From the first ancient horse tamers of the vast steppes to the horse-mounted Genghis Khan warriors, to the modern-day struggles of the nomadic people, the iconic Mongolian horse and golden eagle have always been revered at the center of their culture and lifestyle. The bonds that they share with one another and to the largely unforgiving land that is their home, are forged through hard work and austerity. Hobbled and jessed with bondage anklets, the horse and eagle serve their time on earth alongside their captors who are inextricably coupled with the land and its hardships.
On the cusp of commercialization through industry and tourism, the country is poised to lose many of its traditional ways. But if one strays off the beaten path, there are remote corners of the country where life is still hard, but abundant – where the ethos is to work in harmony with mother nature. The dichotomy that is Mongolia shows us a land with no fences, apparent freedom for one and all. But like the Buddhist Monks in the ancient, storied monasteries, there is an implied lifetime of servitude. One asks where happiness can be found here and yet this might be their most abundant resource of all – the resilience and generosity of the people.
“I have ridden horseback high in the Altai mountains, walked the dunes of the Gobi Desert, camped in the northern taiga forest and watched thousands of gazelles undulate through the rolling steppes of the eastern aimags. I have watched wolves scamper at dawn and stood in awe at sunset as silhouettes of the ancient Takhi horses are skylined in the rolling hills of the Hustai biosphere. I have meditated with monks, had ceremonies with shamans, crossed frozen rivers and been ferried by barge and pole across raging torrents, and still, I feel that I barely know this place. As Mongolia sheds her layers and shares herself with me, I invite you to see her world as I do – unfolding her story little by little.” Debra Garside