Showing posts with label Yooton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yooton. Show all posts

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #4

After our late lunch we continue northwest up the valley of the Ikh Cöögt towards 8,550-foot Deed Khets Davaa. The snow-drift lined pass is broad and long, a miniature plateau actually, almost a mile long. Finally we come to an ovoo, seventy feet lower than the highest point of the pass, which overlooks the Buural Gol valley. From here we walk our horses down through a larch forest just over 1300 vertical feet to the banks of the Buural Gol, a major tributary of the Khoogin Gol, whose source is our next desination. The Buural Gol starts about five miles from here, just northwest of Belchir Uul.The Mungaragiin Gol, which we have just come from starts just to the west of Belchir Uul. Another river, the Delger Mörön, starts just south of Belchir Uul and flows southwestward to eventually combine with the Ider to form the Selenge Gol, Lake Baikal’s largest tributary. Thus at the base of Belchir Uul, the nexus of the knot of mountains we are in, begin rivers which flow both into both the Shishigt-Kyzyl-Khem-Yenisei and the Ider-Selenge-Angara-Yenisei branches of the Yenisei River System.
Looking up the Buural Gol Valley from the western end of Deed Khets Davaa (click on photos for enlargements)
Upper Buural Gol Valley
Beginning the descend into the valley of the Buural Gol
Looking toward the source of the Buural Gol. Belchir Uul is hidden between the ridges to the left.
It occurs to me that the area we are in might well qualify as the “Heart of Asia.” Now I admit that the epithet “the Heart of Asia” is much overworked. The seed of this chestnut might well be Sir Francis “Guns to Lhasa” Younghusband’s 1896 The Heart of a Continent.” It may have reached its full flowering in Nicholas Roerich’s 1929 Heart of Asia and continues to bloom in titles like The Lost Heart of Asia and The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia and The Heart of Asia: A History of Russian Turkestan and the Central Asian Khanates from the Earliest Times and Through the Heart of Asia: Over the Pamïr to India. If I had the time and inclination I could compile a list of dozens more books and articles which somehow manage to drag in the phrase “the heart of Asia.” Indeed, years ago I had made a silent vow that when writing about this area I would never, under any circumstances, resort to the phrase “the heart of Asia.” But if any place actually deserves the epithet “the heart of Asia”—or at least that part of Asia north of Himalayas—it is this knot of mountains centered around Belchir Uul. On its slopes begin rivers which feed both major branches of the Yenisei River System, the largest north-flowing river in the world and the main artery of northern Asia.

I am still ruminating on this as we head down the Buural Valley. Soon we come upon a hunter’s shelter made a logs where Batmönkh says we will stop for the night. Hunters from Ulaan Uul come here in winter time to hunt deer, he says. He himself has stayed here in his younger days, when he was an avid hunter, but he says that now he now longer hunts. Immediately claiming the shelter for myself I spread out my carpet and sleeping bag inside, then get a fire going up brew and up a much needed pot of Yunnan Black. Actually is it the time of the day for Formosa Oolong, but after the strenuous descent on foot from Deed Khets Davaa I thought something a bit more robust and reinvigorating was called for.

We all sit and drink tea as Nergui prepares dinner. She points out that I neglected to bring a spatula along with my cooking gear. She had been using the dipper as a spatula but it really was not satisfactory for her culinary endeavors. Not to worry, says Batmönkh, he will make a spatula. First he cuts out a foot-long section of a log with his axe, then splits the section in two. From one of the halves he splits off an inch-thick slab. This he roughly shapes with an axe. Then with one of my Xinjiang Black Steel Knives that he has taken a liking to (I had fortuitously put a razor-sharp edge on it using a Arkansas Whetstone back in UB) he carefully whittles a very serviceable spatula. Nergui is tickled pink with her new implement, which she quickly utilizes to cook up a big patch of tsuvin, or fried noodles with beef and vegetables.
Batmönkh concentrates on carving a new spatula
Batmönkh understandably proud of his new spatula. I now use it in the kitchen of my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi.
Nergui making gambir—fried flat breads
Batmönkh and Yooton in the hunters’ shelter. I claimed it for the night.
Nergui emerging from her tent after a night of sound sleep
The next morning the peaks at the head of the valley are shrouded in gray clouds and mist and rain seems imminent. Batmönkh says we must hurry as it will probably snow on the pass and it could get real nasty by late afternoon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Darkhad Depression #2

The Wolves did not reappear last night. Bayarkhüü had come back from the horse herd at sunrise, about 4:30 a.m, grabbed a quick cat nap and was back up at seven. We meet with Batmönkh and him in the ger to discuss our itinerary. I tell him I want to visit two places; the source of the Mungaragiin Gol and the source of the Khoogin Gol but that I really don't care how we get there. I told Batmönkh to pick the route. He allows that he has been to both places several times and he did not anticipate any problems. I had figured that the most direct route to both places and back would cover about seventy miles. Spread out over eight days this would be only 8.8 miles a day, which did not sound too onerous. I told Batmönkh we would take our time and enjoy the country.

Loading the two pack horses was facilitated by the three large Kazakh saddle bags of heavy handwoven cloth that I had bought on my last trip to Xinjiang. At eleven o’clock we bid farewell to the rest of the people at the ger and rode west through a thick larch forest. Just as we were leaving, Yooton finally admitted that this was the first horse trip she had ever been on. She had been born in Zavkhan Aimag but her family moved to Ulaanbaatar when she was a little girl and she was now nominally a city person. But as they say in the States, you can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy. The same thing seems to apply to Mongolian girls. Yooton seemed perfectly at home on a horse and indeed looked charming on her all-white mount, which perfectly matched her stylish white ski jacket. A few amber-colored horse flies chivied our horses but so far there was no sight of the dreaded green-eyed monsters.
Yooton looking stylish in her white ski coat (click on photos for enlargements)
We cross 5,757-foot Ovoolgo Pass and drop down into the valley of a small creek, which we follow upstream for two hours. At four o’clock we arrive at some log corrals near the headwaters of the stream. This is the winter camp of Nergui’s younger sister, who is married, Batmönkh tells us. We will spend the night here. I am a bit surprised at stopping so early—some horsemen I have been with refused to stop until the sun had gone down—but like I said we were in no real hurry. Batmönkh assures us we will have no trouble reaching our goals in eight days. We quickly brew up a pot of Taiwan Oolong which we drink while Nergui prepares dinner.
Nergui preparing our first dinner on the trail
As she cooks she tells you about her name. She was her parent’s first child. Her mother had already had several miscarriages and she was very sickly when she born. Indeed her parents did not expect her to live and did not even bother to give her a name. Although very weak and sickly she survived a month, and finally her parents had to take her to the local authorities to register her birth. “What is the child's name? ” asked the official. Her parents admitted that they had not yet given her a name. On the form the official wrote “Nergui” (ner = name + gui = not). So she became “No-Name.” As soon as she was named, however, her health immediately improved. She has been fit as a fiddle as since.

We retire as soon as the sun went down. Yooton and Nergui share a tent and the last thing I remember hearing before falling asleep in my own tent is both of them laughing uproariously about something. About three in the morning I awoke to what I thought was rain pounding on my tent. I looked outside and was surprised to see an inch of snow on the ground. It was June 11. As soon as the sky turned gray I got up, started a fire, and brewed up a pot of Puerh Tea. I threw out my carpet on the snow and sat down to savor the dark brew as big wet snow flakes drifted down through the pewter colored sky. How many times have I contemplated suicide, only to be drawn back from the brink by the thought: “But what if I am reborn in a place with no Puerh Tea?”

Batmönkh soon emerges from his tent and we hold a desultory conversation in my limited Mongolian. He sips the Puerh tentatively at first but then gulps down the bowl and accept another. Although Puerh could hardly be more different from the the traditional Mongolian brick tea I have never met a herdsman who did not like it—this despite the fact that as a rule countryside people are not particularly keen on innovations in food or drink. On one camel trip in the Gobi the camel guys often insisted on a rest stop for no other reason than to brew up a pot of khar tsai, or black tea, as they called Puerh (real black tea, like the Yunnan I have with me, they call “red tea”).
Batmönkh brewing up another pot of Puerh tea
Soon Yooton and Nergui emerge. I tell Nergui not to cook: we will have just tea, bortsog, and beslag for breakfast. Yooton, it turns out, had borrowed a purple deel from Batmönkh’s wife, which she now dons, along with winter hat, scarve, and gloves. The snow is falling even harder as we load the horses and begin the climb to 6,788-foot Temeegiin Davaa (Camel Pass). Batmönkh does not how the pass got this name. Camels are not all that common in these forested mountains. He allows, however, that he has a few camels. Like many herdsmen he likes to have all five kinds of Mongolian livestock: horses, cattle (including yaks), sheep, goats, and camels, even if the camels are mostly for show. He doesn’t ride them, but sometimes he does use them to tote loads when moving his ger.
Yooton bundled up for the trip over Temeegiin Davaa
Nergui in her utilitarian but nevertheless stylish deel
Climbing toward Temeegiin Davaa
It is downright wintry on the pass, with a stiff wind blowing the snow horizontally. Although the trail on the other side of the pass is not really very steep, Batmönkh insists we all get off our horses and walk them down to the next valley. As I would discover, Batmönkh never rides his horses downhill for any appreciable distance. It is hard on the horse’s legs, especially when it is carrying a one hundred kilo-plus load like myself. Reaching the valley we follow a small creek downstream. At the head of the valley, just visible through the snow and mist, is 9,468 foot Marchlaga Uul. Off to our left soon appears 9,193 feet Baidalag Uul. According to Batmönkh baidalag is a Tsaatan word for a kind of plant which flourishes on this mountain. The Tsaatan, or Reindeer People, who inhabit the mountains west of the Darkhad Depression, use this plant to make tea, he says. In recent years, the Tsaatan, with their unusual nomadic lifestyle centered around their reindeer herds, have become the biggest tourist attraction in the area. Most people who come to the Darkhad Depression probably come to visit the Tsaatan. There are now no Tsaatan in the area we are going however.
Walking the horses down from Temeegiin Davaa
Soon we turned left out of the valley and started climbing toward Adar Pass. The snow ceased and patches of cobalt blue sky broke through overhead. By noon the latest snow was pretty much melted on the southern side of the mountain we were on. A surprising number of wildflowers were in bloom. I greeted several old friends from Alaska, including northern anemones, Arctic poppies, and forget-me-nots, and stopped to chat with several of them. They said that they were glad to see me too. Northern anemones, which have the charming name of “tsasnii tsagaan” in Mongolian (tsasnii = snow + tsagaan = white, ie, Snow Whites), are always one of the first flowers to appear, often when there is still snow on the ground; likewise Arctic poppies, known as jamyan myadag. Also in bloom was a bush about two feet high with purple flowers and intensely aromatic leaves known as tsakhildag—I don't know the English name. Batmönkh claims that just breathing the aromatic scent from the crushed leaves of this plant strengthens the lungs. Then Batmönkh points out a small plant with purple flowers he calls suman sogoo. He says an infusion made from from the dried stalks and flowers of this plant is good for strengthening women’s wombs. Batmönkh, who seems to know a lot about plants, opines that the Darkhad Depression and surrounding mountains are the best places in Mongolia for medicinal herbs. This is just one of the many things which make the Darkhad Depression special, he says.
Rider of the Purple Tsakhildag
Suman Sogoo
Nergui amidst anemones and poppies
Yooton and Arctic poppies
Ascending the Ikh Cöögt Gol
Yooton all smiles while ascending the Ikh Cöögt Gol
There is still snow and a sharp wind on 8,094-foot Adar Pass. The other side ramps down very gradually to the Baga Cöögt Gol and we walk our hours down only the steepest parts. We lunch along the Baga Cöögt Gol and then climb to Khush Zurkht Davaa (Nut’s Heart Pass) and descend back down to the Ikh Cöögt Gol, which we follow upstream. At about six in the evening Batmönkh calls a halt and we camp in the mostly treeless tundra on the upper Cöögt Gol. The source of Mungaragiin is just over a pass near the head of this creek.
Nergui and Yooton, both of whom had just washed their ebony locks, enjoying the warm evening sun on the Ikh Cöögt Gol
Nergui in culinary mode

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Deer Stones | Graves

Wandered out to Mörön, capital of Khövsgöl Aimag, 575 miles west of Ulaanbaatar ASCF. The plane was supposed to leave at 10:30 am, but due to some unexplained technical problems the flight did not get off until 6:30 pm. The original plan had been to arrive in Mörön at noon, stock up on groceries, and then head north by chartered Russian van into the Darkhat Depression, where we had a horse trip planned. With the late departure we did not arrive until 8:00 pm, after all the stores were closed and it was too late to head out for the day. With the election only two weeks away and all the politicians in town hotel rooms on Mörön were scarcer than in Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve. The driver of our van allowed us to spend the night in a spare room in his house. The room had no furniture, but nice carpets, so we threw out out sleeping bags and settled in for the night.

The next morning we visited various markets and bought potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onions, rice, flour, salt, sugar, soy sauce, yeast, and for Yooton, who was along as guide and historical consultant, blueberry jam and two kilo of candies (she has a sweet tooth). I had brought tea along from Ulaanbaatar—five-year old Puerh for breakfast, Imperial Gold Needle Yunnan Black Tea for lunch, Taiwan Oolong for dinner, and Tie Kwan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) Oolong for evenings around the campfire—and we intended to buy a sheep to complete our larder when we arrived in the Darkhat Depression. By 11:00 a.m. we were barreling north out of town.

Although we were a bit behind schedule to met our horsemen we made a short detour to visit the Erkhel Ulaan Tolgoi Deer Stone and Grave Complex, twenty-six miles ATCF north of Mörön. One of the more famous Deer Stone sites in Mongolia, it boasts of what is reported to be the tallest deer stone in Mongolia, if not the world. This and several of the other deer stones are quite well preserved, with the carving on them still very distinct. Our driver tells us that a team of American researchers from the Smithsonian Institute has visited this site several times and that they are expected to arrive again in three or four days. In fact, he himself is going to bring them here.

Deer Stones date from the Bronze Age, c. 2500-3000 years ago. They are so called because most of them have depictions of deer, often appearing to be flying through the air. There is much speculation but not much agreement on what the deer and other common motifs on the stones are supposed to mean. They may be what twentieth century magus G. I. Gurdjieff calls “legominisms,” i.e. means by which "ancient wisdom is transmitted beneath a form ostensibly intended for a quite different purpose.” According to Gurdieff the information contained in Legominisms could be interpreted only by initiates of certain ancient wisdom schools. “This information,” says Gurdjieff, “is necessary for subsequent generations to enable them to meet the difficulties that arise in the rise and fall of cultures, difficulties that people believe will never occur again because ‘the world is now different.’” Thus what may appear simply as primitive art to most observers may be encoded messages intended for initiates perhaps thousands of years after their creation.

Certainly down through the ages people have considered this site of some importance. Near the deer stones are several Türk grave mounds dating from probably the seventh century. The largest Türk grave mound is surrounded by a square made of small rocks and measuring about 100 feet on each side. At each corner is a small mound of rocks. The exact significance of these structures is also unknown. Near the Türk tomb are also several Chingis-era tombs dating to the thirteen century. Perhaps the Türks and Chingis-era Mongols understood the true significance of the deer stones and choose this site for the tombs. To my knowledge the code of the deer stones has not yet been cracked by modern observers.
The Deer Stone Complex
5 foot-4 inch Yooton with 12 foot-6 inch deer stone, said to be the tallest in Mongolia
Detail at top of tallest Deer Stones
Well preserved Deer Stone with the equally well preserved Yooton
Detail at the top of Deer Stone. Some commentators believe the circle represents the sun.
Detail at bottom of Deer Stone
Deer Stone with two flying deer at the bottom
Chingis-era grave mound surrounded by a circle of small rocks
Türk grave mound from the seventh or eighth century. This tomb appears to have been looted.
One of the smaller mounds at the four corner of the stone square around the Türk tomb