Archive for the ‘horse trek’ Tag

Mongolian Steppe (Sept 14 – 19)   Leave a comment

Mongolia

The train from the Chinese border to Ulaan Baatar passes through huge tracts of undulating hills covered with green grass. With Mongolia averaging only 1.7 people per sq. kilometer it is hard to imagine how these people produced such numbers as to conquer almost the entire Eurasian continent. Ulaan Baatar is a modern city full of all the shops and amenities one would expect from a world capital. The food here is particularly good, especially the Mongolian hot-pot, which abounds in meat. A welcome treat after a month in meat deprived China. Ulaan Baatar is by far the largest city containing about 45% of Mongolia’s 2.75 million people leaving the remainder of the people spread out over the 1,564,116 square kilometers of the country.


From the capital we headed out on a 6 day tour of central Mongolia. Our first stop was the ancient capital of Karakorum. This capital was created by Kubali khan and lasted a brief 40 years before being moved to Beijing. All that remains today is a dilapidated monastery (destroyed by the Manchurian Ming dynasty and purged by Stalin) and a small but interesting museum. Leaving this city we headed for the more remote areas of the central Mongolian steppe where we encountered beautiful scenery along our jeep ride over some very rough terrain.


Our tour had us Ger hopping over large distances through wind, hail and rain. While the weather is capricious it is also ephemeral in its inclemency. The majority of our days were sunny and cool (avg. 17 C) with dramatically lower temperatures at night  (avg. 0 C). A few hours drive from Karakorum brought us to an area where a river has cut deep through the valley plain leaving behind a large canyon supporting a few deciduous trees with yellowing leaves. The only other trees out here are pines that grow oddly in only small specific areas on the surrounding hills. At the end of our journey was the nice Orkhon water fall.


The next day we drove 400 km, half over rough terrain, to White Lake. Along the way we enjoyed the shallow mountains covered in green, brown and yellow grass. A few of these mountains have reached such a height to have snow-covered peaks, but the majority in this region remains at such a shallow incline as to allow the copious goats, yaks and cows to graze on their slopes. The lake and surrounding area are beautiful especially when we were able to climb one of the nearby hills and sit in peace and watch the sun and clouds over the lake with the foggy mountains in the distance. Truly a zen moment. While in this area we also took a horse trek to a nearby extinct volcano that has clearly left its mark on the surrounding area.

Video: Mongolian weather and our Ger

Our last day before heading back to Ulaan Baatar took us to a small section of the Gobi Desert that covers most of southern Mongolia. There wasn’t much to this desert other than a few bactrian camels and sand dunes, but the interest in the landscape is that the dunes seem to be completely surrounded by thick green grass.

By far the best part of this journey was the scenery, particularly the sun sets and starry night skies. I suppose it is because there are no trees or buildings to block your view, but the sky feels much larger here than anywhere else we have been.

Tibetan Plateau (Aug 28 – Sep 2)   Leave a comment

Horse Trekking and Monasteries

The land of snow, the roof of the world, the third pole. No matter what you call Tibet, it is China.  The communists have made damn sure of that. Many parts of the region have been flooded by ethnic Han, but many more areas remain Tibetan such as that around Xiahe, Langmusi and Tongren. There are occasional demonstrations, riots and monks burning themselves alive in the Tibetan regions, but for the most part the people are docile. Regardless of their more serene nature most Tibetans long for freedom. I suppose it’s fun to dream.

Leaving Chengdu, Magan and I boarded a train headed north-west toward the Tibetan plateau. As we climbed in altitude the hot, dense fog gave way to cool clean air, the tall skyscrapers were replaced by large rolling hills covered with tall green grass, and the cars were slowly replaced with herds of yaks and sheep. An interesting side-note: the word ‘yak’ perfectly describes the animal’s smell, taste and appearance.
Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region due to government restrictions. Although we missed Lhasa and the Potola Palace we were able to visit the traditional Tibetan Amdo region. Here the people have flatter faces and slimmer eyes and are, by vast majority, Tibetan. The towns are small and cold and while there are some mosques with interesting architecture the main theme is the Buddhist monasteries and red-robed monks.

After a train and bus journey to the middle of no where (slightly reminiscent of Bolivia) we arrived in the town of Langmusi. Situated half in the Sichuan province and half in the Gansu province, the town is split by a small river and competing monasteries. At the gold roofed monastery on the Ganshu side we experienced one of our most memorable and authentic Tibetan moments. Approaching one of the large buildings of the monastery we came to the entrance surrounded by two rows of colorful columns carved and painted in various Buddhist images. After removing our shoes we entered the building and found dozens of monks lined in rows chanting their esoteric mantras. The temple was filled with images and statues sacred to the Tibetan Buddhists including a wall of 1,000 painted Buddhas and another wall of 1,000 Buddha statues.

Later that day we headed out on a two-day horse trek to experience the nomadic life style practiced by many in this region. The nomad life itself is pretty horrible, but the experience was amazing. Starting out we rode into the mountains that roll on forever covered with dark green grass. After a few hours of riding we reached a large plain of grass sitting in a valley between the mountains that sit at 3,600 meters covered with yaks and sheep.  On this plane were a few tents pitched near each other where the nomads lived and watched over their livestock.

The family we stayed with were a very nice Tibetan couple. The tent itself was nothing more than a few poles  covered with a canvas and a plastic sheet. Inside was a straw floor with a stove, a pile of dried yak dung for the stove, and an area for sleeping. The bed area took up about 1/3 of the tent and was simply an area with more straw covered with a thin blanket. The nomad life begins at 4am when the women go out to milk the yaks. After this breakfast is cooked and the rest of the day is spent herding the yaks (for the men) and collecting yak dung and laying it out to dry (for the woman). It is a hard life, but they seem to be happy in what they do. The temperature was near freezing at night, in August, but it was an amazing experience with beautiful Tibetan scenery.

Posted September 28, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Asia, China

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