Friday, June 17, 2011

Uglugch Wall

```````````Uglugch Wall, or Almsgivers Wall as translated, was one of those places which caught me by surprise and delighted me. My first impression from across the marshy valley was of a small wall and earth embankment, not dissimilar to the iron age walls in Britain. The next day I crossed the marsh and started following the wall up the increasingly steep hillside. As I climbed the wall was less damaged and more than 4 metres tall. The hill got steeper and walking hard work. Why had someone gone to all the effort maybe 1300 years ago to build this wall? Then, at the top I realised why, - there were commanding views over three valleys, this must have been a strategically important location.

But who built the wall and why? The guidebooks and Google are not very helpful and suggest an 8th  or 9th century origin. Today there are just a few nomadic families living in the area, - when the wall was built there must have been hundreds or thousands of people living here. Just walking alongside the wall was hard work for me, never mind building a stone wall nearly 5 metres tall.

I was staying at a tourist camp owned by my friend Gala – Ugluch Wall Eco Lodge- located on a wooded hill side in north east Mongolia, - Gala has built the lodges himself from local timber and wants to develop it as an eco friendly destination. The camp is located at the top of a col on the edge of the forest steppe.

It was not the best of times for me to visit as Gala was busy preparing for the tourist season but I was happy to walk in the woods and valleys, birding, sitting in the shade and reading a book and relaxing. Even in early June birds were still migrating north and birds present one day had moved on the next. I enjoyed watching birds slowly, not a frenetic dash to see the next species.

The forest steppe is changing. Herders are abandoning the small mountain valleys but remaining in steppe valleys where the pasture is better, so the flowers are blooming and shrubs growing in valleys. 

However the large herbivores mousse and red deer are hunted and numbers declined so vegetation grows unchecked. The other dramatic feature of the forests are fires. Fires are natural part of taiga ecology but their frequency has increased over years, either because of human influence or global warming.

On the steppe the landscape is changing as well, Gala described how a marsh area with at least two pairs of white naped cranes was a large lake in his childhood. Throughout Mongolia rivers and lakes are drying up, again global warming but probably not helped by water extraction for mining.

I travelled back to UB in a local mini bus, the 200 kilometre journey took 12 hours as we stopped at meat market to unload animal skins and a large bull’s head which had been traveling with us. It was a contrast to my usual travel in a development worker's land cruiser with English speaking colleagues; in UB life can be in a sheltered bubble with good restaurants and talk of investment and mining a country changing rapidly, and this contrasts with life in a ger in countryside..