Musings on Mongolia with Bob Krist, National Geographic Photographer and World Traveler
“Who would you invite to a dinner party?” It’s a popular ice breaker, with answers often ranging from the Dalai Lama to Abraham Lincoln, but once you’ve met Bob Krist, it’s likely he will be the first person who comes to mind. Krist is an award-winning photographer who has traveled the world for National Geographic. He tells a destination’s story through his camera, training his lens on everything from ancient monuments and majestic glaciers to ordinary citizens. His life is a well-traveled one and by his own count he’s visited well over 140 countries.
Though he more often tells his story through film, Krist is a worthy raconteur, brimming with memories that he spins into enchanting stories. For a world traveler who has been (almost) everywhere, Krist is far from jaded and when asked about his memories of Mongolia, this Santa-like man truly lights up.
“It’s one of my favorite memories,” he says. Though he has visited Mongolia five or six times, with his first visit over a decade ago, one particular memory elicits a grin. ‘It’s the one time I didn’t travel to Mongolia with National Geographic,” he explains. I was in Beijing for a speaking engagement and talked a different publication into assigning me a story about the Gobi. It was early October and I didn’t realize that it was on the later side for the Gobi. I did all of my research, except that,” he jokes. “The Lodge (our award-winning Three Camel Lodge) was set to close, but Jalsa kept it open just for Peggy (his wife) and me. We stayed for five nights. The Gobi begins to get very cold at that time of the year. Each night our attendant would enter our ger several times to stoke the fire.” This seemingly simply task is a cherished memory for the Krists, though. “We will never forget it. The door would open and there set against the orange glow of the fire was the reflection of this ancient Mongolian face dancing on the walls,” he says.
The cold weather sparked yet another long-lasting memory. “There was a wild snowstorm that closed the local airport, so we were snowed in,” he says. Making use of the delay, Bob revisited a nomadic family that was closing its ger just outside the Three Camel Lodge’s property. “We helped them close it. Well, more like we moved a couple of sticks,” he laughs. “They invited us to join them for their child’s First Hair Cut party that evening.” Nomadic tradition refrains from celebrating a child’s first birthday, instead celebrating once the child’s hair is long enough to cut.
“We didn’t know what to expect but we trudged over to their ger in the snow. It was wall-to-wall Mongolians…we don’t know how they managed to fit so many people in one ger! They were packed in there, all drinking Chinggis Vodka and airag (fermented mare’s milk), and passing around the baby as each participant snipped a piece of hair and put money in the dish (which happened to be an overturned Frisbee). They kept plying us with vodka and everyone was drinking heavily – it was a wonder the child had ears left at the end of the night! Anyway, the crowd began singing songs, Mongolian tunes that we didn’t know, and they took turns starting a new one. It came around to us and naturally we didn’t know any Mongolian songs, so we reached deep into the songbook of John Lennon and started singing, “There are Places I Remember, All my Life, but Some Have Changed…” We didn’t expect anyone to know the song, but soon enough, there we were – a tightly packed ger bursting with Mongolians, swaying and singing the words to this song! It was truly unbelievable – in the middle of a snowstorm in the middle of the Gobi Desert. It remains one of our favorite travel memories to this day.”
Though Krist typically visits Mongolia now as photographer and leader on National Geographic private jet trips, he’s never visited during the summer. “It’s on our bucket list,” he says. “I’d like to explore more of the country, but then again, The Gobi just resonates with you.”
Check out this video of Bob’s made while on a trip with Nomadic Expeditions.