Mongolia: A Call Back to the Present

Mongolia: A Call Back to the Present

must have been seven or eight years old when I first heard
about Mongolia
from my Grandfather Louis, who had been a soldier in the French
Army during World War II. A faction of Mongol soldiers under Soviet
command freed him from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany in late

Years later, in my early thirties, I saved enough money working
as a photo assistant in
New York City
to fly to Beijing and then travel to Mongolia – a
remote, landlocked, and sparsely inhabited region sandwiched
between China
and Russia
– via the
Trans-Siberian Railway
. I arrived in Ulaanbaatar late in the
summer of 2001, and then headed west to Ulaangom, near the Altai
Mountains. The country was exactly as I had imagined: pristine,
with expansive landscapes that included vast deserts, majestic
mountain ranges, and seemingly endless green plains. And then there
were the enigmatic Mongol people, descendants of legendary ruler
and conqueror Genghis Khan (1162-1227). I have traveled to more
than 100 countries, and they are some of the warmest and most
hospitable people I have met. I camped for a week near a small lake
called Üüreg Nuur, which is nestled in a beautiful valley. It was
there that I made my first Mongol friends-a settlement of families
living nearby for the season. Each day, they let me tag along as
they hunted on horseback for marmots and kept a watchful eye for
wolves and ibex. It was incredible to get such intimate access to
the day-to-day life of these family-oriented nomads.

A few months later, back in New York, I looked at a map of
Mongolia – which is twice the size of Texas
– and fully grasped just how little ground I had managed to cover
during that initial trip. Over the course of 17 years, I took 13
month-long trips to Mongolia and experienced every season, along
with the challenges that come with working in a climate that shifts
so wildly. Shooting with analog equipment and negative film in the
extreme cold of winter, when temperatures dip below 30 degrees
celsius, proved very difficult. My dexterity and speed were
hindered by layers of protective clothing. When I was with the
Tsaatan, a group of reindeer herders in a northern region, I would
stuff my equipment and film into my sleeping bag, cradling them
against my body. The conditions were harsh, to say the least. I
went to places I didn’t plan to visit, and frustrating moments gave
rise to opportunities that enabled me to shoot some of the most
striking images.

Mongolia has so much to offer to the traveller – not only to
seekers of beauty, but also to anyone on a spiritual quest who will
find in the middle of the vast, majestic landscapes an intense call
back to the present moment, something very few places on Earth have
the power to do. Following Mongolia’s untrodden paths has always
satisfied my sense of adventure and provides a deep spiritual
fulfilment that leaves me feeling more peaceful and grounded.

@fredericlagrange |

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