Off to find the herders: Our trip itinerary

Editor's note: Robert Peck has left for Khintii Aimag, where he is unlikely to find internet connectivity or even, perhaps, electricity. He will resurface soon; meanwhile, this is an itinerary he wrote before he left. 

For several days in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia’s sprawling capital, we were busy getting the necessary provisions and travel documents.

Mongolian boy with horse, met on a previous expedition. (Photo by Robert Peck)

Then, Glyde Goulden, a senior scientist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, his wife Tuya (who will serve as our interpreter) and I planned to drive east into Khintii Aimag, a province.

There, we will be interviewing herders as part of a long-term environmental study sponsored by the National Science Foundation Program for International Research and Education (NSF-PIRE). Our goal is to record first-person accounts of changing weather patterns from people who have no previous information about climate change, but who live close to the land and so are in an ideal position to observe first- hand what is happening.

If all goes according to plan and our car isn’t blocked by the rivers now swollen with winter snow melt and spring rains, we hope to visit between fifteen and twenty semi-nomadic herding families, sharing hot buttered tea, goat’s milk cheese and fermented mare’s milk (the national drink of choice during the long days of summer) as we gain knowledge from their years of experience.

On about June 28, after roughly a week in Khintii, we will return to the capital, then fly north and west to the town of Moron (the provincial capital of Hovsgol Aimag). From there we will drive three hours north to Hatgal at the southern tip of Lake Hovsgol.

If time and the availability of fuel allows, we will then drive on another seven or eight hours north, along the eastern shore of Mongolia’s largest lake on a mud and dirt track that has been described by those who know it well as the worst road in the country.

At a place called Dalbai, about two thirds of the way up the 100 mile-long lake, we will meet our colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania who have established a research site where, with their Mongolian colleagues, they are conducting a series of experiments aimed at recording the effects of a warming climate on the local vegetation.

From July 8 -16, accompanied by Tuya Goulden, our interpreter, and Dakin Henderson, a Boston-based videographer who has joined us to gather film footage for an upcoming exhibition at the Academy’s museum, I will be searching for herding families I met and photographed in 1994 and 1995 in an isolated section of Hovsgol Aimag called the Darkhaad Basin.

Known for its small population of indigenous reindeer herders called Tsaatan, and for its widespread practice of shamanism, the Darkhaad is a restricted part of Mongolia for which advanced permission to travel must be obtained from the government. We will remain there for the Naadam festival. Research and travel plans for the period following Nadaam are still to be determined.

Finding reliable sources of electricity, let alone internet connections, may prove challenging in all of these areas, but I will try to send reports from the field as frequently as the opportunities permit.