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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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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Dear Tsengee... . Thankyou for always radiating warmth from your actions to your eyes; for offering joy in each & every situation. You played papa bear as you made sure I was always comfortable & never lacking in anything. There was not a soul that was as cuddly as you were - though please don't be offended that I describe you as being so, for you were pure sunshine in human form. . You made me laugh like no one else, often laughing as much at yourself as you did at me like that time you attempted to teach me both Russian & Mongolian - of which I failed at both. Though you left me puzzled at your obscure Mongolian riddles, you wowed me with your ability to read my thoughts & emotions. Your gentleness was displayed in all you did & yet you were a beacon of strength & energy. Thank you for carrying my trekking poles everytime I decided to ride my horse & for never complaining though you had your own to carry. . I can never forget the day when you compared yourself to a rock sinking when asked if you were going for a swim or the day you dumped a baby goat in my arms & joked about it all afternoon. How could I forget how you held my icy hands in your warm ones, rubbing them gently, when I did something stupid & stood under glacial runoff. Or the numerous times you had to translate how old I was & that no, I was not yet married. Even as I write I recall the time you saved me from peeing my pants by translating to the nomad guiding my horse that I was busting for the loo. After 15 minutes of me trying to act out "I need the loo", the nomad picked up the walkie talkie & tried to explain to you that I really needed something but didn't know what. I remember shouting "Tsengee, can you tell him I need to go to the toilet?!" when we caught up to you, feeling utter relief as I was finally able to dismount & relieve myself. Little did I imagine that you would share, with laughter, this event to Tim at dinner. In this case it would not be fair if I failed to mention the occasions in which you drank too much vodka & desperately tried to hide it the morning (I'm sorry, but your efforts were not convincing). . . Ah Tsengee, thankyou for making my trip so memorable! . I miss you.
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Standing white & tiny against the naked hills & the rugged mountain peaks, a ger on the grassland stands out in both size & colour - the white canvas contrasting sharply against the blues, greens & browns of the surrounding landscape. Unmissable by the human eye the sight of these humble homes drew in & enchanted my eyes as I rode & trekked through Western Mongolia. . I picture myself approaching one now with livestock crowding in front of the brightly painted doorway & tufts of smoke rising from the flue, all the intricate details being filled in as I complete this whole scene in my mind's eye. But, as I try & recreate the feelings of excitement anticipation & expectation that I felt everyday as a ger emerged out on the steppe before me, the vision blurs then melts before my eyes. It is only in a physically present reality in which I would be able to experience these emotions once again. It's always bittersweet as I talk & write what I do - sweet as I've been privy into the extraordinary life of the nomads (a dream exceeding 10 years) & bitter as I remember these are all but memories with a fearful afterthought that the authentic life of these nomads will soon decline. . These little felt tents were more than ordinary as they housed a world unimaginable in my life back home - the no barriers lifestyle of the nomads extending beyond the open spaces of the steppe, the fence-free roaming of flocks & the unassuming hospitality of the people. Within the ger, a stranger is able to have an intimate glimpse into the private life of the nomads, creating a closer connection with its' occupants. As the ger is a one-room dwelling, nothing was ever hidden from sight - bedroom, dining, cooking, lounge, storage & sacred areas all in full view. The theme of a no barriers lifestyle showed itself in every facet of their daily lives. . A lonely, tired & hungry traveller could find everything he needed within the lattice walls of such a place - conversation (language barrier or not) & laughter, a place to rest his head, bottomless bowls of salty tea & food to fill his belly. . I hope you'll be able to experience the beauty of the ger yourself one day for it is truly incredible.
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Inner conflicts. . . Every morning that I woke to find myself in Kharkhiraa Gol was a daily reminder that I was living out a dream birthed more than a decade prior. As I would zip open the entrance of my tent to welcome in the day each morning, drawing in my first breath from the no boundaries world outside, this realisation would hit me harder than ever. Yet this reminder would repeat itself in an endless cycle morning after morning, the impact of these moments never lessening throughout my time in Western Mongolia. . I have always been envious of those people who seem to have a breezy way of acting upon & fulfilling their dreams. True that I've ticked off the item on the top of my bucket list, but yet I hunger for so much more. I've spent time in glorious Mongolia as a temporary visitor, but now I am haunted every day thinking about how much I would love to be a permanent resident. But could I ever really be a nomad; live as they do & survive the harshness of steppe life? Even if living in their midst, could I ever truly be one of them? Am I just lost in a web of naivety, stuck in a day dream & holding onto something that can never be? Even a write this I feel my heart breaking a little. . This deep love & longing to be as a native citizen of a country not my own, is conflicted with a desire to travel to the remote wildernesses around the globe & visit the people who call these harsh environments home. The pull of adventure & discovery has buried it's claws deep, but yet I found myself drowning as I try & sort through the logistics. What I am missing? Here is where the envy sets in as I watch & learn about those who seem to follow through with their dreams with relative ease, seemingly not caught up with logistics, planning & finances. Not that this is their reality, but rather this is my perspective. . These feelings were shoved aside in the mornings I spent in Kharkhiraa Gol, as the realisation of achieving a dream took first priority my mind, but this feeling was fleeting & I find myself currently discontented, longing for a lifestyle change. Somehow, though, the "how to" of achieving the seemingly impossible evades me. . . . So where to from here?
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