Volume 1: The Sacred Mountain
After years of careful planning and preparation, the first in a long list of eager travelers embarked on a private version of Quest for the Snow Leopard, an exciting Mongolia tour set in the most remote section of the Altai Mountains.
We asked Joseph Rohde, plein air painter and executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, to share some of his personal journal entries on his exclusive Mongolia tour to paint the rarely-seen ‘ghost cat.’ In a bid to conserve the habitat and the species, Rohde has sold the paintings entirely for fundraising, exhibiting the remaining paintings for sale in Ojai, California on May 17th.
We landed in Olgii, a dusty border town whose suburbs are a mixture of flat-roofed adobe-style buildings and yurts, or gers, (the Mongolian word). After a brief lunch and visit with a local Kazakh family who happen to be teachers, as I once was, we caravanned off across the landscape towards Tsengel.
The land is very reminiscent of the wide-open semi-deserts that separate Los Angeles from Las Vegas, but there is clearly way more water here than our southern deserts ever see, presumably from the melted snows of winter. Still, it all seems familiar until one comes across a Bactrian camel, an ancient khirigsuur burial monument, or a white ger…and then, all of a sudden, it’s clearly Mongolia.
First night camp is just across a slow river from Tsengel. Something like poplar trees grow in the wet meadow between the town and us. Yaks and camels grazing. Hundreds of birds, swallows maybe, circling in the air above as sun sets.
We gathered in our dining tent, which is quite warm, for a nice hearty meal and off to sleep. Baatar (Baagi), our guide, handed out Mongolian robes, deels, to Jim and I, saving one for Lane. They’re very warm, like wearing a packing blanket. Love sleeping in the cold, so I’m in heaven.
Our camp below Shiveet Khairkhan, the local sacred mountain, is backed up against this big glacial till. Cars are gone. Camels arrived along with Dalaikhan the camel guy and his nephew. Long shadows cast by the big mountain and other peaks as the sun sets…beautiful light.
The moon is full and huge as it rises above the valley below us. It looks a bit like the weather may change. Snow falling high above us, tiny crystals all around us, but it is still clear and nice here. Long conversations in the dining tent with a local Tuvan guy who talks about snow leopards in local legends.
The Mongolia Tour: More Information
Stay tuned for the 4 follow up journal entries to Joe’s Mongolia tour! For more information on Rohde’s incredible travels and his quest for the snow leopard, tune in to his personal blog or his Facebook page.