Camp 4 – Gobi Desert White Stupa

During the night the wind dropped completely and the air was still, and silent. In the morning it was chilly and I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was lovely to sleep in the womb again of a ger and with room. We have everything here, food, stove and a mattress.

After breakfast our ger host Batsaihan came with us in the car to lead us to some 4000 year old rock carvings hidden in the valleys in the surrounding hills. We would never have been able to find the places he took us to today without his help.

First stop Was a visit to the stunning White Stupa Cliffs. These are cliffs of ochre and washouts with wonderful sculptural forms. The colored cliffs were a little similar to the painted desert in south Australia. A myriad of cliffs with washes of red, brown, yellow and white.

Second visit to the slate cliffs with ancient carvings.

Along the way we saw an array of animals to photograph including herds of horses, camels, goats and sheep. We saw a small herd of gazelle grazing on the planes as we left camp.

Two young children on horseback were herding a flock of sheep to meet another flock of horses and camel. We watched them bring all of the animals together and in an orderly manner bring all of the animals together in their separate groups up the valley. It was as if the whole school of children were being marched off in along a road together by age groups.

I was excited when I saw my first camels in the distance and Tugsoo kept assuring me I needed worry we would see many more. She was right. We passed several other camel herds and stopped at one large camel camp to watch the family milking the camels. It was an incredible picture, dozens of camels either loose or tethered to iron hooks in the ground and many young camels nearby. As well as the camels the family kept a large flock of colorful goats and sheet together. They were so grand all in together. Young goats were playfully jumping all over the pen and playing head butting games while the young sheep did the same in their sheep fashion. The goats were all colors, greys, white, brown, multi-colored and black like the goat I met yesterday. I have really fallen for these creatures. The camels were all brown and in a state of malt which made them look quite ridiculous and untidy. Unench says the winter camel is a striking animal with his thick coat. The wool from the camel fetches a lot of money and is not untidy to the family.

The milking went on the large camels stayed together until they were finished and all just wandered off into the sand hills in a leisurely manner, untethered. They will feed all day as far as they like and when it’s time come home to feed their the young camels tethered back at camp.

We took many photographs and the family invited us to return for tea on the way back. Hmm, I thought that will be the milk tea of which I am not particularly fond.

We kept driving on through sandy tracks which merged into sand and shale and then quite thick shale. The Flinders Ranges comes to mind. This landscape could easily be in the Flinders Ranges, except the vegetation is shorted than the salt bush and low mulga scrub.

There are beautiful grasses that have fine seed stems that appear soft in the light like spinifix except without the thorns.

We Have been privileged today to have our guide. He took us to the slate hills and walked the paths to the ancient carvings. There were all kinds of images spread for a twenty kilometer range through the hills. As he said, they appear to be carved into the edge of a book.

Unfortunately there were some carvings that looked as if they had been made in the last ten years. And places where they also looked as if they had been chiseled out altogether; removed. I would imagine in time this place will probably be closed to any visitors because the site is so important which such ancient relics.

One of the interesting things about this region is the rapid change in the landscape, the way there are sandhills, slate hills and amongst this mounts and layers of quartz. Apparently the mining companies had taken out a license in this region and the government had revoked it because of the importance of this region. The region has now been set aside as national park. We were fortunate enough to see some wild sheep in a valley. This is a very special sighting we were told, very rare. We saw them again later and tried to video them but they ran too fast. The wild sheep ran like the wind and more like the gazelles! Not like the sheep we are used, and they had the longest horns.

We called in on the camel family on the way out of the valley and the woman had prepared some goat milk tea and camel curds for us to eat. I apologized as best I could and said I could not drink milk. At least Tugsoo relayed my message. The woman then brought me a large cup of camel milk instead. I gingerly sipped and to my surprise it tasted like a yoghurt with a hint of coriander; somewhat spicy, sweet and tart all together. I did not experience the immediate bilious sensation I usually have if I drink cows milk. I am sure I could be gently led into enjoying camel milk. Then the plate of white marshmallow like curds arrived. Again these squares had the same sweet tart flavor.

We were treated with the most lovely hospitality. The ger was so beautiful inside. Decorated with fine tapestry work and rugs made by the woman. It is difficult to equate the inside beauty and outside camel yard as the same place. I felt so grubby in my dusty clothes, to sit amongst the woman’s clothes and neatness. Then from nowhere she magically presented two bowls of sweets and chocolate arranged beautifully in glass. How do they keep their gers so neat. Our ger back at camp is looking like a Ferrell camp, living out of suitcases and bags and boxes of food everywhere, and our camping pots and pans. And for is it’s just for a week or two. The camel family have everything they own in these two gers, and ever so neat. Simple presentation and exquisite beauty.

I watched the old man collect camel dung to burn in the iron oven. He looked very old, was stooped and moved very slowly. It is a hard life out here. There is no retirement. What is there was. Where would they go, the hell chaos of Ullaanbaatar? How to swap the beauty of the Gobi and a herd of camels for anything else. Image also what this must be like in the winter? Up to minus forty, forty-five? The land would be so beautiful covered in snow. How harsh for the people and the animals. They have summer camp and winter camp but even so, each season is so intense, extreme. We are at the beginning of summer now, the windy time. It has been dust storms and wind. In a month the temperature will rise to the high forties and may even reach fifty degrees. Nowhere to hide for the people and the animals and they still need to be milked, watered, fed. The gers also have winter and summer clothing. Winter gers have a double thickness of felt.

After our extraordinary tour of The ancient art gallery and return visit to the camel family we came back to our ger camp as the wind and rust was beginning. The wind has not eased off since and flurries of dust storm have been keeping us inside. After some lunch we needed to rest but the heat of the day was too much. Was it better to leave the ger roof and door open, at least there was light but the dust was coming in. Better to close door and roof, and then it was dark but close. I tried to sleep, too hot. Decided on a shower. Didn’t
T matter the water was barely warm, it was wet and satisfying. For a while. Back in the ger I thought the best place was to hang out in the bathroom. At least it was made like a refrigerator, thick insulated walls and four inch doors and I am sure warm in winter.

Somehow we got through the afternoon siesta and went off again at five o’clock to the white stupa cliffs we had visited in the morning. This time we frove to the bottom of the cliffs rather than where we viewed them this morning, stunning. Stunning. The wind has eased marginally and the dust flurries not as intense.

As I have not yet put brush to paper I was determined to paint. I packed a bag of paints and paper and decided to try my luck with the wind at the bottom of the cliffs amongst some small cliffs and look up at the wild forms. There were rain washouts to follow as paths. The wind seemed at first easier here, until I had set up and begun to paint. Everything covered in sand and chasing my hat. And Mervyn and Tugsoo coming back and saying how amazing the d cliffs around the corner were! At least I managed to get the paints wet and make my first attempt of a painting, also a small sketch on color fix paper which the gouache. Too hard and I wanted to photograph the red cliffs around the corner. Unench made coffee for all of us and brought into the gully. Oh what a life, sand, coffee, wind, sky and little black beetles crawling into my sandals. I don’t know what they thought they would find.

Back at camp this evening I showed the camp family photographs taken during the day and they were fascinated by the iPad and wanted to look at all of the photographs in it as well as th e photos from home.

The best sunset tonight, ger silhouettes against the red sky and fireball setting beneath the horizon. The wind is still blowing and there is a forecast for storms in the Gobi tomorrow. We are going to leave in the morning, early. Heading to another stunning camp. Tugsoo says there is a frozen lake, still, now in the summer gobi.

Looking forward to it, and arriving safely and finding a camp for the night,