by John Alexander
Leaving behind the comparative congestion of Ulaanbaataar we head west and ascend into clear skies. Siberian peaks sparkle in the distance while below the wilderness unfurls to reveal a canvas of colour and forms, and a tapestry of textures and tones. And a sense of scale that is simply staggering.
Bouncing onto the airstrip the screech of aircraft engines is soon replaced by the rumble of the road. Juggling gears and steering our guide leads us from tarmac to track and trail, to weave, wind and blaze a trail into the plains of the High Altai.
Some six hours later our headlights dance across an isolated settlement, the farmstead, our home for the next few days. A flickering fire seen through frosted windows beckons us in to be warmly greeted by head of the house and revered hunter Bashakhan, his loving wife, son, daughter in law and their three grandchildren. The generations nestled under one roof.
Inside, the walls are adorned with fabrics, the floors with furs, and an evident sense of tradition echoes within their home. Settling in for the night we listen to stories of herding and hunting. Tales of survival from this corner of the World.
The next day we rise early greeted by a sense of energy in the house. With the Siberian wind whistling at the door, and a wry smile in his eyes, Bashakhan invites me to join him and his son to head out on horseback to hunt. This is a first for me, and an hour later we scramble up the last few feet of the mountain, dismount, and turn to face the incredible view.
Bashakhan takes up position, and now Eagle in hand, these hunting partners shift in silent synchrony as hungry eyes sweep and scour the valley floor.
The last few days merge into one. A daily routine of foraging, herding, hunting and learning. And all to soon we leave to head east and to our next stay. As the sun begin to set the ground beneath our tyres deepens as we slip into the compacted traces of track that guide us ever closer to the farmstead.
Pulling up outside the pen we enter a scene of controlled chaos. Dusts flies and Goats run riot as we are met by Aibolat, head of the family and of the herd, who along with younger brother Kaibolat bring the animals in for the night.
Helping where we can, we settle inside to traditional tea and introductions. If Bashakhan’s house perpetuates tradition, then this permeates a sense of infectious energy as the brothers playfully recall tales of the adventures while they show us how they harvest, herd and hunt.
While the traces of modern technology are beginning to permeate long-established customs, it is clear that these families remain bonded by love, kinship and community, and whose path will continue to be lit by the torch of tradition.
I leave with a sense of privilege in capturing this colourful confluence of culture and one that will be shouldered by the next generation.