“Mongolia is the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, with a population of around 2.9 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by steppes, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Approximately 30% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The predominant religion in Mongolia is Tibetan Buddhism, and the majority of the state’s citizens are of Mongol ethnicity, although Kazakhs, Tuvans, and other minorities also live in the country, especially in the west. In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan conquered China to establish the Yuan Dynasty. Having an enormous . . . harem, Genghis must have had a lot of children. According to an international study of male DNA, nearly .5% of men, worldwide, carry his DNA”
It was back in 2007 when an instant idea made me buy a plane ticket to Beijing from where I joined my friend on the trip to Mongolia. This was the first time I was in Asia and it surely was an adventure.
First of all it was a big cultural shock for me. Moving from Europe to Asia. From Slovakia to China. Consider there are over 7 billion people living on earth and more than one seventh of them in that one country. Its quite overwhelming. From Beijing we took a 22 hours train to Ulan Bator. Now if Beijing seemed far away then Ulan Bator was really far, far away.
This is a true story:
When we arrived to Ulan Bator we realised that its hard to communicate with locals in english, very few of them spoken english, some of them spoken little russian, some of them even worse then us.
I found out we have a contact to a Mongolian guide (who we believed could help us around).
I called him to arrange a meeting with him, he hardly spoke any english and I started to have a feeling it is gonna be useless to have a guide that does not understand us.
He somehow manage to mention that he had lived in Budapest for longer time, so I tried my hungarian to him and he fluently replied in Hungarian.
Suddenly I felt like I was at home. His nick-name was Sancho and he became our guide and our friend. He took us to a 10 days trip out of Ulan Bator to countryside to meet his family.
I have learned that Mongolia is a beautiful country with great history and wonderful people who have so little but having sad that they have so much because they don’t need more. They have all they need to carry around when they move from one place to another most of them spending life as nomads. if nomads stayed in one place hunting and gathering food, sooner or later the area would run out of things to hunt and gather. In order for them not to run out of food so quickly, Nomad tended to travel in rather small groups.
The most beautiful nothingness you will ever see, wide landscapes, 360 degrees of pure nature, without traces of human intervention. Imagine no electric wires, no pollution, no city light in the night sky and no telephone signal for the most of the places. Thats how I remember the Mongolian countryside.
Our first encounter with a Mongolian household took place in a yurt. Although to us, this was a distant and until then unknown world, we felt connected by their broken Russian (the knowledge of this language is in decline – just like in Slovakia), unconditional hospitality (similar to the old ladies in Slovak villages) and the abundance of vodka. After our stomachs protested against the unsalted and unpeppered meat broth, follows by their traditional kumis (fermented mare’ s milk); standing there in the fresh air in front of the yurt we felt so distant, yet so very close to them.
A cow and a horse
The man protects and provides for the home, the woman manages the household. The man builds the yurt, the woman helps pack it up when moving. The woman milks the cows, the man hunts. The boundaries are made as per the physical strength and ancient rules. Women are honoured, but the men still have the last word.
“We are going to milk the cows, would you like to take picture of us?” asked our guide Sancho’s mother. As it it clean from willing poses, they share their respect of tradition as much as love for picture taking.
Don Sancho de la Mongolia
Our friend and guide Sancho is a knight fighting his windmills. He opens his arms wide saying:”I love this country” and keeps convincing everyone around him that the nature must be protected. People look on making the cuckoo sign. The are so few of them in Mongolia, and Mongolia is so vast.
Horses and hobbies
During Genghis Khan’s reign, a horse meant everything to a Mongol. A means of transport, weapon, love. Today it is still a work tool, an object of pride, a measure of wealth. There are still places where it is easier to ride a horse than a motorbike. Yesterday a horse meant everything, today a lot and tomorrow…tomorrow it will at least be a part of national sport, alongside archery and wrestling.
Travelling encompasses a range of coincidences and surprises. The moment you learn you are in the country where it is not easy to go and pee behind a tree (because there is neither a tree nor a bush far and near), you spot a privy in the middle of nowhere. The moment you arrive at the scrap yard crossed with a car mechanics and take out your new digital pressure gauge, you find out that their old Russian one operates with the same precision.
The Russians brought in compulsory school attendance to Mongolia. Almost everyone can read and write there now. The lady in that picture has a pen friend from the other side of the world. They call it “Druzhba”
Tujaceceg is in Mongolia and her pen friend Anka Bartova is somewhere far away, in some place called Košice. They met each other once but that was a long time ago. Anka suddenly stopped writing and Tujaceceg now misses her. Has anyone seen her? If so please get in touch.
The first rule of travelling in Mongolia is: the road is everywhere. It is where you are going, it is where you want to go. If it is not there, than your motorbike’s wheels create it. The motorbike is flexible, it can be acquired and it can be repaired. A motorbike is flashy. A bit like a new horse that smells of new paths and the West.
Every nation has its own cowboys. Show-offs that are the first ones to stop by, have a chat and confidently ask for your contact details. Who knows-they may once stop by in Slovakia? For them, the world is a catwalk and when you take their pictures you cannot fail to notice the charm and magic they have been blessed with since they were born.
Mongolian children eat a piece of hard cheese instead of sweets, attend boarding school six times a week and have parents that literally spoil them. It is absolutely natural for a Mongolian man to love his child beyond anything else.
from book Mongolia photographs by Richard Kay Kardhordo author of the original text Vlado Kurek english translation by Linda Wood camera used Nikon f90X with 35mm Ilford black and white negative films I used a green filter (to enhance the sky and clouds) for the most of the time Cause of the focal length of my lens I had to find the way to approach my subjects Watch a documentary on Mongolia exhibition in Bratislava, Slovakia exhibition documentary by Maria Martiniakova