Friday, June 16, 2023

Hustai National Park. Wild Horses!

We left Ulaanbaator for wilder parts of Mongolia on June 2 at about 930AM. I was surprised at the luxury of our rides. Sergie said we were going by "jeep". It turned out we were in two Lexus SUVs. Robert and I were in one car with a driver. Sergie, Max, and Rami were in the other, with their driver. Our first destination was Hustai National Park, 100 kilometers west of Ulaanbaator. We had our first wild mammal of the trip, Mongolian Marmot.

This was the location I was most excited to visit. Hustai is one of the sites where Przewalski's Horse has been reintroduced to the wild. These were the last truly wild horses, but they were declared extinct in the wild after the last sighting of a stallion in 1969. Reintroduction from captive populations began in the 1990s. I remember reading about these horses when I was a young kid. At that time I held no hope of ever seeing one. Now I actually had a chance, though there were no guarantees.

We arrived at the park and I was assigned my first ger of the trip. Gers are the round portable homes used by many Mongolians. They are sometimes, called yurts, though technically there are some slight differences. They are still used extensively, with ger neighborhoods even in the cities. I went into mine, crying out as I did almost every time I entered or exited "DAMN IT! I HIT MY HEAD!" The doors are quite low and I knew this, but I still misjudged over and over. Rami and Max said at the end of the trip that they each had a couple of marks on their heads from this. I said I had the entire map of Mongolia carved in mine.

My ger was lovely, with hand painted furniture and a stove in the center. The wooden spokes of the ceiling were painted the traditional orange. I wished I could have taken one of the beds home with me. I will say, though, that the beds were more than firm. I was enchanted. This was the one night that I did not have an attached bathroom, but I was ok with that. There was a modern bathroom in the basement of the restaurant. We ate lunch and prepared to go into the park.

Robert was not feeling well and decided to stay at the camp while the rest of us went in. We drove a few miles and saw a herd of Red Deer on a hill side. Up above them were the first horses we saw. They were a bit distant, but i was very excited. We went in a little further where we parked with the plan to hike in, going across a high hill and descending to another parking area where our driver would meet us. I looked up rhe hill and decided that I would stay with the driver. I know my limitations! I wandered around the area where we were parked and saw a few birds, Mongolians Larks, Rock Sparrows, Hoopoe, and a Steppe Eagle, among others. I was content.

Baagie, our driver (again, probably misspelled) motioned for me to go. We drove around to the other side. More horses and deer were in this area. A large patch of wild iris was in bloom by a creek. Baagie pointed to the top of a hill and said "sheep!" A group of Argali wild sheep walked across the brow. They are one of the more difficult mammals to see, so I was quite pleased. A family group of horse came down to drink from the creek, passing close enough that I got full frame photos. Max, Rami, and Sergie came down the hill. Max had spotted fox and I was a bit jealous. We drove back to camp for dinner.

No comments: