It’s a strange thought, but I owe these photographs to the fact that I have been a vegetarian for almost all my adult life. On reflection, a trip to Mongolia wasn’t the greatest idea, food-wise anyway. The biggest hint that there was a problem came in a phone call from our guide just the day before we were due to leave. The chances of finding any food suitable during the two-week trip was remote and I was advised to pack my own supplies. What do you take though? I’m not the greatest cook in the world and it was all I could do to rustle up a vegetarian spaghetti. I drove to the local supermarket with no ideas and came back with several boxes of packet soup. It seemed crazy, but those boxes kept me going for the better part of a fortnight and wherever we happened to walk, ride or drive, hot water was always available.
We had also been warned about what we might find in the remote regions and arriving as guests at one ger, we found the farmer about to despatch one of his sheep. I sat on my horse and watched from a distance, as there didn’t seem to be anywhere else to look. It was all over so quickly and without a struggle. The sheep was turned over, an incision was made and a hand thrust inside to grasp the beating heart. I still wasn’t going to eat the meat, but I couldn’t help thinking this was the way it ought to be. No long journey crammed in a trailer to the slaughterhouse. No waiting for hours in pens outside, hungry and frightened. Just a good life until the very last day. A familiar face and a quick end. They use all the parts too, as we sat inside while the farmer’s wife literally took the sheep to bits. Not how I would normally like to take my tea, but we sat there in the position of honour opposite the door and watched as organs were sorted into different pots. Thankfully there was more than mutton on offer and I was thrilled to see a bowl with home-made cheese. I had already become very attached to the fermented mare’s milk, but the cheese turned out to be hard as rock and virtually inedible. Never mind I thought, there was plenty of soup back at base camp, still packed on the yak cart.
I digress though. Another location on the shores of the beautiful Lake Hubsugul and another meal about to be prepared. It was goat this time and much to my consternation, dinner was still yelling his head off round the back of our gers. I really didn’t want to hang around to the bitter end, so I picked up my camera and took myself off for a walk along the edge of the lake. I timed my return for sunset and as I was watching the pink and violet clouds reflected in the mirror-like surface, some of the local children ran down to the water’s edge to play. The boys were into fishing and skimming stones. They didn’t seem to mind me being there, so I stood quietly and watched… and took a few photographs. The light was almost too low for my slide film. Almost, but not quite. These two pictures show the boys having fun. The featured image is of their younger sister. Too small to join in with her brothers, she sat on a fallen tree trunk and played with a stick. Her red coat caught the last rays of the sun and the image nearly took my breath away.