"I could feel my inner-kid wanting to come out so that I could go run around and discover everything this incredible place had to offer. I was eager to climb to the highest, most out of reach area to experience a beautiful perspective of the vastness of Mongolia"
- Connor Dugan
"An American in Mongolia"
By CONNOR DUGAN
From yurts (gers) to random dirt roads, from oppression to Mongol’s smiling; this is my amazing photography experience. As I embarked on this adventure to the land of steppe and blue sky, I knew that culture shock could be something to expect. Culture shock, however, was an understatement. The plane began it’s arrival into the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and I could not seem to take my face away from the airplane window. In that moment, I felt completely vulnerable to this unknown land. Scattered rooftop colors of red, blue and yellow. Hundreds of yurts (Mongolian tents) surrounding the buildings of the city. As I drove to my hotel, my main thought was how there seemed to be a different type of oppression within a culturally-rich society. The reason I felt this way was due to the fact that among the rundown living situations, the people were genuine and for the most part, happy. The simple lifestyle and unity of their families seemed to be plenty for these Mongolians. As Americans, we are so consumed with the constant contact with technology and social media. It is easier for Americans to obtain these material objects than it is for most Mongolians, but the necessity for these convenient technologies are not prevalent to a large aspect of their culture. The history and lifestyle is what makes Mongolia an incredible place.
Personally, this trip was solely based on photography, at first. I have a true passion for photography and I aim to capture images and moments that will inspire others and bring a sense of joy or emotion to anyone who sets their eyes to the picture. When they say that a picture can be worth a thousand words, I now know that Mongolia can attest to that statement. Throughout this trip I was completely invested in my photography. However, I gained so much knowledge of their culture and history, as well as an appreciation for they Mongolian way of life. A profound aspect of the culture and history of Mongolia deals with or is centered around Genghis Khan. He was the Great Khan and fearless warrior of the Mongol Empire. This empire was the largest continuous empire in history and he conquered many lands. The importance of Genghis Khan led me to the 40 meter tall monument dedicated to his legacy. This statue is approximately 35 miles east of Ulaanbaatar on the bank of the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog. It feels as if it is in the middle of nowhere, but it is stunning nonetheless.
One of my favorite destinations within Mongolia were The Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi Desert region. This location has been the site for important fossil discoveries. As the group drove up, I could feel my inner-kid wanting to come out so that I could go run around and discover everything this incredible place had to offer. I was eager to climb to the highest, most out of reach area to experience a beautiful perspective of the vastness of Mongolia. I walked around for awhile and when the sun was setting I made my move to a cliff edge by myself. As the sunset turned the cliffs red and shined a light on the land, I was in a moment of complete bliss. My thoughts, hopes, and dreams all collected and being disconnected from the social world made the moment so very clear. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
In the Gobi Desert region of Khankhongor I stayed at a yurt camp called, Three Camel Lodge. This camp was very nice and not what you would expect. It was surrounded by miles and miles of flat desert/grass lands with mountains far off in the distance fading away. I enjoyed the simplicity of this place. It felt magical, because everyone was so kind and happy with a scenery that was calming. An evening walk along the dirt roads leading to a range of mountains seemed to emulate the pursuit of happiness.
Lastly, the Khongoryn Els Dune in the Gobi Desert was breathtaking. The view of flat lands to huge mounds of sand with mountains behind them was spectacular. I rode my camel to the sand dunes and experienced something that almost seemed unreal. The way nature can take it’s form can be a masterpiece within itself. It truly is difficult to put into words the feeling of standing amongst the dunes and camels of Mongolia.
Weathered lands and weathered people with a proud culture made this photography trip of mine an inspirational and spiritual journey to be happy, content, and still strive for ambitions.
In the meantime, keep smiling and inspiring…