Sunday, October 31, 2010

Moust soum

We travelled to Moust to visit herder community groups who had started to receive tourists and wanted advice. Moust is in the Altai Sayan, a great undeveloped mountain region straddling borders of Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China, recognised by WWF as one of great unspoilt eco regions of asia, and currently supported by a UNDP project. This is home to snow leopards, argali sheep and wild goats, a bleak semi desert mountain range with permanent snow fields on summits, a stunning place. We visited herders, talked about tourists, played games, drank tea, and took photos of each other whilst lammergeirs and black vultures glided overhead. I want to go back in the summer.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Moust soum in Hovd aimag is one of the more isolated locations in Mongolia, a 6 hour drive from Hovd city, which in turn is 1100 kilometres or 3 hr flight from UB. We arrived in the soum in the evening, and Cameron and i wanted some exercise after 7 hours bouncing about in a Russian jeep so we scrambled up the local hill. 

For some reason it is a common practice to place concrete statues of argali on the hilltops, maybe to fool lazy tourists.

Looking down on the other side we saw a small monastery, so we scrambled down, past flurries of snowfinches.

The monastery seemed deserted and the kennel was empty so we went in the compound.

 As I was spinning the prayer wheels a giant dog appeared from nowhere a couple of feet from me barking and growling, fortunately the gods had appreciated my spinning and the lama appeared from the ger, restrained the dog and said welcome, sorry about that in perfect English, albeit with an American accent. Sansarbatr had previously been assistant to the head llama at main monastery in UB, had spent a year in London, and retreated to this monastery for a life of meditation and ritual. In the summer he moves his ger into the hills. He seemed content.

The monastery had been built a few years ago by local who had become a government minister and was beautifully built timber. We returned the next day with our colleagues and he showed us the copies of rare Tibetan Buddhist texts
 and gave us two blessings, - one for purification, the other for longevity and prosperity


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When Baljinnyam met and Dashnyam

Sunday was an auspicious day in the Tibetan/Mongolian Buddhist calendar, its is the day when gods Baljinnyam and Dashnyam meet,  -  for an explanation  of the Buddhist mythology look here , - and many couples decide to get married on such auspicious dates. I was invited to two wedding dinners, both were joyful occasions.The food was delicious, and there were singers and musicians. Look out for the Mongolian musicians on the new BBC series Human Planet /Music Planet, they played at Jan's wedding and were great and will be performing in London in November.

I have settled back in Ulaanbaatar. My flat is in a great location in the centre of town and in the same block as my favourite vegetarian restaurant. Which is fine, except when it was closed 'cos Richard Gere was expected.

There is a small park in the front and when i arrived bleary eyed  and jet lagged I was surprised to see flowers in bloom, closer inspection they were plastic

In communist times it was one of the most prestigious buildings, located next to government building, now it is dwarfed by skyscrapers and the prestige locations are in modern blocks, or out of town on the edge of the forest.

After 10 months away I have noted a few changes. The increasing money from mining development is apparent. The Louis Vuitton shop has been joined by Armani, and I even saw a Lamborghini in the street, Mongolia must be one of most unsuitable countrries for such a low slung car. The increased affluence also shows in many hundreds of trees which have been planted around town during the last year.

However the affluence also highlights the inequalities. A friend who works as a social worker in the countryside outside Ulaanbaatar is trying to raise money for a kindergaarten where there is no furniture or toys for the children.

My work is going well, I am based with a Mongolian NGO, the Sustainable Tourism Development Centre. At present I am working on two projects, a continuation of my work with Mercy Corps supporting rural communities develop tourism, and a Dutch funded programme helping Mongolian tour companies develop European markets.

I am also finding time to do research for my PhD.

So far I have had little opportunity to do any birding, but hopefully that will change as I have trips scheduled to the countryside later this month.