Sunday, August 26, 2018

Photography Tour in Mongolia's Kazakh Region: August 24-26, 2018

Tampkaro Mountain 4208 meters
This week we began a photography tour arranged by Nomadic Expeditions and led by guide extraordinaire Undraa and by photographer Alison Wright. In our two weeks together we had many photographic opportunities and were introduced to new cultures and practices.

Bayan-Ölgii is Mongolia's westernmost province, and it is the only province with a Muslim and Kazakh-majority. To get to our destination in the  Tsamba-Garav National Park, we flew from Ulaanbaatar (UB) to Ulgii also written as Ölgii (the provincial capital) and then drove east about 70 km. We had great weather with a beautiful landscape driving past horses, cattle goats, sheep, wildflowers of purple, yellow and pink.



Because this was a photography tour, we stopped often. We even dropped in for an impromtu ger (yurt in Russian) visit. The Sekhihan family welcomed us and offered us tea, bread, and dried cheese curd. At home were Mr. Sekhihan, his new daughter-in-law, his young son and a neighbor girl. This was our first visit to a Kazakh ger which are larger and more colorful than the inside of Mongolian gers.


Mr. Sekihan



We learned about "treasure" animals. They are treasures because they constitute wealth. The Sekhihan family has four of the "treasure" animals: cow, horse, sheep and goat. The fifth "treasure" animal is the camel. We did see camels along the way, but they didn't belong to the Sekhihan family.

Our next stop was a ger next to the camp we would be staying. Several men and women were working a felted piece. The felt had been soaked in hot water and rolled into a mat of reeds. The bundle is then rolled and pressed to massage the felt into one piece and extract the moisture.



Alison stage managed the felters to better light, background, and told the men to remove their hats. No one seemed to mind, and they were having a ton of fun. What a difference Alison's changes made to the photographs.






The day of photographic experiences wasn't over yet. We visited another ger. This one belonged to a Kazakh woman who embroiders and makes beautiful textiles of all kinds. We visited her and her family twice.



Young yaks coming home
Eliman Bekin



The second time we visited the embroiderer's home, it was for horseback riding. Undraa, our guide, said that Mongolian horses are always a little wild. That was enough for me. I don't know how to ride and it didn't seem like the best time to give it a try.



Alison, who is a seasoned, experienced horse rider, was immediately bucked off giving credence to my decision not to chance it. Alison had had enough as well.

One morning we watched one our felting neighbors milk their goats and then sprinkle some of the milk in each of the four directions. Nearby two male family members had just killed a goat and were now skinning it. This family belongs to an ethnic minority called Uriankhai whose predominate religions are Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism, or atheism.






When we returned to camp later that evening, their ger was stripped of its wool and canvas coverings. Strips of goat meat were drying inside the ger.



One of the women was kneeling at her hand-cranked sewing machine to patch the outer canvas covering before they moved to their autumn grazing site.

Nomads now use flat-bed trucks to move their homes. It's not as photogenic as camels and horses packed with the nomad's possession, but it's probably more efficient. Jeff, a fellow photographer, coined the term "trans-Ger-tation" to describe this modernization of nomadic life.


The next morning the felters were gone, and the only evidence that they had once been there was a round circle of yellowed grass.

Just beyond the embroiderer's ger and closer to Tampkaro Mountain, we hiked in Tavan Belchir gorge to a small waterfall for a brief photo workshop on slow exposures.




Late afternoon we drove to Bayan Nuur (Lake). Lakeside a herd of camels was being herded away but we managed to get a few photographs before they were completely gone.






Gers belonging to ethnic Kazakhs doted the landscape. We popped into one for a visit. Once again we were welcomed and photos were taken.


Back at our ger camp we watched the full moon rise over the mountain.

Moonrise
To get to this province, we flew into and out of Uglii. We visited the local market where most people weren't keen to be photographed, but I managed to find a couple of textile merchants who cooperated.




Ulgii doesn't have much to recommend it. There is a mosque but it is unremarkable. Except for the airport, there is really no reason to linger.



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