Volume 2: The Mongolian Altai
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.
Woke up this morning and thought it was fog, it was so thick. Painting anyway though. We set up the easels in the snowstorm and I had to change my plans from painting Shiveet Khairkhan, which was great looking yesterday and is now covered in snow clouds. Painted instead this other mountain, which our Tuvan friend had discussed last night in his legends.
The morning was pretty snowy and windy, so painting was difficult, to say the least, but as the afternoon came on the snowstorm broke up and it was really very nice. We kept up the rhythm of painting by pulling the canvas in and out of the tent to dry, using the heat from the traditional metal stove, which is stoked with yak dung.
Of course, snow melts and becomes water, so the canvas would become too wet to continue, but by moving in and out of the very warm and comfy dining tent, we were able to get a rhythm going and complete the work.
In the late afternoon, after working, we all rode up to the higher slopes of Shiveet Khairkan, where there are just hundreds and hundreds of ancient petroglyphs carved into the rock on the smooth faces that were long ago polished by ancient glaciers. Interesting and beautiful, some of the petroglyphs represent animals that are extinct – like aurochs. It’s a bit like walking past the Lascaux cave paintings, only outdoors.
The Altai Mountains are pregnant with history. The Scythians were not the first to leave evidence of their tenure in the icy valleys. Throughout the area, we are traveling through lie vast petroglyph monuments with engravings that include mammoths and aurochs, creatures of the Ice Age.
Other petroglyphs depict the arrival of the mounted Scythians. Carved stone warriors stand-alone, guarding the empty steppe, memorials to Turkic chieftains of the era of the Huns. Above the plains rise tall, flat megaliths called deer stones inscribed with the elegant silhouettes of flying deer and griffons in a style reminiscent of the tattoos on the frozen nomads below.
Geometric Kazakh cemeteries, less ancient, but no less imposing, continue the ancient patterns of commemoration in stone. Witness to all their comings and goings were the snow leopards, one common color with the rocky hills and cliffs, who, more than the stones and the carvings on the stones, are part of the land, something fluid moving in the rocky stillness.
The Mongolia Tour: More Information
Stay tuned for the 3 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.