life there is always something to be grateful for, something to make us happy. But we search elsewhere trying to find it instead of looking at the beauty right in front of us. . “It was an unforgettable painting; it set a dense golden halo of light round the most trivial of moments, so that the moment, and all such moments, could never be completely trivial again". . John Fowles
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The Radio. . (Part 2 of 2) . The radio pictured was found in the largest ger I visited during my time in Mongolia & one that also had a 4WD parked out the front! It was a strange, almost unnerving sight, after adjusting to travel via foot & horseback. It was an alien sight but nothing quite what I found as I stepped inside. After passing over the threshold my ears caught the sound of music! It was not the sound of herdsmen singing either (this being the only music heard out on the steppe besides the melodies of nature). It actually took my mind a minute or so to register that it was a radio playing in the background. It was not traditional Mongolian music either but sung in English & I recognised the song as being "ABC” by the Jackson 5! . In that moment, as the music still played, I felt as everything around me had become somewhat distorted & my mind transported me back home to Australia – a place that I had not spent a moment thinking about since arrival in Mongolia. It might seem strange that I could forget about a place that had played a crucial & constant in my life for so long, but this was the truth. I had lived in Adelaide for the majority of my life after being born in Samoa & coming back over with my parents to Australia before I could remember. I’m still puzzled by why it was the case that I had of forgotten about my “real life” completely & I sometimes wonder if it was wrong of me to think this way. Nonetheless, the radio bought back these flooding reminders of home causing two worlds to collide - my present & physical reality of being in a ger in a remote part of Mongolia & the mental thoughts & emotions connected to my lifestyle in Australia. It was all quite confusing, the moment just so surreal as if I was caught in the middle of a psychedelic experience. My consciousness was altered & my thoughts seemed to mingle out loud in the smoke rising from the caldron on the fire. Faces distorted & the ger walls seemingly melting away before I snapped out. It was nothing less than strange & unusual. Though it was a fleeting moment it has stuck with me ever since. On leaving that ger, I rapidly immersed myself back into the landscape once more. . .
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