July 2012 Archives

Mongolia - Karakorum to Ulaan Baatar

July 10. This was a long day of driving back from Karakorum to Ulaan Baatar.

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Before leaving in the morning, I photographed a detail of a fancy ger under construction,


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frost heaves in the ground near the river,


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and the Orkhon river as it flowed near our camp.


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The costumed greeter came out to welcome us for lunch, and I got her to pose for this picture.


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On the way back to Ulaan Baatar, we saw a group of yaks,


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an abandoned mill,


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and a goat - one of a substantial herd - standing guard on a rise by the side of the road.


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I felt constantly drawn to images that express the vastness of the Mongolian grassland. Here is our bus, viewed from a hill on which we were eating lunch.


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And here is a solitary rider climbing a hill near the horse race course west of Ulaan Baatar.

Mongolia - Orkhon Valley

The Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape "sprawls along the banks of the Orkhon River in Central Mongolia, some 320 km west from the capital Ulaanbaatar. It was inscribed by UNESCO in the World Heritage List as representing evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions spanning more than two millennia." (Wikipedia)

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

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The Hoyor Zagal Ger Camp at which we were staying is just a few hundred yards from the Orkhon River, so we walked over in the early morning to view the river and its steep opposite bank, and to watch the goats finding their breakfast among the rocks.


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After visiting the Erdene Zuu Monastery, we drove and then climbed up a steep hill to look at a stone turtle, sacred in Tibetan Buddhism.


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An ovoo was nearby, adorned with many horse head skulls. We did not see this elsewhere on our trip.


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Every tourist destination must have a place to buy trinkets, complete with bored shopkeeper.


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The photographer is constantly confronted with the seemingly limitless plain and the dramatic sky.

Mongolia - Karakorum Naadam Festival

July 9. In the afternoon we returned to the grounds on which the Karakorum Naadaam Festival was being held. We had hoped to watch the wrestling (the three big events at a Naadaam are horse racing, wrestling, and archery) but the awards for the horse racing were dragging on, so I contented myself with taking pictures of people in the crowd.

Click photos to enlarge them.

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Reviewing these photos, I am struck with several things: the men wearing the traditional wrap-around deel with modern cowboy hats and cell phones, the cute kids, the close attachment of horses and riders - almost as if they were centaurs, the traditionally dressed men flirting with the modern dressed women, the easy coexistence of horses with cars and vans and motorcycles, the endless space surrounding it all. Probably these things would look less strange to someone coming from Montana or Wyoming, but to this city-dweller they betoken a very different culture.

Mongolia - Erdene Zuu Monastery

July 9. As soon as it opened in the morning, we entered the grounds of the Erdene Zuu Monastery Erdene Zuu Monastery, probably the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia.

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The wall is topped with 100 stupas.


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The surviving temples: others were destroyed during the Stalin era.


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The Golden Stupa, against a looming sky.

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A doorway


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Exterior and interior are richly decorated in the Chinese style.


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Many statues of the Buddha are the focal points of the interiors. These are just a few.


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Pillars and walls are covered with ornate symbolic decorations.


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Offerings of money are piled in front of yak butter sculptures.


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Across the road from the monastery parking lot is a row of shops, including a stand at which visitors may pay to have their photos taken with eagles.


Mongolia - Karakorum

July 8. In the afternoon we drove further west to Karakorum, the site of a city designated by Chinggis Khan as the capital of the Khan empire in 1220 AD.

Click on photos to enlarge them.

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As we checked in to the Munkh Tenger Ger Camp, we were offered a welcoming cup of mare's milk. Our tour leader, Chris Carpenter, took the first sip.


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The others staying at the camp were four German motorcyclists, whose journey started at Lake Baikal.


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A local Naadaam festival was in progress, so we spent much of the afternoon watching the horse races.


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A fierce dust storm blew up abruptly, so this young rider took his horse to shelter.


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After dinner at the ger camp, we had an unexpected concert of traditional Mongolian music by itinerant musicians. This woman sang "long songs" in a remarkably strong, almost trumpet-like voice.


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A contortionist is usually part of the ensemble. This one amazed us both by her flexibility and balance, and by her costume.

Mongolia - Elsen Tasarkhai Dunes

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July 8. We woke up to find that a large flock of sheep and goats was grazing just outside the fence of our ger camp. An hour or so later they had completely disappeared in the vast landscape.


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The vivid roof of the dining ger against the ruffled blue sky made a striking picture.


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After breakfast we drove to the dunes that are a characteristic feature of Elsen Tasarkhai. Another ger camp is nestled right up to the dunes.


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From the top of the dunes we looked down on a small flock of black goats grazing the sparse vegetation. Goats do well in this sort of terrain.


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Camel tenders waiting for tourists to pay to have their pictures taken with the animals, or to take a little ride.


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We passed a large ovoo, a pile of rocks, prayer scarves, low-denomination bills, and other objects left by Buddhists to celebrate good fortune. These piles can grow over time to impressive size.


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On elevated ground nearby was a group of stupas, standing elegantly against the horizon, with a small ovoo in the foreground.

Mongolia - Elsen Tasarkhai Region

On Saturday morning, July 7, we drove by bus west out of Ulaan Baatar into the countryside, to the Elsen Tasarkhai region. This was our first opportunity to see the broad plains and large herds of animal for which Mongolia is famous.


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Horses in a watering hole


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Mixed flock of sheep and goats


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Later in the day, we saw demoiselle cranes, as well as numerous raptors.


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About noon we arrived at Hoyor Zagal Ger Camp, the first of three at which we will stay on this trip. Gers are called yurts in most other countries, and correspond to the tepees of the nomadic American Indians. They can be taken down, transported, and reassembled in half an hour.


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The interior of our ger.


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A contemporary ger as used by the local people, with solar panel, satellite dish, and motorcycle.


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In the afternoon we drove to the remarkably fractured, rocky mountains nearby where we visited an abandoned monastery perched on a cliff.


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A white stupa, containing Buddhist relics, with the monastery in the background.


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A lower temple was not abandoned, and was tended by this serene and dignified woman.


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The pieces in front of the busts are sculpted from dyed yak butter, a Tibetan Buddhist tradition.


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A colorful carved horse, adorned with prayer scarves.


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The largely abandoned community and the seemingly infinite plain, viewed from the cliff.

Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia - Gandan Monastery

From July 5-19 we were in Mongolia, and then for three days in Beijing. For the next several weeks, postings to this blog will be obout this trip.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

We flew to the Mongolian capital, Ulaan Baatar, from Beijing. On the morning of July 6 our first outing was to the Gandan Monastery, a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery that is the only monastery in the country that was not destroyed by the Soviet-controlled regime.

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The Gandan Monastery features an 87 ft high statue of a Buddhist bodhisattva, set with 2286 precious stones and gilded with gold leaf.


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To get a sense of the scale of the statue, compare its legs with the worshiper in the foreground.


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As in all Buddhist temples, the altar is bedecked with a profusion of gifts and artifacts, in this case including a portrait of the young Dalai Lama.


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To the sides are statues of ferocious-looking guardians.


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The inside and outside of the temple feature hundreds of prayer wheels, which the faithful spin while traversing the assembly in a clockwise direction.


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The first thing one sees upon entering the monastery grounds is the profusion of pigeons.


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It is considered a good deed in Buddhism to feed the pigeons - and it's obviously fun for the children and their parents.


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Providing the feed for the pigeons can be a fair-sized business...


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... or a very small one.

EMP and Monorail

The monorail from downtown Seattle to the Seattle Center runs right through the Electronic Music Project Museum. Interesting effect.

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This will be the last posting until July 24. We'll be traveling in Mongolia, with Internet unlikely most of the time. But there should be interesting pics when we return. Enjoy the summer.

Experience Music Project

The building housing the EMP Museum at the Seattle Center has a beautiful exterior of shifting colors. It's designed - no surprise - by Frank Gehry.

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Chihuly Garden

Here are two final creations from Dale Chihuly's Garden and Glass at the Seattle Center. It's a wonderful fantasy land of craft and color.

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