Day 3 of our 3-day tour of Central Mongolia
An early start as we had a long journey back to Ulaanbaator and to see some special white horses if we were lucky. This takes me back to 1968 when the song “White Horses” was a top 10 hit in the UK.
Along our journey in the morning, we saw quite a few Nomads on the move, with trucks loaded with their Ger and family members either on motorbikes or horses moving the cattle. I wonder if the recent snowstorm persuaded them it was time to find a protected area in the mountains? Mongolian Nomads move between 2 to 4 times annually (we often do that in a week!)
We also came across some Stupas and Shamanic Statues and stopped at a few. Stupa, which means “heap” is one of the oldest Buddhist structures and used to be tombstones containing sacred objects of Buddhist masters. These are now often built by the local community to bring harmony and prosperity to the area. We stopped at a group of Stupas at the top of a hill, facing south. A man drove up on his motorbike, and I thought he was there to pray. No, he was there to search for his cattle in the vast pastures below.
Later we found a Shamanic statue by the side of the road. It was rather spooky. The figure held a drum and even had a wooden stick to beat the instrument. Draped on its back was a real wolf skin that had seen better days, and the statue was dressed in robes that shamans wear during prayer. Behind this was a pile of rocks covered in fabric, mainly blue, which represents heaven and peace and is called an Ovoo. The custom is to circle the ovoo three times clockwise and add a rock to the pile to ensure a safe journey.
At last, we had arrived at the Hustai National Park. We stopped off briefly at the museum, which informed us of the rare Przewalski horses we were hoping to see. Our guide Bold called them white, but they are more of a golden colour with a white underside.
Nikolai Mikhailovich Przewalski, an explorer and Russian Army Colonel, discovered these wild horses in Mongolia in the late 1800s. He took a skull and a hide of a horse for these to be examined by scientists, who declared that they belonged to a new wild horse species. One of the main differences is that the Przewalski horse has 66 chromosomes, whereas the domestic horse has 64.
These horses, native to the steppes of central Asia, were extinct in the wild by 1969 and there were just 9 left in two zoos. Thankfully these beautiful horses have been reintroduced into their native habitat, the fundamental reason for establishing Hustai National Park. The museum seemed proud to state that these horses are the “only remaining truly wild horse species in the world.”
However, I have been doing a bit of research. A DNA study completed in 2018 suggests that the Przewalski horses may be descendants from the domesticated horses of the Botai people back in 3,500 bc. Through sequencing DNA from 20 Botai horse remains and comparing these to numerous sequences of other horses, including the Przewalski species, they built a family tree. The result surprised them. The Przewalski horses were from the same lineage as the Botai and the conclusion is that these were domesticated Botai horses that had escaped. The team reported “We have now found that there are no truly wild horses left” anywhere in the world. Oh dear. I think someone ought to inform the Hustai National Park museum.
We were back in the car to start our search for these rare horses. Our guide Bold has visited the Park at least 50 times and has only spotted them from a distance, using his binoculars. Imagine his delight when, after 10 minutes of driving, we came across a herd of 12 Przewalski horses right in front of us.
We jumped out of the car, leaving doors open in our excitement, and sneaked quietly up the hill, so not to startle them. It was such a treat to watch these beautiful horses. Bold kept saying that we are very lucky and the travel gods have looked down kindly upon us, Yes, we are very fortunate indeed.