Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sprint from September to spring

A few choice moments from my time in Mongolia between the end of summer 2014 and springtime:

Lovely bouquet from two of my students celebrating the end of summer
First snow of the season in Ulaanbaatar: September 28th, 2014 :/

Bonfire and first sunrise of the new year in Bayankhangai

A major highlight of the winter was my dog-sledding trip in Terelj.  We raced along the frozen river pulled by eager, cuddly huskies, took a quick spin on a horse sleigh, rode horseback through snow drifts, and climbed through the winter forests over the rocky hills in one eventful day. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera.  Luckily for me, Emily S. had her camera on hand the entire time.
Our dogs getting hitched to the sleds: almost ready for some racing over the frozen river!

Eyes on the prize: almost ready to make that river run!

Teams and their sleds
"Are you ready yet?!?"

And we're off!

Neck and neck!

Pulling ahead in the race

Moments before a tangle: these friendly dogs sometimes forget that they're racing and decide they'd like to pile on their buddies on another team

Pit stop to sort ourselves out (i.e., untangle the lines)

Rounding the bend on the homestretch

I was *very* nervous about steering the sled; I'm a poor skier and even poorer skater.  It worked out pretty well, once I got the hang of the brakes.

Fancy photo for a fancy boy

Surprise kisses from a wiggly puppy!

Tsogoo, his biggest horse, and his sleigh make a surprise appearance on the river

Riding into the little village of Terelj on fuzzy winter horses

Album cover/Hiking pose

January in Terelj

Snow on the slopes

Mid-winter: beautiful in a bleak, wasted sort-of way

Mid-winter pigeon hunting from the safety of the apartment:
Predator vs. prey face-off

Ineffectually hunting pigeons is the best way to stave off cabin fever - Julian and Max

Cuddle buddies: can you believe that I was worried that these two wouldn't be able to live together in the same home?

Cuddle buddies: armchair edition
February is my birthday month:
Happy birthday to me!

March Madness, the Mongolian way: horseback riding through backcountry in deep snow!
Galloping through the deep sudden snow drifts

After the winter snow melts, the blasted brown and yellow of Mongolian spring sets in.  Spring is the harshest season in Mongolia.  While most people imagine the winter, with its searing winds and blistering cold, to be the biggest challenge, spring is traditionally considered the worst time of year.  There are some excellent reasons for this attitude, including the fact that springtime is the starving time, when herd animals have made it through the winter but need to live for several more months before new growth appears on the landscape.  A herder will lose many animals during a long or harsh spring.  

Spring also has extremely tempermental weather: dust storms, high winds, hail and snow, rain, and sudden sunbursts.  This changeable weather is physically and emotionally taxing.  In Mongolian, a moody or tempermental person is literally described as having a temperment like spring weather!  Spring brings 'spring syndrome', where people experience fatigue, fall ill more easily, and get overly emotional at the drop of a hat.  In fact, people will tell you that spring is the time for puppy love, political protests, and civil unrest.

The velvety green and vibrant wildflowers of summer don't begin to appear before June.  Thus, springtime in the Mongolian countryside looks like this (Tuv province in early May):

View from the Tonyukuk monument site in Tuv Province: the silver Chinggis Khan statue at Tsonjin Boldog and snow-capped Khan-Khentii mountains in the distance

Tonyukuk was a general and advisor of the great ruler of the Turk Empire, Bilge Khan (reigned 717-734 AD).  I have personally observed numerous Turk-period burials and ritual features in this part of Central Mongolia, although the Tonyukuk monument site is the most well-known by far.  The Turk Empire is the next major polity in Mongolian history following the Xiongnu Empire (209 BC to 93 AD or 147 AD, depending on how one interprets the numerous fissions and civil wars within the Xiongnu in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD) and the first of the eastern steppe empires to produce autohistorical accounts in indigenous writing systems.  The most famous example of Turk imperial writing is found on the Orkhon Inscriptions, massive stone stelae located in the Orkhon valley approximately 300km west of Ulaanbaatar that are now housed in the Khushuu Tsaidam museum (http://www.touristinfocenter.mn/en/cate1_more.aspx?ItemID=39).  After the Orkhon Inscriptions and Khushuu Tsaidam, the Tonyukuk monument is likely the most significant Turk imperial context in Mongolia.

Standing stone at the Tonyukuk memorial site

Balbal line leading away from the Tonyukuk memorial site, running eastward toward the hills

Excavated Turk-period burial near the Tonyukuk site with its own eastward-running balbal line

Close-up of cross-hatch patterning on one of the stone used to construct the Turk-period burial

Springtime in Mongolia heralds the birth of herd animals, new life flourishing in the face of harsh conditions.  This spring I had the unexpected privilege of witnessing the first few hours of new life - mostly new-born calves, due to the month - out on the steppe.  The little calf below was particularly sweet, wobbling around on untested legs and hopping around its mother as she ate her afterbirth.

Welcome to the world, little calf!

Off-roading in the Ar Janchivlan Valley

But it's already late June and I'm behind the times: here in Mongolia, summer has begun in earnest!  Future posts will hopefully focus on the incomparable splendor and endless adventures of the Mongolian summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment