A journey to another world
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THE LONG WAY WEST
The sun is rising above the awakening megapolis in the heart of the Central Asian country. The hills are glowing in the early morning light. But this idyllic scene won’t last long. Soon there are dark clouds gathering over the temples and roofs of the city. It’s the second time I’m here – already last year I fell in love with Mongolia. Our Russian off-road bus is packed, the driver fills up petrol for the last time and our guide gets us some water for our long journey. Alina (@alinakondrat) and I are sharing the backseat with our guide’s dog, which is almost as big as us. My Samsung Galaxy S8+* is charged and we can start our journey to the west. It will last six days.
*All images in this blog were shot on Samsung Galaxy S8+
The steppe, a seemingly endless flat and barren landscape, lies right behind the city’s border. On the fourth day we decide to head towards Black Lake (Char Nuur) in the western part of the country – a detour of about 100 kilometres that is totally worth the trip: A gigantic lake in the middle of huge sand dunes and stony mountains that serve as an important rest area for migratory birds that are crossing the continent.
A small miracle of nature:
We go further west. No cars in sight. There are hundreds of kilometres between the small villages and nothing in between. The mountains get bigger and especially at night, the temperatures drop below zero. We sleep in tents at different locations.
THE EAGLE HUNTER
The dry hills gradually turn green again. I guess it rains a lot in this area. We’re searching for an eagle hunter called Bazarbai, who at this time of the year is usually to be found at the autumn camp of his family. Suddenly, he appears on a field right in the middle of nowhere: With a scythe in his hand he prepares the hay for the winter. He invites us to come with him – not as we expected to his autumn camp but to his summer camp that is located six hours away near the Chinese border.
Hunting foxes and wolves with the aid of eagles, a tradition that has already been there for some decades now, goes back to a myth that says that a woman called Erke Joro was the first person to tame and train an eagle to come back to her.
I’ve never tried taking portraits with the Samsung Galaxy S8+ before but I really want to challenge myself to exclusively work with the smartphone and try to make the most out of it. And there’s one major advantage: It’s very light and always ready to be there at the right moment. Its fixed focal length with an open aperture of 1.7 is the perfect combination for portraits of this kind. I took every picture with the pro mode and often used short exposure times (f1.500-3.000) in order to have sharp results even if the person was moving. I edited the RAW files with Adobe Lightroom and personal presets.
Unfortunately, we can only stay for one day since we have to go further north. Another six days traveling through the endless steppe, dusty mountains and muddy rivers. It gets colder and the landscape turns greener the further north we go.
Gurvansaikhan is the last city in the north that is located near of the enormous Khovsgol Lake. Behind it, there is only muddy land, gigantic forests and rivers, bears and wolves, mountains and snow. From this point on, we have to travel by horse. We find a farm where we can „rent“ horses for some days. Only a few hours later, our small caravan is making its way through the muddy landscapes and dense thicket. Only shortly before nightfall, we finally reach our target destination: The village of the reindeer nomads.
THE REINDEER VILLAGE
We can see a small village in the middle of nowhere with almost thirty tipis and smoke rising from them. The leader of the clan and his wife welcome us with open arms, hot tea and freshly baked bread. In the heat of the fire in the tent, we slowly get our clothes dry again. The clan leader is a shaman who cares for and protects the village that moves to a different place every few months. The inhabitants live on their reindeer herds: They ride on them, use them as pack animals and as a source of fresh milk. Only in winter time, they also serve as a food source. When the clan has to slaughter one of them, every drop of blood and every bone and tendon is either used to keep them warm or to produce clothes or hunting weapons.
It is extremely fascinating to hear that in the past, most of the nomads used to study in some village or city. They all decided to use their freshly gained knowledge to return to their parents and grandparents in order to keep up the tradition of nomadism, of herding reindeers and of living in harmony with Mother Nature. You’re mistaken to assume that these people are a bit behind the times: They own a village telephone, which is regularly used, and solar panels and car batteries help them to charge their phone batteries and even laptops. And still: Their life is getting harder every year. Winters are getting colder and they already had to survive minus 65 degrees for the second time. More and more reindeers lose their lives during winter time because they cannot find enough food in the dry summers. This is why a growing number of nomads decides to live in the city where life is much easier. However, the unemployment rate often brings them back to the mountains sooner or later.
The next morning, we take our horses back to Gurvansaikhan. After an adventurous ride from there to the next city, one of the few well-built roads leads us to the capital within only two days. Shortly thereafter, we are on our way back to Europe, flying over all the mountains that we crossed by bus or horse and bringing with us countless pictures, a changed view of our own society and the realisation that in Europe, there is luxury everywhere and we’re not even realising or even appreciating it.