Wednesday, March 28, 2012

For Bileg .... Spring Solstice Kazakh Style

Last Thursday I had the extraordinary opportunity as part of the International Equestrian Club of Outer Mongolia to climb aboard my gorgeous Mongolian horse ( NOT call him a pony!) and head out across the still (barely!) frozen river en route to a local ethnic Kazakh family's winter home to celebrate Nauryz...which is described in English as either "The Spring Solstice Festival" or "Farewell to Winter".  Given the weather today (+11 degrees and gorgeous blue sky!!) I would have to endorse the latter.

Yes, that is me in the was a long (22 km!!) and WONDERFUL ride ...and picking your way  on horseback through an achingly quiet, starkly leafless forest and then thundering ( ..well ..actually just cantering, but that doesn't sound nearly so awesome...) to arrive at their home was the perfect way to begin this great celebration!

So I am sure you are all wondering...what exactly is Nauryz and how is it celebrated? With a LOT of food apparently!

For all you cultural history buffs, here is a brief glimpse at the origins  Nauryz,  one of the oldest holidays on Earth. 

"The celebration of the spring equinox is thought to
have originated from ancient Mesopotamia, but the
name "Nauriz" comes from the Persian Nowruz
meaning, "new day."  The holiday was outlawed in Mongolia during the Soviet period and it wasn't until 1988 that Nauriz was reinstated as a holiday in Kazakhstan."

 This holiday celebrates spring and the renewed life of the Earth and has been celebrated for over five thousand years by many cultures of the Middle and Central Asia.  While it is not a religous celebration it is mostly celebrated by Muslims these days and, according to some sources, by eastern Slavs as well. It is certainly alive and well in Mongolia.

While we didn't get to see the traditional" moving of stones" (opening the eyes of summer) by the women or "planting of trees" by the men - both of which happen at the sunrise of the spring equinox, we did get to partake the warm welcoming embrace of the Matriarch of the family upon arrival and enjoyed a truly wonderful feast including home made biscuits, cakes, cookies, fruit, salad,

...the endless supply of Suutai Tse...milk tea...

...and, as with every other celebration I have been to in Mongolia...mountains of meat.  In this case, beef....the ceremonial beef slaughtered to celebrate the renewed flowing of the blood of spring? I'm not sure about that..but beef, nevertheless. Wonderfully prepared, delivered...and carved by the gentlemen in our party!

Our very gracious hosts included a very lovely grandmother and granddaughter who held court over the feast....

...although I suspect at least one of them did not completely agree that in order to be polite, you should let the guests eat first!

We had a chance to get to know a little of the family history with Grandma proudly showing off historical family photos and explaining the medals on her traditional vest were to honour her as a mother as she has eight ( yup...eight!) children!

Drinking blackcurrant wine from cut crystal shot glasses on the floor of their house which overlooks some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet and sharing it with this wonderful family...truly one of those experiences of a lifetime...oh, and the blackcurrant wine was surprisingly delicious!!

And then it was time to walk out this door  and ride off into the photograph that is the Mongolian countryside..

..but not before cementing new and somewhat unlikely friendships...

...gearing up for what would be another long and lovely 11 kms back...and, of course...
getting a shot of  our wonderful hosts and guides..
as well as one of the whole group..
to commemorate an event that  I don't think  a lot of foreigners ever get to experience in a fashion like this.....and to be fair...likely not that many Kazakh families get to experience like this either!! It was definitely a wonderful experience for us --- I sure hope they feel the same way!

And the Mongol Horde ( expat Division) was away!!  

...and even saddle sore, frozen toed and was a lot of fun!!
Many thanks to our fearless Horse Khan for arranging a spectacular and educational "long ride" for the month!!  Next month....we'll be riding 26+ kms back through rivers and over mountains from Terelj to my ger...supported by, of all things, an ox cart  to ride on in case we get tired!  
Now, that should be a trip...literally and figuratively! Oh, and just for the record...this is a great way to get over jet-lag!

Friday, March 9, 2012

...from our ger: Let's talk about the weather...

As winter draws (albeit imperceptibly!) to a close I really wanted to try to sketch out a little verbal etching ( for all of you who don't have the pleasure of living in Mongolia) of what it means to breathe through the winter, here at the end of the earth....but then my friend and fellow blogger Susie did a better job of it than I ever I thought I would steal hers. So here it is!  Thanks Susie for so wonderfully capturing the essence of winter in Mongolia.  The link below will take you to her blog...enjoy!  Oh, and here's and a few of my favorite winter pics...  just for the fun of it!

...from our ger: Let's talk about the weather...

 Somewhere in the neighbourhood of minus 38C...

Yes, that's the frozen river road!

 Cold becomes almost irrelevant under the blue Mongolian sky....almost.

 Glitter everywhere!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Eagle Festival 2011 - a Retrospective

This post is for those of you who live in Mongolia and  are still trying to decide if you should go to the Eagle Festival on Monday, and for those of you who don't live in Mongolia and wish they had this kind of decision to make! The short answer?  YES!!  It is a beautiful cultural event and tons of fun!  This is a re post of my blog about it from last year to give you a peek at what kinds of things you can expect!

This weekend we found  the Eagle Festival  -a stunning display of traditional Golden Eagle hunting in full traditional costumes by some of the Kazakh Eagle hunters who came to UB to put on this festival.  They had a parade of costumes, then a competition to see which eagle would come when called ( not many, as it turned out) then at the end they actually released a fox onto the hillside and set a number of the eagles free to  catch it.  And catch it they did, in short order I might add.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I was much too far away to get any pictures of this part of the event
   Eagle hunting has long been a very important part of Mongolian culture - ever since Chinggis Khan climbed up a pillar of stone and stole an eagle chick which he raised as his own...or so the story goes - but nowhere more so than in the Kazakh region of Mongolia.  The Kazakh area is, surprise surprise, adjacent to Kazakhstan on the western edge of Mongolia. The Kazakhs are Muslims, by and large, which makes them a very distinct minority here in Buddhist Mongolia.  In any case, we got up close and personal with the 22 men ( and I do mean MEN...I don't think anyone would mess with these guys!) and had lots of opportunity for great photos...which meant that I took over 1500 pictures.  Unfortunately (or fortunately ... depending on how you look at it) they positioned the riders for most of the day with the sun behind them, which created some technical difficulties..but I still managed a few good ones.  Here  just a few of my favourites.. 
Heading straight at me at a full gallop...good thing that bird has such sharp talons!

Joie de Vivre....
or, there's more than one way to have fun at the Eagle Festival

                         The boys are back in town!!

Had to get the "tourist" shot ....what a great great experience it was to see these men flying the eagles!  Not that the eagles always came when they were called, mind you.  Turns out they might have a mind of their own....

and when they tell you to stay back from the action, there's a reason for it!   ...but back to more serious moments....

Such history and pageantry at this event!

This guy completely cracks me up....looks like he should be in an episode of the honeymooners...not that I would tell him that , mind you!

The eagle has landed...or, at least, it will shortly.  One of the few that actually came to hand when it was called.

It really was something to call home about apparently. And like so much of what Mongolia is... 18th Century meets 21st.  Great great day though. 
So, it is time again to go and get ready for my Mongolian lesson (for which I am not really prepared...opted to blog instead of do homework..hmmmn) then this afternoon is it out to the ski hill to take advantage of what is beautiful spring skiing here...only minus 10! 
 I'm not sure what next weekend will bring, but as you can see from the previous two weekends, it is likely to be something amazing!