Mongolia

Dates: September 9–22, 2020

Begins & Ends: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Nearest Airport: Ulaanbaatar (ULN)

Leaders: Jeffrey Chapman & Winslow Lockhart

Maximum Participants: 6

Tuition: $8,500
(including 1 domestic flight)

Accommodation: Included
(optional single supplement: $400)

Meals: Included

Payment Policy: 3 Installments
     • $500 deposit to confirm participation
     • 50% due by February 1, 2020
     • Balance due by May 1, 2020

This photographic adventure begins and ends in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Tuition includes hotels/gers (based on double occupancy; single occupancy is available with payment of a single-occupancy supplement), meals, one domestic flight (cost of flight is based on current rates and is subject to change if the airline increases prices), drivers and guide tips, and local group transportation for the duration of the adventure. It does not include souvenirs, bar beverages, laundry, insurance (travel, medical, cancellation), nor any personal expenses.

This adventure is suitable for all levels of photographic experience. Participants must be in good health and able to spend each day walking and carrying their own equipment.

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Tribes of Mongolia Within The Frame Photographic Adventure

Tribes of Mongolia Within The Frame Itinerary

Mongolians call their country the “land of the blue sky,” and the seemingly limitless space can be transfixing, especially to those of us living in congested metropolitan areas. Landlocked between China and Russia, Mongolia is home to only around three million people, a curious fact when considering it is the 18th largest sovereign state by land measurement. Close to half of the population lives in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, and up to 30% of the population is nomadic, crisscrossing the vast steppes, the mountains, and the lakes as the seasons shift and the food supply migrates. It is one of the last surviving nomadic societies on the planet with many living a lifestyle not unlike their ancestors during the time of Chinggis Khan.

The Mongol Empire was founded in 1206 and has been the stuff of legends ever since. It was the largest empire of contiguous land in world history, and at its peak was home to a quarter of the world’s population. Horse-riding nomadic culture has been documented in this land going back to 3500 BC, and it still persists among nomadic tribes with their ancient lineage linking them to this land as they follow in the path of their forebearers across the steppes.

Tribes of Mongolia Within The Frame is a wilderness adventure in luxury 4×4 Land Cruisers with professional drivers, often off-road, traversing the steppes of Mongolia. We explore and photograph the striking landscape, fauna, nomads, and shepherds as we head toward the mountainous western region, our westward push ending with the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival in the Altai Mountain region. Although we encounter many minority groups and nomads throughout our adventure in Mongolia, including Uuld, Bayad, and Sartuul, we are particularly focused on the Kazakh in the far western region where we pass five days of our time in Mongolia. We spend most nights in ger encampments, travelling with a private chef and her assistant. Our chef is something of a culinary wizard, creating Western and Mongolian dishes that can surprise, doubly so considering our remote locations and the humble kitchen tools available. As the day’s adventuring and photographing wind down, we spend time each evening discussing the events of the day and our plans for the next as well as going over the successes and challenges experienced with the camera at each location throughout our adventure. The Within The Frame leaders are available to assist you with any questions or challenges you may experience with the camera throughout our time in Mongolia, both in the field while photographing and during our evening meetings. The participants are of course free to photograph without input from the leaders.

This is the only Within The Frame adventure with a support crew that outnumbers the participants. Our locations are remote in often rugged landscapes, but every consideration has been given to the comfort and enjoyment of the participants throughout our time in Mongolia.

This photographic adventure is about the passionate discovery and photography of people, place, and culture, with emphasis given to going deep not wide, and pursuing that most elusive of photographic necessities — our vision. It is appropriate for photographers of all levels, and you will be free to photograph independently or always with the assistance of one of the leaders.

Ulaanbaatar (Day One)

We arrive in Ulaanbaatar, the nation’s capital, and convene for a meet-and-greet introductory dinner to get acquainted and to discuss the itinerary for our photographic adventure. Ulaanbaatar is a stop along the Trans-Siberian Railway and has a unique history that is perfectly appropriate when considering the culture that created it. The location of the city has changed 28 times, settling in its current spot along the Tuul and Selbe Rivers in 1778. Essentially, its history is that of a nomadic city; as it grew larger and larger the frequency of its moving decreased until it eventually became rooted at its current location. Here we find the nation’s major cultural institutions, museums, universities, and financial center. Current day residents are eager and proud participants in the global economy and welcome the opportunity to practice speaking English and to have interactions, both commercial and social, with visitors to their country. The economy and the country in general is still getting its footing as being a part of a global community. It’s a time of transformation in Mongolia, making it an exciting time to visit.

We stay in Ulaanbaatar our first night in Mongolia, and this is the starting point for our adventure westward across the steppes and the ruggedly scenic beauty of the vast Mongolian landscape.

While in Ulaanbaatar we will stay at the five-star Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace. It is an oasis of European luxury in the heart of the city.

Dundgoyi Province (Days Two — Three)

After breakfast we leave Ulaanbaatar heading toward the northernmost part of the Gobi Dessert where we find curious granite rock formations and winding canyons in Baga Gazar, a superb area for exploratory hikes and to spot ibex and wild mountain sheep known as argali. Wildlife is attracted to this area due to the water that collects in the canyons. This is a location where the desert meets the steppes, and if offers ample opportunities for photography and adventuring amid granite peaks and flat plains with gushing springs and ancient petroglyphs.

In the morning we head toward Ongi Monastery, a site on the Ongi River where the ruins of two monasteries, one on ether side of the river, are located. One was the largest temple in Mongolia and also the site of Buddhist universities. Both religious complexes were destroyed in 1939 under communist authority, and many monks were killed. Ruins remain along the river and the surrounding hills, and the site is slowly being rebuilt, an effort spurred by three monks after communism in the region fell in 1990. These monks had started their Buddhist education here in the early 1930s and returned with a mission to begin rebuilding. The first rebuilt temple was completed in 2004, and it is an ongoing effort.

Our home for these two nights is at ger encampments under the stars. Mongolian night skies experienced in the wilderness without any light pollution can be astonishing. The stars of the Milky Way are crisply defined and bright and surround from horizon to horizon.

Bayankhongor Province (Day Four)

Today, we explore Bayankhongor town and the surrounding province. Forests, steppes, and desert, the three major geographic zones of Mongolia, can be found in this region. It is the province with the most abundant wildlife, including many endangered species such as snow leopards, wild camels, and the Gobi bear. Here we find dinosaur fossils, petroglyphs, a lake region, several springs, oases, and excellent birding areas where endangered birds such as the Dalmatian pelican can still be found. Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is located here with its many fossil sites, an ice canyon and stunning mountainous scenery where hundreds of bird species live. Opportunities for photography abound. This night we stay in a hotel rather than a ger encampment.

Gobi Altai Province (Days Five – Six)

We head into the Mongolian wilderness in this western province with its varied landscape of steppes and mountain peaks, including the permanently snowcapped Sutai Uul, the highest peak in Gobi Altai. This vast terrain contains many national parks, nature reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries. It is a province of lakes, more than 20, both big and small. It is called “the great wilderness” and is often described as being overwhelmingly beautiful. It is the most remote and protected region of Mongolia. The province borders China to the south. The vistas can be strikingly grand, especially where the steppes meet the mountains. Wild horses roam. It is a land deserving a poetic description:

THE HORSES NEIGH AT NIGHT UPON THE STEPPE

The brown steppe is like an ancient story,
There is no sound to be heard.
A traveller, wearied by the distant road,
Spends the night upon the steppe.

In the deep darkness, the objects of the sky
Stretch out white, like a mare’s tethering line,
He feels the nature of the peaceful steppe,
He watches the stars, as though the horse was missing.

The brown steppe is like an ancient story,
There is now sound to be heard.
Like what we sense among the stars,
The horses neigh at night upon the steppe.

D. Nyamaa (1939–)

As we travel across the province, heading westward, we make stops along the way to explore and photograph, including encounters with nomads and shepherds. Among our stops is Ereen Lake, a freshwater lake surrounded by enormous sand dunes, the largest dunes in the country. These have come to be known as the singing sand dunes. As the wind moves over the dunes or the surface of the dunes is disturbed a sonic phenomenon is triggered that we hear as a deep humming sound that can be haunting. This is also a location where, if we are lucky, we can cross paths with black tailed gazelle.

Khovd Province (Day Seven)

We take a step way back in time with a visit to Khoid Tsenkher Cave, the longest cave in the Altai Mountains where we find cave paintings that are tens of thousands of years old, dating from the Paleolithic period. The ceilings and walls display depictions of symbols and animals, including elephants, ostriches, camels, and other creatures painted with mineral pigments. UNESCO has added the site to their World Heritage Tentative List for consideration in the Cultural category.

Bayan Ulgii Province (Day Eight)

This is the westernmost province in Mongolia bordering both China and Russia. It is the highest province and has many glaciers, which are only accessible by skilled climbers. Most inhabitants here are Kazakhs and prefer to speak their native language. Here we visit Tolbo lake, a freshwater lake and a popular spot for swimming, camping, and fishing. It is one of the largest lakes in western Mongolia, popular with both the locals and visitors for the scenic beauty and recreation it offers.

Sagsai Village, Bayan Ulgii Province (Days Nine – Twelve)

We attend the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival. An overwhelming majority of the world’s eagle hunters live here in this region of Mongolia. They are ethnic Kazakhs. The golden eagles are captured in the wild when they are young, and the tradition is that the eagles serve as hunting partners for about 10-15 years before being released back into the wild. Up to 80% of eagles in the wild die before they reach maturity at the age of five. An eagle that makes it into adulthood in the wild typically lives 20-30 years. Eagles in captivity can live up to 50 years. These birds of prey have remarkable eyesight that is five times sharper than a human’s, allowing them to spot a target as small as a rabbit up to a mile away. Impressively sized with a wingspan that can be 8 feet (2.43 meters), eagles are masters of a flying style called soaring, allowing them to fly great distances without having to flap their wings. The birds can be so large that their hunting partners struggle to hold them perched on an arm, especially while on horseback chasing prey. The bird before taking flight, with horse and rider on the move, can spread its wings for balance, the wingspan looking like an enormous sail hovering above the rider’s head. It is quite a sight, and it can be difficult to determine exactly who is in charge, eagle or human.

The tradition of eagle hunting is more than a thousand years old. Marco Polo encountered the practice during his travels and described it, and Chinggis Khan is believed to have practiced the sport. The festival consists of many competitions taking place throughout a weekend, including contests of speed, precision and presentation. Hunting with eagles is an activity traditionally practiced by men, but increasingly young girls and women are getting involved, largely thanks to the success of a charismatic young girl named Aisholpan who came out of nowhere to win a hunting competition in a 2014 festival. Her success was celebrated throughout her nation and the world with a widely seen documentary film made about her in 2016. A clip can be seen here.

Our home for the four nights we spend in Sagsai Village is a private ger encampment hosted by eagle hunters and their families. We spend our days here with the hunters, their eagles, and their families as we learn about the sport and the art of hunting with these majestic birds. We have the rare opportunity to join them for a hunt, and photograph them up close portrait style and while they are in the field practicing a tradition of generations going back as far as anyone can recount.

On festival days we are focused on watching and photographing the events. The atmosphere can be lively. Competitors and spectators travel from the surrounding mountains and their often remote nomadic encampments to both compete and witness the festivities. It is without question a competition, but it is also an occasion for friends from the surrounding area to meet and socialize.

Ulaanbaatar (Day Thirteen)

We return to the capital city via plane for our final night in Mongolia giving us a chance to explore the city a last time and to begin planning for our next adventure as we enjoy a farewell dinner.

Ulaanbaatar (Day Fourteen)

Early risers can spend this last morning in Mongolia visiting a favorite spot or discovering something new. After breakfast we head to the airport among friends, old and new, to catch our departure flights.

Although this represents the photographic adventure’s planned itinerary, it is subject to change at the discretion of the adventure leaders.

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